Scholar Stories: April McNary

How do you use writing or art in your life?

I use writing to process the world around me. When I have time, I go to the art museum downtown. I wander. I gaze. I write my thoughts in a composition notebook. I respect all forms of art. I see poems whenever my students write, I hear their words as songs, and I try to capture it all as best as I can. I try to actively write (mostly for myself these days) and try to be an avid reader as a model for my students who don’t always see an adult doing either for “fun.” Writing, for me, is often an emotional awakening of everything that stirs inside me. Reading always fuels my passion for life and love. 

What lessons/teachings from your family, home and/or community do you draw on in your teaching and/or scholarship

I bring my family (literally and figuratively) into my classroom as often as possible. Family is community and I want kids to recognize this. Sometimes my mom brings me lunch…and candy for my students, pictures of my family surround my desk, my mom brought my daughter into my classroom when my classes were making their author ofrendas for Dia de los Muertos. My mom, a former teacher, finds ways to be in my classroom which I love her for. 

It’s my goal to treat kids like we are a little family. My classroom is a safe space because I will not tolerate anything less. Safety starts with me. 

When I was a student, I realized that I never had any teachers who looked like me (a mixed-race Latina), so I made it my mission to teach at the same high school I graduated from to be the representation as a teacher that I never saw as a student. Representation matters, therefore my presence in the classroom, matters. 

I am also lucky enough to have wonderful friends who are part of my teaching and writing communities. Our relationships and the work we do together only makes my classes and the content I teach stronger and more meaningful. 

What would you tell your younger self?

LOVE yourself more. It’s ok to be confident as long as kindness follows. READ more books! Reading, as an adult (while still very possible) becomes more challenging given more responsibilities. 

Advice for new scholars and/or teachers

LOVE your kids (students)! Let them hear you laugh and see you cry. They can spot a fake. It’s also OK not to know all the answers. Sometimes not knowing brings you closer to your students (it’s that honesty factor). Build community in the classroom by leading by example. Hold kids accountable for their learning. Show compassion. Always stock up on Disney Band-Aids (YES, for high school students!), Halls cough drops, safety pins (trust me), hair ties and Kleenex (the name brand) for the kids because what the nurse gives you will never be enough. Reach out to parents….ALL parents…especially the ones who don’t speak English (use your resources like Language Line if you don’t speak the home language). Invite parents into your space…into your classroom. Finally, be just as passionate about the kids as you are about the content you teach them. 

Something else you want to share?

Becoming a parent made me a different kind of teacher. I now want to be the kind of teacher I would want for my own children. 

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