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Q & A with Inglis Award Winner, Janet Alsup

GALA awards the Rewey Belle Inglis Award annually to a woman who has exhibited outstanding professional service relating to the role and image of women in the profession and in NCTE. The Inglis Award recipient will have shown excellence in scholarship/research, teaching, and service related to English Language Arts. GALA recently engaged 2014 recipient, Janet Alsup, in a Q & A about the significance of the honor and her body of work.


Q: What does the Rewey Belle Inglis Award mean to you personally?

A: It means that I have been recognized for something very important to me personally and professionally: mentoring young women into our profession of English teaching, particularly at the university, which is often male dominated. This mentorship and “uplifting” of women in English education has been so central a part of my career and life that sometimes I forget that I strive to do it daily; it’s simply integrated into every professional decision I make. How can I encourage more women to enter graduate programs? How can I professionalize them so that they are able to successfully find university jobs? How might I help them build confidence in themselves as teachers and scholars? How can I provide a model of healthy work-family balance?


Q: How would you explain the broader significance of your research to educators?

A: My work that has received probably the greatest attention has been my work on teacher professional identity development. I think this research has significantly added to the existing body of work on teacher identity and opened up new research avenues, such as professional identity development among mid to late career teachers, how teacher identity might be similar to/different from identity development in other professions, or how mixed methods might be used in teacher identity research. Additionally, my work about YA literature has also had a fair amount of attention, particularly my work which attempts to view the reading of YA literature in association with the development of adolescent identity: how can the process of reading and responding to a YA text affect the development of a teen’s “self”? Is the process symbiotic in any way (i.e., does reading affect a reader, and do readers affect what is published)? And if reading YA texts is an identity catalyst, what does this mean for teachers who teach it in secondary school classes? Most recently, I have completed a book arguing for the importance of the humanities and literature in particular in this age of standardization and objectification. I provide multiple examples of evidence showing that literature can change people and even cultures, and if we lose literary study we might lose a part of our very selves as human beings. I hope this macro view of literature teaching and learning might influence further research and scholarship about the importance of the humanities in education.


Q: You have written often about reclaiming and redefining English Education. How do see gender playing a role in that redefining?

A: Well, at first it might not seem that important since historically, and even currently, the majority of secondary school English teachers are female, and white. However, at the university that often changes, as English departments can be more male centered. But actual numbers and statistics aside, thinking about English education as a field that incorporates and invites teachers, students, and scholars representing a diversity of gender identities opens up the possibilities for new curricula and research that includes multiple voices (such as previously excluded authors and a wider representation of participants in literacy research).


Q:You have also written about politicizing texts and using English Language Arts as a space to address social justice. How have you used or seen other teachers address gender in classrooms in the context of social justice?

A: I think that an English or English education curriculum that includes discussions of gender and sexuality is important so that students can think about their own places in society and how they might view and/or interact with others both like and unlike themselves. So if we are educating new teachers either to become teacher educators or secondary school teachers, it is important that gender be considered critically during their preparation, so they can do likewise in their own future classes. We still hear far too often about campus sexual assault, gender-related bullying, sexual harassment in schools, and notions that girls are not meant for certain subjects for us to begin to ignore the importance of critical gender studies in secondary and university classrooms. More specifically, I think students at the university need to read research and theory about gender and classrooms, and they need to examine how gender issues are at play during field experiences or teacher research. At the middle and high school levels, teacher should use the term “social justice,” talk about what it means, and read examples of literature (both YA and canonical) that can be analyzed and discussed with/through a feminist lens. In this way, students can have vicarious experiences working through complicated gender issues and conflicts.


Q: What recommendations would you offer educators and other professionals who work with children and young people representing diversity in terms of age, race, class, gender, and sexuality?

A: I would recommend embracing the difficult conversations and not avoiding topics about race, gender, and sexuality when they come up in the classroom; it may be a cliché to see these times as “teachable moments,” but they are. Here the cliché contains some truth.


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