Author Archives: kacimmcclure

Looking Ahead: A Thank-You to HGSE and a Poem

In July, I moved up here from my college town in Louisiana having only been in New England once— on visit day. I came here determined to learn as much as I could about language and literacy, meet fascinating Professors, and be involved in everything I could be. But, that’s not what happened. I mean on face value, yes, I was involved outside of the classroom up to my eyeballs (literally so involved it hurt sometimes), I met amazing faculty, and I gained knowledge in the field. However, in these things I did even more important work— I had conversations about culture, equity, and society in ways that I never imagined; I imagined ways to improve my classroom and public districts, reimagined them, and talked about them with passionate educators and professors from all over the world; I learned about myself through coursework, involvement, and nights spent belly-ache laughing on the HUNAP (Harvard University Native American Program) couch with four of the greatest women I’ve ever known. So, this is my thank-you to those who made this experience exceed my expectations.

I could never list all the people who contributed, but of course, I’m going to attempt to anyways. First, the HGSE student community. It really is like a family—a family that pushes you to expand your consciousness, dishes out sarcasm better than even myself, and gives you their yogurt when you have class until 8pm and didn’t have a chance to eat that day (true story and you’re still the real MVP). I really could never list all of you, but just know I’m talking about every single one of you. Second, HUNAP and FIERCE. Cute Instagram captions aside, they are the greatest people you’ll ever meet. Thank you for being shoulders to cry on, bad influences on my restaurant budget and diet, and beautiful souls. Shelly, Jason, Sam, Damon, Megan, Jordan, Danielle, and Autumn (and Alice), thank you. Third, Tracie and OSA. Is there anything y’all didn’t do for us? I can never thank you enough for the support of FIERCE, HHEI, and me as a student. Fourth and finally, all the professors and other faculty that have had an impact on my learning (including Andrena, my Program Administrator). I am exceedingly thankful for every course I’ve taken this year and the impact it will have on my practice.

As the year closes out, I’m thankful, reflective, and looking forward to a new adventure. When I started the job search, a few people asked me what I was going to be doing next year and were disappointed that I was “just” going to teach. I began to feel like maybe that was an inadequate reach after finishing a master’s program, so I looked into things like research fellowships and central office jobs. However, my heart always returned to teaching. Sometimes in society we devalue teaching as a job that is beneath us once we get experience and education, and while one day I want to pursue a doctorate and leadership, I’m glad I didn’t listen to the little tug to get a higher up job that I don’t actually want. Next year, I’ll be moving back to Dallas, Texas, and teaching ninth grade English as the founding ELAR teacher of a new Dallas ISD public school. It is without reservation that I say HGSE and the beautiful, innovative, empathetic educators I’ve been blessed with meeting have prepared me for my next steps. I can’t wait to incorporate the learning I’ve done this year into my classroom and into some exciting community work outside of the classroom as well (stay tuned). And, in true English teacher fashion, I’ve written this poem to celebrate and look forward.


It radiates with curiosity and bad fluorescent lighting—

Not always inviting.

But a place of promise and future

A place of questioning and, sometimes, confusion

Begging for men and women who care, with innovation and passion at their core—

Not afraid to challenge the status quo and demand the system for more.

More love, equity, support, student voice

Not just more, better, way better

Resources are thin, but the year is long—

Not a simple task that gives birth to a summer vacation song.

It is a place, a place of government and systemic failure

A place of promises

A place of promise

A place

They serve students in abundance—

Sometimes in a monotony of redundance.

But in August I embark to transform

A classroom

Into a home

Surrounded by springtime bluebonnets and Texas heat, adventure awaits—

Adventure to anticipate.

It awaits in the halls, the young lives,

In the coffee shops I’ve yet to explore

And in familiar streets

And the sunshine of the south

And the lullabies of thunderstorms

Within the complex system of both sunshine and thunderstorms—

A home

Wado and donadagvhoi (thank you and see you later), HGSE.

Kaci McClure is a Master’s of Education candidate in the Language and Literacy program. Her primary passions are increasing literacy skills among high school students; addressing inequity in low-income, largely minority schools; and culturally responsive teaching. A transplant out of Louisiana who originally hails from Texas, Kaci has an affinity for sweet tea, spicy food, and the word “y’all.” She’s also an avid supporter of conscious rap and frybread, neither correlated to the other but both very powerful.  

