Meet Our Fellows

Sarah Vieldhouse
Greenberg, Joseph Elementary
2020 Seminar Enrollment: The Dark Fantastic:  Reading Science Fiction, Fantasy, and Comics to Change the World

I’ve always loved literature, but when I taught my first English class to a diverse group of 10th graders, my own knowledge and experience felt incredibly inadequate. I knew that engaging with the text was vital for my students to develop their reading skills and make meaning, but, despite my creative efforts and energy, so often even the initial engagement was a struggle.  Improving my pedagogy was important, but I also realized that many of these texts and their authors did not reflect the culture, experiences, and/or color of my students.  In the years since then, I’ve leaned on the support of various teacher and reader communities to broaden my own literary horizons and teaching strategies. When one of my fellow ELA coworkers introduced me to Professor Ebony Thomas’ book about the representation of people of color in science fiction and fantasy literature, and suggested we take her seminar through TIP, I was eager to give it a try.

The official title of Dr. Thomas’ seminar was “The Dark Fantastic:  Reading Science Fiction, Fantasy, and Comics to Change the World.” In the seminar, we focused a lot on the idea of imagination – how imagination shapes our actions and perspective; who has traditionally had the privilege of imagining; and how we as teachers can create space for the invaluable imaginings of our students. Many of us came to the seminar with a belief in the power of story to inspire and communicate ideas,  but we were challenged to think critically about the specific messages being conveyed through those stories about race and power. Through discussion, readings, books clubs, and “close-reads” of non-traditional texts such as Janelle Monae’s music videos and The Twilight Zone, we crafted a framework for our collective goals and individual units. I’ve always struggled with teaching poetry, so I took this opportunity to create a poetry unit centered around speculative poetry and diverse authors.

Dr. Thomas’ passion for the topic and her own experience teaching made every session feel valuable and applicable. Between her wealth of literary knowledge and the insightful discussions with the other teachers in the seminar, I left feeling like I had gained a new supportive community as well as a toolkit for purposeful teaching.

I had entered the teaching field in 2011 with a plan to teach high school history and a “just-in-case” English certification. The rough draft of plans, however, is meant to be revised, and after moving around a little bit between subjects and schools, I’m now grateful to be  in the middle of my 3rd year at Greenberg Elementary School teaching 8th grade ELA. While I still have a long way to go and so much to learn, the seminar has helped me be a more responsive and effective teacher and I am truly grateful for the experience provided through the Teachers Institute of Philadelphia.