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Antero Garcia: Always Stretching

As a young man, not quite sure what he wanted to do with his life, Antero Garcia stumbled into teaching. Not that surprising, perhaps, considering his mother was an English teacher and his father, also an educator.

“It’s an unromantic story,” says Garcia, who wanted to be a music journalist. “I had to pay the bills.”

But two days before starting his first teaching job, Garcia was struck with Bell’s palsy, which paralyzed half his face. 

“If I smiled it looked like I was in terrible pain. It was a terrifying way to start my teaching career,” he recalls.

Still, he recognized that if he explained his affliction to his students, it might help to create a trusting environment in the classroom. 

“I thought I could use my misfortune as a way to connect with the students and get to know them better,” he remembers.

Garcia’s public school students in south central Los Angeles were predominately poor, from a variety of ethnic and cultural backgrounds, and English learners.  He was convinced that they deserved the same opportunities as other students, and he went to bat for them every chance he got.

In one case, Garcia wanted to give his ELL students an option to take an AP English class. He encouraged them to approach the administration and make their request. But the administration didn’t have the personnel to add that many students to the AP class, so Garcia took the training himself and volunteered to teach it.

“Working and teaching in South Central was incredible and, occasionally, incredibly frustrating,” he says. “I was fortunate to work with an amazing group of colleagues that I still consider friends today. They've helped me to improve my practice and to think critically about issues of equity, learning, and schooling.”

Although Garcia, now an assistant professor of education at Colorado State University, Boulder, may have come to teaching reluctantly, he clearly has a passion for it. Garcia is one of a new wave of teacher educators who are hoping to help guide tomorrow’s teachers to reenvision their role in the classroom and in our increasingly complex society. 

As our society has changed, the role of the teacher needs to shift, says Garcia. It’s partly the idea of creating a classroom of mutual respect. One in which the teacher acts less as “sage on the stage” and instead encourages more collaborative learning and student engagement.

Like most teachers, Garcia has his good and bad days, but he considers it a good day “when—as a class— students don’t get up right away (when the bell rings), they are on the edge of their seat engaging with one another and it’s not about you. . . .   It’s a real victory when students are taking things in their own hands and have a sense of agency.”

Multiple Literacies

In addition to his work with preservice teachers in the classroom, Garcia reaches out to the teaching community via a blog (The American Crawl), Twitter, books, articles and presentations. He is a founder of SLAM, the NCTE Studies in Literacies and Multimedia Assembly (http://www.ncte.org/assemblies/list#SLAM). 

Garcia, who embraces digital tools, comics, and role-playing games like Dungeons and Dragons, is a strong believer in bringing into the classroom some of the multiple literacies students interact with outside  class.  SLAM, which he says is "still in its infancy," encourages teachers to explore the world of multimedia literacies, including, but not limited to, digital literacies. 

On Bringing Social Issues Into the Classroom

As a young man of Latino, Jewish, and Filipino, and White heritage, Garcia embodies a multicultural perspective that can't be claimed by most teachers in the nation's predominantly white teaching population, but more closely matches the developing demographics of the nation's students.  It's likely one day the teaching force will be more diverse and representative, but for the moment, a recommendation Garcia makes to student teachers is to address social justice and equity issues. 

“That conversation is not an easy one,” he says. “There is resistance to that idea from students who say, ‘I don’t want to bring politics into my class, I just want to learn how to teach.’” 

But Garcia would argue that not bringing social issues into class ignores a critical tool good teachers have: relationships. To be an effective teacher requires developing relationships with one’s students. And to do that one needs to be aware of their backgrounds and the realities of their daily lives.

So Garcia tries to balance the “how” his students desire with the “why.” Why are you using that text? Is there another you could use, or a different activity that could better reach this particular group of students?

Garcia notes that connecting in authentic ways with students also leads to the is acknowledgement that learning should have something to do with their lives. That might mean not teaching Jane Austen to students in South Central LA, but instead teaching Jacqueline Woodson or even comic books. 

On Teaching Comics

Of comics, he says, we're in a golden time. “There is a really amazing diversity reflected in comics. There are lots of main characters of color and who are women.”It IS a golden time for comic books, Garcia observes.

Marvel is hiring writers like Roxanne Gay and Ta-Nahesi Coates to create characters like the Black Panther and others. It's exciting, but Garcia reminds even comic aficionados to be aware of the “why” of teaching.

"Why use comics? What will you do differently with comics to make them more transformative in class? How do comics depict issues of power and marginalization?” are all questions he recommends considering, to get the most out of the genre.

On Supporting Teachers from Diverse Backgrounds

Again and again, of course, it comes down to a teacher knowing her students and learning what engages and intrigues them.

Given the disparity between the cultural and ethnic backgrounds of teachers and students nationwide, NCTE has, for its part, been working to support those in the profession who come from diverse backgrounds, says Garcia.

For example, he was a fellow in the 2012–2014 cohort of NCTE’s Cultivating New Voices (CNV). CNV, created in 2000, is NCTE’s response to the recognition that there is little diversity in the research community. Each CNV fellow is paired with a mentor, a senior scholar within NCTE, and they share activities with their cohort. 

Garcia calls this experience “one of the most formative parts of my academic career.” The program is “about building a community of scholars of color within NCTE,” says Garcia. And it is working, he says. 

“There’s something rejuvenating about being with scholars representing such diverse perspectives,” says Garcia.

Garcia recognizes that “it’s a scary time to be a teacher. People show lots of bravery entering this profession. With NCLB and now Common Core, teaching is more and more restrictive.”
His deep desire to support and encourage classroom teachers is, in part, his motivation for writing Pose Wobble Flow. The book illustrates for young teachers that established teachers don’t always know what they are doing, and that’s okay. And the book encourages established teachers to take risks, to try a new pose, to wobble a little bit in an attempt to find flow.

The point of flow is that it is a fleeting state, notes Garcia. Just like teaching, yoga is dynamic. You can’t just pick a pose and stay there forever. You are always stretching, challenging yourself. And that, says Garcia, is the very approach he thinks teachers should take. 

Deb Aronson is an author, freelance writer, and editor based in Urbana, Illinois. Her nonfiction book, Alexandra the Great: The Story of the Record-Breaking Filly Who Ruled the Racetrack, will be published in March 2017.



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