Denae Dibrell joined Teach For America in the fall of 2014 and taught English II, English AP, and language composition at IDEA College Prep Pharr for four years. While there, she also coached UIL Ready Writing, Literary Criticism and Number Sense. She currently teaches in the writing program at the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley.
What motivated you to apply to join Teach For America and choose to teach in the Rio Grande Valley?
I’m from Valley and knew early on that I wanted to teach high school writing in my home community. So I researched different educational programs and certifications throughout my undergraduate career. I found Teach For America (TFA) to be of particular interest because of the community and resources they would provide to me and my students, such as: classroom observations and feedback, a community of bodies with which to share ideas and experiences, professional development, alternative teacher certification and job placement. Ultimately, I decided that TFA would be a supportive and collaborative space for me to enter the teaching world, and it was. Today, I remain involved in the organization as an active member of the alumni community.
What has been one of the most surprising things you’ve learned about education during your time as a class leader and instructor?
I am continually surprised at how creative and brilliant my students are. Each semester, I look forward to the stories they tell through their academic research and writings, the different projects they create, and the discussions we have.
If you could change one thing for your students, what would it be?
I want my students to all know how brilliant, insightful, capable and worthy they are and to know that they all have within them the ability to do whatever they dream of. There are many control systems and obstacles that often accompany the paths to success, and I want my students to know how to defend themselves and have all the skills necessary to overcome these obstacles.
What lessons are you learning now that will help you continue to work towards equity in education in the future?
Learning about my students’ stories and what their goals, dreams, talents and struggles are helps me think about what I want the future of education to look like for them. My research tends to focus on transfer pedagogy, translinguistic pedagogy (teaching that aims to consider all of students’ language repertoires as a value rather than a barrier) and the creation of inclusive and accessible language learning spaces. for my students. More recently, I have begun to engage in more interdisciplinary writing with professors from all departments, and I look forward to seeing how I can continue to advocate for my students and develop new methods for teaching and assessing writing. in a meaningful and transferable way for my students.
One of the challenges students face in my classes is simply not realizing everything they bring to the table – that the knowledge and lived experiences they have are directly applicable to academic and professional contexts. And as their instructor, I’m here to facilitate and guide the learning; it is a partnership. One of the strategies for increasing the transfer of metacognitive awareness (critical awareness of one’s thinking and learning) for my students is to make connections to their lived experiences and engage in reflective and writing assignments. reflexive, which are carried out in the language that allows them to make the most sense of themselves. By taking the time to recognize that they bring skills to the classroom in middle school, and then developing strategies in the classroom to use those skills in the future, my students often realize how capable they are and become more resilient.
Can you share a personal story or experience from your class or school?
One of my favorite teaching experiences was during my first year at UTRGV. Several of the students I had taught as juniors in high school signed up to take my course their freshman year of college. Watching them grow as writers, as scholars, and as humans at all levels of education was a great experience and validated much of what I believe to be true about collaboration and mentorship.
Another experience took place during my freshman year teaching high school in the fall of 2014. My students and I secured funding to attend the Teen Texas Book Festival at my alma mater, St. Edward’s University. , in Austin, Texas. Myself and two fellow teachers loaded a bus with almost 50 10th graders to go to a festival…on the books! Faculty members at my alma mater organized a space on campus for my students to spend time between events and author panels, equipped with free snacks, drinks, and books. Students signed books, had conversations with authors and toured the campus. We then ate pizza at my favorite park in Austin (which has the best skyline views in town) before heading home. Sharing an enthusiasm for literacy with my students in a place that got me so excited about learning is an experience I still cherish today.
Teach for America (TFA) is the national nonprofit organization committed to the idea that one day all children will achieve an excellent education. To this end, the organization partners with communities to inspire the next generation of leaders to address the inequality of educational opportunity that is rooted in race and class. They begin this lifelong work with an initial two-year commitment to teach in some of the most underserved schools in the country. Here in the Rio Grande Valley, 61 corps members work in seven districts across the region.