Interview with Janie Hydrick
by Sandy DeCosta
Janie Hydrick, President-elect of NCTE, received degrees at Vassar and the University of Arizona in Tucson and is an elementary classroom teacher in Mesa, Arizona. She is currently pursuing a doctor al degree at Arizona State University in Tempe. Janie's life has been most strongly influenced by two teachers. Ms. Ellie Lee, her aunt, came to the United States from Cuba in the early 1900's. She taught parolees and prisoners in the Arizona state prisons. Later, she became a high school foreign languages teacher and was named US National Teacher of the Year for her outstanding contributions to education. Janie's other mentor is Dr. Yetta Goodman, a prolific contributor to Language Arts research Janie's professional interests have led her to the National and International Writing Projects and to her various leadership roles in NCTE. Janie states that her close involvement with NCTE and the National Education Association has provided opportunities to help advance human rights in terms of language arts empowerment. Janie is the first elementary classroom teacher to be elected President of NCTE. She looks forward to the many challenges of the coming year.
Q. WILLA signals something new for NCTE -- both in targeting gender issues and in its overt efforts to reach out to elementary educators. How do you feel about this?
A. Differential treatment of boys and girls in the public schools has been an issue for a long time, and there is renewed interest. The recent AAUW Report "How Schools Shortchange Girls" brought gender to the forefront. We know that there are many ways in which both male and female teachers in the classroom respond differently to boys and girls. What that means or can eventually yield is just one aspect of a need for greater teacher awareness. Through the curriculum and the materials we use in our teaching, gender needs to be an "up-front" issue rather than one that elicits a "knee jerk" reaction. Women and girls are different and need to be acknowledged accordingly, but they must not be silenced or demeaned because of gender and because of sub conscious responses to them. All teachers need to be aware of ways to ensure equity in education and encouragement for all students beginning in the earliest grades.
Q. Whom do you see as WlLLA's audience?
A. Could be anyone interested in realistic and humanistic education -- people sensitive to women's issues, human issues, and human rights, in general. Those interested in the topic of women would be an audience for WILLA.
Q. What are some general elementary school needs WILLA might meet? A. I went to an all-women's college, Vassar. It provided many different and wonderful opportunities for me as a young woman. Competition immediately comes to mind because my own education was a training ground for it. But it's growing harder and harder to find all-women's schools. I suspect most are private, and this kind of education isn't realistic or possible today. Every teacher can and should be aware of differences between men and women, boys and girls and use appropriate pedagogy. WILLA can create an awareness of and provide a vehicle for continuing learning.
Q. Will WILLA be of interest to elementary teachers?
A. It will be if it is presented as important to K-6 teachers. There is currently a bombardment of information of all sorts being directed at teachers. That means teachers must decide to direct their efforts and energies toward the most pressing, most convincing needs. If WILLA presents gender issues and ways for the classroom teacher to respond to the issues, I think it will be well received. I understand that WILLA intends to solicit contributions from classroom teachers. That will constitute more than any other group has done to acknowledge elementary teachers. WILLA can be a most influential journal, for it can encompass teacher to parent, teacher to teacher, teacher to administrator, teacher to, and as, researcher. If WILLA identifies problems of gender, provides some answers, as well as opportunities to contribute answers, then teachers will be convinced of WlLLA's value. Teachers who accept challenges and seek answers are the people who will last in education, and they will read WILLA. There is very fertile ground out there for all that WILLA stands for!
Q. Are elementary teachers concerned about gender issues as they relate to the classroom and young children? How is concern expressed?
A. I think teachers become more aware of gender issues at certain times of the academic year. For example, when engaged in traditional administrative tasks or averaging the final grades, it is easy to reflect on the year. One thinks of those who are "straight A" students, those who are vocal, those who are leaders. These kinds of reflections result in gender consciousness. Yetta Goodman says we need to engage in lots of "kid watching" and be aware of times we call on kids and how groups are formed and who the kids seek out for help on various tasks. All these combine to create awareness of gender issues.
A classroom example of this occurred when the violence in South Africa and the Thomas-Hill hearings were being covered simultaneously on television. My students seemed to have a sense of justice and fair play. They said all "the right" things. But just a few days later there was a state final basketball tournament in town, and the two opposing teams were very different. One team was black and Hispanic while the other was predominantly white. Comments the kids made were shocking. Their statements reflected an entirely different set of attitudes and beliefs from what was represented in the earlier class discussions of Thomas Hill and South Africa. It was so clear that discussion of national events occurs on one level, and involvement in local issues becomes something else. Sexual harassment, race, ways the children treat and think about one another are often so different. Kids and teachers need to be aware of where they are in their own development. Kids especially need help in being aware. These can be sticky issues to deal with, but when "the beast" has to be dealt with.... WILLA has a place here in presenting scenarios, vignettes, short entries, which will likely increase the reader's sense of personal identification. These will be the usable class room activities.