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A Southerner Meets New England Winter

We recently had a big snowstorm—I know, surprise! So far, winter hasn’t been too bad this year, but it definitely showed up that day. I actually had a day off from classes, and a day off from my internship (yay for snow days!). Originally, I’m from Dallas, Texas, and while it snows gently on rare occasions, Texans and snowstorms just aren’t friends. To give you some context, see a weather comparison between Dallas and Boston below (yikes).

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Dallas, TX weather is on the top and Cambridge, MA weather is below.

Although coming from the south to winter in Boston is a big change, there are ways to be prepared and make the most out of a snow day!

First, winter supplies:

  1. Make sure you have a heavy coat—one with a real hood, down, insulation, and long. You may think you can get away with a cute light jacket that stops at your hips, but you shouldn’t try it.
  1. Boots! Not those cute fall booties, but actual boots with traction that are waterproof and higher than the ankle. When my foot was sinking into snow banks, I was grateful for my heavy-duty boots.
  1. Boot socks—invest in some thick boot socks for days when its really cold or you plan on being outside for a while (I have Cabin Socks from Cabela’s)
  1. Scarves, hats, gloves—warm ones, and I recommend gloves with touchscreen capability so that you can still change your music, use GPS, and answer phone calls without taking them off

And… how to make the most of a Cambridge/Boston snow day!

  • Get groceries before the storm—you don’t have to go crazy, but make sure you don’t have to get out to go get milk in whiteout conditions (speaking from experience—whoops)
  • A Burdick’s hot chocolate mix
  • Candles in festive scents like “Sweater Weather”
  • Netflix
  • Get ahead on assignments and reading
  • Get together with friends to play in the snow, or join the citywide snowball fight in Boston Commons (it really happened, and it was awesome)

All in all, I had fun in the snow, and snowy winters aren’t that bad if you come prepared.  I also took some awesome pictures while I was out playing in the snow!

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Kaci McClure is a Master’s of Education candidate in the Language and Literacy program. Her primary passions are increasing literacy skills among high school students; addressing inequity in low-income, largely minority schools; and culturally responsive teaching. A transplant out of Louisiana who originally hails from Texas, Kaci has an affinity for sweet tea, spicy food, and the word “y’all.” She’s also an avid supporter of conscious rap and frybread, neither correlated to the other but both very powerful.  

Doing Research and The 2016 NCTE Conference

If you’re interested in research, HGSE has an abundance of resources and grants to help you make conducing and presenting research a reality. First, there plenty of ways to present research within the Harvard community, including at the Alumni of Color Conference in the spring and the Student Research Conference. Additionally, there are ways for students to get involved in faculty research or to do their own research. If you have a conference in mind that is off campus, or even in a different state, don’t let that discourage you. This year, I continued my work with a professor from my undergraduate institution and presented at the National Council of Teachers of English conference with the help of grants. Below is my NCTE experience; I highly recommend getting involved with research and attending a conference.

At the end of November, I presented at the annual NCTE Conference in Atlanta, Georgia alongside Dr. Susan Weinstein of Louisiana State University. Our presentation discussed the value of implementing spoken word poetry as central pedagogy in the classroom—not simply throwing some in on the side, or excluding it altogether. The premise of our work is that youth spoken word poetry presents rich material from which students can study culture, current events, personal identity formation, and attributes and functions of text. Additionally, spoken word can be studied in its written format via transcripts, as well as in the traditional oral format.

Our research pulled from modern-day examples, including “Kaona” performed by Jamaica Osorio and Ittai Wong in Hawai’i, which incorporate traditional language, historical references, and the passage of and importance of holding onto language. Performed by youth poets, this poem allows students to discuss connections to culture and language, and it gives them an example of literature created by youth. As articulated by Dr. Susan Weinstein, this piece is “carefully crafted to educate and affect the audience on intellectual, emotional, sensory, and even kinesthetic levels.” The other two featured poems discussed were “Columbusing” and “Knock-Off Native,” which dive into cultural appropriation and who defines identity, respectively. As in traditional canonical literature, all three are rich with allusions, metaphors, and imagery that assists in conveying their important messages. As a passionate supporter of culturally responsive pedagogy and youth authors, this presentation reflected my ideas (as well as Dr. Weinstein’s) about reimagining what is positioned at the center of classroom curriculum, and who has cultural capital.

