{My academic supervisor sent this article in to the Athens Banner Herald. They never replied back or ran her article, but this write up blessed me so much regardless.}

Athens Map Seth Mcwhorter

“Real” Athens Voices

By: Meghan B. Thornton

Among student teachers, and those who have been student teachers, it is no secret just how awkward the experience can be.  Straddling the worlds of teacher and student is perhaps only comparable to the discomfort of having to find a seat in the lunchroom on the first day of middle school.  Suddenly seats are filled, conversations do not involve you, and the bathroom seems the only place one can escape to.  Further, student teachers are cautious of becoming too close with their students for fear that they will lose credibility in the classroom, and thus any semblance of adulthood and teacher-status.

Katie Baker is currently completing her student teaching and will graduate from UGA in May with a Masters of Arts in Teaching.  While her induction into student teaching has not been without its awkward moments, Katie has been able to form a connection with her students that is unique for student teachers.

For one of her first units, Katie wanted to generate a discussion about community that would tie back to the novel they were studying as a class.  After having seen a map of Athens [by Seth Mcwhorter] in various gift stores around town and finally finding a copy on Etsy, Katie pulled up the map that supposedly identified the different neighborhoods of the town.  She asked students to point out their neighborhoods on the map and was shocked to be met with crickets.

The students’ neighborhoods weren’t on this map.  This was a map of Athens as it is known to UGA students, not the Athens that is known by the community.

Katie was frustrated.  Many of her students had lived in Athens their entire lives.  They had grown up here, their grandparents lived in this town and many of their parents had attended this very high school.  And yet, the town that was perhaps more “theirs” than the twenty-year-old college student’s five miles down the road, ignored them.

In an effort to learn more about the community in which she was teaching, encourage her students to write, and to bring their voices and experiences to the forefront in the classroom, Katie created a new assignment for her 10th graders.  They would be writing about their neighborhoods.  Concept maps, poems, raps, songs, whatever it took for them to reclaim Athens.

Students, to say the least, embraced the assignment.  They shared stories of struggle and hope for new beginnings; stories of fear and gratitude for mothers who worked hard; stories of betrayal and friendships that weathered drugs and promiscuity; and throughout all of the stories was an undercurrent of pride.  These students were proud of the communities they had grown up in, the same communities not important enough to include on a map of the town.

And so, Katie Baker decided these stories needed an audience beyond herself.  Together with the librarians at her school, Katie transformed the library to showcase the multilingual voices and stories of her students, the voices of the “real” Athens.  As students entered the library, they were greeted with music, videos of community members, teachers, and students sharing their stories of growing up in Athens, and the written poems and songs of the students in Katie’s class.

When asked to share their poems and raps aloud, many students shut Katie down, telling her that they were way too nervous to get up in front of a crowd.  But with Katie’s supportive coaxing and coaching, slowly, students agreed to share their stories.  Just as Katie had met her awkwardness as a student teacher head-on, so too would her students. By seeing awkward moments as opportunities for growth and learning, Katie and her students were able to learn from one another and make their voices heard.

Here their voices & put them on the map by clicking here. Read more about the event Meghan describes by clicking here.


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