Q. Does it seem that elementary texts are written to reflect conscious concern about gender-balance?
A. I think it's a bit better. In the last ten years especially with illustrations. graphics, and text, I have noticed more effort to consider balance. However, there is still much to be done. Too many girls are relegated to traditional female professions and prepared through traditional coursework while the boys are encouraged into the more technological fields. If there were genuine balance in the textbooks, this wouldn't continue. The subject area that rep resents the greatest gains in gender equity is literature for children.
Q. Are texts and teaching materials now more likely to provide role models for girls and adolescent females?
A. They look better because the illustrations and photographs are more inclusive of girls and women. But the content does not reflect the same effort at equity. Myra and David Sadker (1991) reported that content analysis research assessing portrayals of males and females in instructional material decreased precipitously during the 1980's. They reported that there simply isn't a systematic body of current research to provide a clear picture of the current state of gender equity in school texts and children's literature. If gains have been made, we don't really know where or what kinds. If this research isn't undertaken, any gains made could likely be lost. I've noticed something else in the national role models for reading. Posters which encourage reading most recently seem to feature only male athletes. We also need to see posters of girls and women in various roles who are modeling and encouraging reading.
Q. Are women highlighted in the various content areas (literature, science, physical education, math, politics, music, art) seen as important and valued contributors?
A. In literature there seems to be more diversity represented than in past years. However, in the other areas, no.
Q. How can classroom teachers be reached by WILLA for their ideas and contributions? A. On the personal level. The one-to-one appeal for good ideas is best. I think there has to be a direct request for contributions to WILLA. We know teachers have wonderful ideas. The National Writing Project is a good example of how creative and effective teachers can be. Perhaps an appeal through the NWP could reach a number of interested teachers. If a few are enlisted, the word will spread through the profession.
Q. What types of materials (age, appropriate stories, picture sets, biographies, slides, units of study highlighting various individuals, etc.) do you feel teachers need to strengthen teaching for gender balance?
A. All of the above are needed. They could be made available to teachers, but if awareness isn't there, it won't make any difference. How teaching occurs, how information is presented and used are all critical. More than the acquisition of appropriate materials, there is a need to train teachers to become aware of inequities.
Q. Do you think development of a Gender-Based Model Curriculum in Language Arts, K-6 would be a worthwhile under taking for WILLA?
A. Something I would find most useful is an index of references or an anthology of teaching materials, children's literature (traditional and contemporary), and teacher/student resources. It should be in a form that could be easily updated. This would be a valuable undertaking.
Q. Do you think women's history month might get more positive attention if WILLA prepared guidelines, units of study?
A. Yes. These materials could be helpful. Black History Month materials are readily available and are very good. Materials like these help teachers learn while teaching -- they feel more secure and comfortable about their teaching.
Q. Do you see WILLA serving as a vehicle to prepare women to lobby for women's issues?
A. There are some powerful organizations established to do just this. WILLA could provide specific information on language and literature. That would be our most powerful role. Provide ammunition through information and resources.
Q. Do you think WILLA might serve as a vehicle to encourage women into administrative positions within the public schools?
A. I suppose it could, but education needs exemplary people in the classroom. If outstanding teachers are encouraged to remain in the classroom, that's where the power is.
Q. Do you see WILLA serving as an organizer and a support group for issues relevant to all women in education?
A. Yes. I would want it to.
Q. What kinds of articles would you like to see in WILLA?
A. Vignettes of classroom situations and solutions would be especially helpful. We teachers need to be able to read more about other women, and we want to hear about women who are problem solvers. I would like to see some "up close and personal" articles about women.
Q. Are there other undertakings you envision for WILLA?
A. I would like to see WILLA serve as a clearinghouse or network for women's issues, resources, and advocates. It might be a place where ideas are sent and organized into documents to help teachers and researchers in their efforts to increase equity.
Q. Any closing comments?
A. Historically the weak have been repeatedly victimized. There has been a horrifying increase in violence against women. Women may inadvertently contribute to that scenario because they have not been sufficiently aware of or well enough informed about women's issues. Materials which might have proved helpful have not been readily available. If WILLA can help teachers become better informed so that gender-balanced teaching transfers to the next generation, something of value will have been achieved.
SANDY DECOSTA is Associate Professor of Curriculum and Instruction at West Virginia University.
Copyright 1995, The Women in Literature and Life Assembly (WILLA) of the National Council of Teachers of English (ISSN #1065-9080). Permission is granted to copy any article provided credit is given and the copies are not intended for resale.