Wainwright ES educator helping her students ‘embrace the struggle’

In this edition of I Am HISD, which features district students, graduates, employees, and other members of Team HISD, we talk to Wainwright ES teacher Jennifer Hannah about what got her into the field of education, how the Effective Teacher Fellowship helped prepare her for the classroom, and why she inspires her fourth-graders to engage in “productive struggle” when writing.

Jennifer Hannah poses for a photograph at Wainwright Elementary School, November 6, 2014. (Houston ISD/Dave Einsel)
You’ve already accomplished a great deal academically and professionally. You’ve earned a master’s degree in creative writing, freelanced as a writer and researcher for McDougal Littell, taught as an adjunct professor at the University of Houston, and even written a number of children’s books. What inspired you to go into the classroom?

A couple of things. For three years, I taught freshman composition and rhetoric at UH. I really was surprised at how much I liked talking and thinking and learning about writing. Teaching was a way for me to think about writing in a way that I hadn’t before, and I loved that. Then, when my children started going to preschool, I visited a lot of classrooms to find the best schools for them, and I noticed that once I picked their schools and was involved in volunteering, I never wanted to leave. I liked seeing how busy and occupied children could be when they were learning.

How has your background as an author aided your success in the classroom?

I have a lot of empathy for people struggling as writers, and I noticed that our curriculum really emphasizes the prewriting process. That’s where a lot of the work of writing happens — before you draft and while you draft. That’s where a lot of the struggle happens, too, and I think that’s why people give up, because it’s hard. We do a lot of journal writing, and I try to build their stamina so that when they’re thinking of something to say, I can say, “Yes, you’re feeling the struggle; push past it!” And as we’ve been writing more formal things, I’m able to spend a lot of time talking about the prewriting process and why it’s important to stick with it and take little steps and not give up.

Has being a teacher inspired your writing? If so, how?

I think I have a much better idea of the different abilities of young readers. I see a lot of kids from different backgrounds, different home experiences, just different abilities with reading. A lot of English language learners. Knowing that there are kids with different abilities to comprehend, knowing that there are kids who have different abilities to understand vocabulary has helped me a lot. I don’t think I was going to worry about how I put sentences down on the page before I taught, and now I’m really careful about sentence structure and front-loading vocabulary.

As an author, what are your thoughts about HISD’s Literacy by 3 initiative, and what has been your experience implementing it in your classroom?

Two things I like a lot: I like the emphasis on independent reading and I like the idea that it is a habit. Students have a natural excitement when they see a book, but that excitement can turn into devotion when they’re given time and space to form a habit of enjoying those books. Now, not only are they excited just to see a book, they’re also excited to spend time with a book, and I didn’t see that at the beginning of the year.

You’re obtaining your alternative certification through the Effective Teacher Fellowship (ETF). How has that helped you in your transition to the classroom?

I had a sense of what I would encounter. I was familiar with how to begin lesson planning, and I didn’t have to navigate that infrastructure on my own. I knew what a unit-planning guide was, and I got practice using it, so that gave me a great head start.

Want to become a teacher? To learn more about how you can leverage your skills and talents as a classroom teacher, visit the ETF website, or follow ETF on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.

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