My name is Jeffrey Austin, and I’ve been living my dream as a teacher since 2006.
Currently, I’m the English Department Chair and Writing Center Director at Skyline High School in Ann Arbor, Michigan. I teach a variety of classes at Skyline ranging from English 9 to Creative Writing to an accelerated Humanities: Literature seminar for seniors. I’m also fortunate enough to be the faculty advisor for Teen Spirit, our award-winning literary magazine. I also have the honor of serving as the Secondary Schools Representative on the International Writing Centers Association (IWCA) Executive Board, which allows me to advocate for the needs of Secondary School Writing Centers and amplify our voices within the broader writing center community. I’m also proud to be the Midwest Representative for the Secondary Schools Writing Center Association (SSWCA). In 2017, I was surprised with the Washtenaw County Commendable Teacher Award from the Ann Arbor-Ypsilanti Chamber of Commerce.
In the classroom and in my work as a teacher-leader and advocate, I have six core beliefs that guide my work:
- Literacy is equity. All students should have the multiple opportunities to practice their literacy skills in multiple contexts across the curriculum every day. As global citizens, students need to be equipped with skills that will allow them to engage in important conversations about our planet, which means encouraging critical relationships with texts that move beyond agreement and allow for the formation of complex, nuanced thinking. Embedded in this view of literacy is the belief that all students can learn and that all students deserve appropriate challenges that propel them to even greater heights.
- Instruction should honor and leverage students’ funds of knowledge. The goal of teachers and schools shouldn’t be to “fix” anyone because students aren’t broken; they come to us with a range of skills and knowledges, and, as educators, we need to provide chances and contexts where students can leverage what they know to be successful in school. This means providing multiple paths to mastery, ensuring that students feel safe, seen, and heard, and being will learners about people and cultures who may be different from us. Our literacy is not the literacy; our writing process is not the writing process.
- Reading and writing must be taught, not just assigned. Students need models, frameworks, and support in order to become skilled readers and writers. This requires teachers to have a principled pedagogy for teaching literacy skills in their classes and to provide time to practice these skills multiple times in multiple contexts to promote mastery. All teachers must be addressing these skills with their disciplines, and teams of teachers should be working collaboratively to help students understand how these skills transfer across content areas and into post-secondary and professional contexts.
- Feedback is vital to student achievement. Meaningful and timely feedback on student work is essential to academic growth. Feedback is a primary way to have a conversation with every student about how to amplify their areas of strength and improve skills they haven’t yet mastered. Feedback must be differentiated to meet students where they are in the learning process. Providing and process-oriented, growth-minded feedback is a critical part of a teacher’s professional responsibility. In addition to teacher feedback, students should be empowered and instructed to provide feedback to and received feedback from another.
- Self-assessment and reflection are required skills. Effective self-assessment and reflective skills are not innate and require modeling and mentoring to master. Teachers should equip students with the tools to use their agency to manage their own learning processes and be firmly in charge of their own growth as students, thinkers, readers, writers, speakers, listeners, and citizens.
- Classrooms and schools must be places where student voices are honored and amplified. Our classrooms and schools must be sites of advocacy for promoting student voices, forces for diversity, equity, and inclusion in our schools and communities, and catalysts for systemic change in our education system that promotes student agency rather than systemic hierarchy. This means students should have a say in what they read, how they write, the way class runs, and how they show mastery of important skills. This also means putting students’ stories and their realities at the center of classroom practice.
Outside of the classroom, I enjoy spending time with Michelle, my wife, and Cazzie, our labradoodle.
Feel free to connect with me on social media or by sending an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.