Nell Whitman: Bringing it Back

May 14th, 2014 | By | Category: Bringing it Back, Issue, Spring 2014
Whitmanby Nell Whitman
English Teacher
Henry Clay Liberal Arts Academy, Lexington, KY
B.L.S.E. 2012,  2013, funded by the C. E. and S. Foundation

Two years as a Bread Loaf student have made me a more qualified teacher and a professional with the confidence and commitment to lead. My Bread Loaf coursework prepared me to teach AP Literature to high-achieving seniors at Henry Clay’s Liberal Arts Academy. Many of these seniors will attend some of the country’s most competitive universities next fall. Experiences in critical reading and analysis have honed my skills as a reader, researcher, and writer and have allowed me to join my students as a fellow scholar. Coursework in rhetoric with Cheryl Glenn awakened me to the value of teaching literary criticism and rhetorical strategies in the high school classroom. These instructional strategies have deepened the skills my students bring to their analysis and their writing.

Nell Whitman's student , Shalita learns to meditate while shadowing a therapist.

Nell Whitman’s student , Shalita learns to meditate while shadowing a therapist.

My work with BLTN and the Bread Loaf community has inspired me to continue working toward social change through education.  This year I crafted a curriculum for seniors at Henry Clay who have not met college and career readiness benchmarks in English and reading. I discussed approaches to building this curriculum with Django Paris in Santa Fe last summer. The curriculum remains a work in progress, but my students have made significant gains this year. All but two have met at least one benchmark and are just points away from meeting the second. All but one of my Strategies for Success students have applied for a college or a post-secondary program after participating in College Application Week. My students spent a day job shadowing in March. I asked the seniors to create a job profile video of a real encounter with a mentor in a career of interest. I plan to share the videos with Henry Clay students next year.

The work of Django Paris and Cheryl Glenn inspires me to integrate relevant readings into my classroom—readings that explore tough issues and celebrate our diverse cultures and gifts. We have used The New York Times “Room for Debate” section in tandem with Jim Burke’s reading strategies to discuss policies to rectify income inequality and to address the problem of addiction.  We use the Lexington Herald Leader to focus on issues that directly affect my students, who will be first-time voters this year. Above all, my Bread Loaf professors and colleagues have rekindled my resolve to keep learning relevant and empowering for my students.


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