Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Writing for Change: Pamela Courtney Speaks

In the Writing for Change series, I've asked writers to share how the political climate has shaped their work. Today, I have Pamela Courtney, a teacher and a 2017 recipient of the We Need Diverse Books mentoring program. Take it away, Pamela!

Maya, thank you so much for allowing me to share my thoughts with you and your readers.

What do the following have in common? Freedom in Congo Square, Last Stop on Market Street, Tar Beach, The Sound that Jazz Makes, The Snowy Day.

Need a hint? In the 1990 publication of Mirrors, Windows, and Sliding Glass Doors, Dr. Rudine Sims Bishop writes, “Books are sometimes windows. When…conditions are just right, a window can also be a mirror.”

Each morning, I’m greeted by gleaming, eager faces in every hue of brown. Introducing them to well written literature, whose images mirror those of my early learners, is paramount. And so, these books adorn every flat surface in my classroom. My duty is great. I am a writer who teaches. I am a teacher who writes.

“Books can also be a mirror." More specifically, words mirror attitudes and feelings. Words, allowed and encouraged by the hostile political climate we’ve maintained, actively work to devalue, to lessen, to take away. I am acutely aware how the lack of words is used to alter, and in many cases eliminate actual events.

Slavery…the ugliest, most shameful, most influential institution of our country is not mentioned in some curricula. Therefore, how a people endeavored to forge indelible, remarkable paths impacting our world is devalued. The strength of a people to endure is altered. Eliminated. Children are listening. Children are learning. Children are responding to what and how information is offered. Mirrors and Windows.

In our deeds, through our words, from the environment that we create, children are taught to accept or dismiss people unlike Us. We must ensure that children are carefully taught to develop awareness for other peoples: their culture, their traditions, and their beliefs. I share in my writing little known historical events that have shaped traditions, familial roles, and world views. Events inextricably woven, unnoticed into the rich tapestry of our lives. Each strand a distinguished, necessary raised bit of thread. Every child deserves quality literature that illustrates cultural authenticity.

So, what do those books have in common? It’s not quite the answer you think. Each book holds a special place in the heart of my classroom. My students experience the obstinate courage of a people, the familiarity of intergenerational relationships, how social injustices impact family structures, the sorrows felt and gifts created by a marginalized people, the first commercially successful book featuring a child of color who is simply experiencing snow.

These are the books my students reach for again and again. These books and books like them guide my writing. They are more than mentor texts. They are mirrors. They are windows. The profound responsibility I own as a teacher, as a writer, has never been more deeply felt.

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Pamela Courtney lives in Atlanta, GA, but the Red River of Louisiana permanently flows through her veins. She is a former Curriculum Consultant, but is now proud to claim herself "Teacher of some of the most intellectually stimulating Kindergarteners and 1st Graders." Pamela is a 2017 recipient of the We Need Diverse Books mentoring program; mentored by Carole Boston Weatherford.

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Thanks so much, Pamela! For more in the Writing for Change series, check out posts from Kelly Loy Gilbert, Tanaz Bhathena, Rachel Lynn Solomon and Samira Ahmed.

23 comments:

  1. My pleasure Maya. You are so gracious for inviting me to share.

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  2. Thank you for an eloquent and important post!

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    1. You are too kind, Beth. Thank you so much for taking the time to stop by.

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  3. Children listen, children see, children learn. I can't imagine a more important job than yours. Who knows how many writers you will inspire! But more importantly, every child you teach will have opportunities to find themselves in your classroom and beyond. Thank you!

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    2. Jilanne, I had some pretty smart cookies in my class this school year. They especially loved it when I shared the works of people I know. And the authors are impressed by my little scholars. Thank you so much for taking the time out of your day to visit with me and Maya.

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    1. I am so glad you came by to read my offerings. Thank you so much for that Stacy.

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  5. Thanks, Pam. for sharing your heartfelt thoughts. We should all be so lucky to have, or have had a teacher like you!

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    1. You are very kind to say so Mona. I am so happy you took time out to read and comment. I appreciate it. Thank you.

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  6. Fabulously written, Pamela. Thanks so much for sharing and for inspiration! Patricia Saunders

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    1. Hey Patricia! I am so glad you visited and enjoyed my post. Your words are quite kind. Thank you.

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  7. I'd like to underscore Jilanne's and Mona's statements and add my appreciation for the tender and adroit delivery of an urgent message. Thank you, my dear Pamela.

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    1. Oh Julie, thank you so much for your kind words and support. I am so happy you stopped by to read and support my post. Thank you. Love the word adroit, by the way.

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  8. Wonderful post Pam. Your kids are very lucky to have you as their teacher.

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    1. Hey there Monique. You are kind to say so. But you know how much I enjoy what I do ... teaching and writing. Oh, but I said that already, huh? haha

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  9. Pamela, I love this windows/mirrors perspective on our work as writers for children. Immediately my mind went to evaluating some of my recent works, wondering how they measure up to transparent/reflective quality. Thanks for this insight.

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    1. Damon, I thought Dr. Rudine Sims Bishop was the insightful here, right? Her wise words truly guide me as I write out each scene. It also causes me to overthink sometimes as well. hahaha But I am learning my craft and enjoying the journey. Thank you so much for stopping by and commenting.

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  10. Your heart and mind shine in this post, Pam. I wish I could be in your classroom. Thank you for the soul in my day.

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    1. Thank you Charlotte. You are very kind. Means a lot.

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  11. Beautiful. Such heart and soul in the windows you have opened. Thank you for this post.

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  12. Thank you so much for stopping by and reading what I had to share. Your words are kind. Thank you.

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  13. Bravo my friend!! Great insight as usual. I am so proud of you!

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