In addition to presenting at the conference, I was able to reflect on my own teaching and leadership practices, and to immerse myself in learning about how to make education better for the students that I serve. One of the sessions I attended reimagined memoirs in the classroom, and sought to honor Native traditions of storytelling in classrooms serving a predominantly Native American student body. As a Native American student, I was ecstatic to see the many ways that this conference moved beyond the binary to include cultures and student experiences that defied the traditional Black/White lens. Other sessions I attended discussed adolescent literature with LGBTQ characters, instruction for ELLs (English Language Learners) and differentiation, being an advocate for students, and rethinking traditional grading practices. All of the conference sessions built on my work and the learning that I’ve done at HGSE, including ideas about reading development and instruction and lenses from CRT (Critical Race Theory). Overall, I was able to share in my commitment to honoring cultures and histories outside of the dominant narrative, accumulate valuable tools for working in education, and meet several influential and inspiring people from across the education sector.

Kaci McClure is a Master’s of Education candidate in the Language and Literacy program. Her primary passions are increasing literacy skills among high school students; addressing inequity in low-income, largely minority schools; and culturally responsive teaching. A transplant out of Louisiana who originally hails from Texas, Kaci has an affinity for sweet tea, spicy food, and the word “y’all.” She’s also an avid supporter of conscious rap and frybread, neither correlated to the other but both very powerful.  

 

Reflecting on My First Semester on Appian Way

The past semester has been a challenging one, without a doubt, but it has also been one filled with immense personal growth, laughter, support, and meaningful assignments. If I said being a graduate student was easy, I’d be lying to you. However, at HGSE I’ve found support, resources, and learning that have made this semester’s journey well worth it.

Coming to the Harvard Graduate School of Education I wasn’t entirely sure of what to expect, but I assumed that my professors would be largely unavailable outside of class. As a student who thrives on one-on-one interactions for my learning, this definitely made me apprehensive as decision day approached. This semester I’ve found the opposite of what I expected. Most of my professors respond to student communication promptly and effectively, work with their students’ schedules to meet with them, and are understanding of most student needs. Beyond professors, everyone who works at HGSE works hard to be available for students and student groups, including Dean Jim Ryan, the Office of Student Affairs, Career Services, and more. The environment is one that feels as though everyone there wants you to succeed, which is crucial in graduate school when the workload can be a lot to shoulder.

The fall semester introduced me to amazing people between the HGSE faculty and my peers, taught me a great deal about education, and pushed me to be a better scholar than I thought possible. First, my classes and assignments have been instrumental in pushing me to think about education in new ways. All of my classes from A608, to Critical Race Theory in Education, to Reading Instruction and Development, have engaged me in meaningful discussions with my peers, connected me to pertinent research in the field, and furnished opportunities, in both individual and group assignments, to reflect on what it means to take these lessons from Appian Way to U.S. schools. My final paper for A608, and my research projects in other courses are things that I will revisit as I move forward in my career. In addition to the amazing faculty and the undeniable learning and personal growth I’ve experienced since August, the connections I’ve made with my peers are ones that I hope to take with me well beyond May when this program ends. Overall, as I reflect on this semester, I’m thankful for each day I’ve spent on Appian Way.

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Kaci McClure is a Master’s of Education candidate in the Language and Literacy program. Her primary passions are increasing literacy skills among high school students; addressing inequity in low-income, largely minority schools; and culturally responsive teaching. A transplant out of Louisiana who originally hails from Texas, Kaci has an affinity for sweet tea, spicy food, and the word “y’all.” She’s also an avid supporter of conscious rap and frybread, neither correlated to the other but both very powerful.  

Graduate School Application Advice: My Journey to Getting Over the Sticker Shock

Ah, yes. This time last year I was gathering up all of the bits and pieces of my many graduate school applications. I have serious “fear of missing out,” so I had a hard time deciding what schools I wanted to apply to, terrified I’d miss a great opportunity if I narrowed my list. If you’re anything like me, I highly suggest that you first do a self-audit—where are you right now, where do you want to be, and what do you need in order to get from point A to point B. Additionally, keep in mind that when you’re applying to schools you want to show them that you’re a good fit for the program, so if you’re not even sure what you want from a graduate program, that can come through in your materials. This auditing process helped me sort out what I truly needed and wanted in a program rather than getting caught up in all these programs that sounded cool.

After I decided what I wanted my academic experience to look like, I started thinking about other factors that were important to me. For example, as you’re making your own decisions, think about how important geography, financial aid, internships, faculty, etc. are to you. Make sure you do your research on the institutions you’re applying to so that you don’t spend hours and an application fee on a program that doesn’t attend to what’s most important to you outside of the classroom and program title.

For me, I knew I really cared about networks and cost. I wanted to go to an institution that had strong connections with the community, the alumni, and research in the field. I found that network at Harvard, which is one of the reasons I chose this program. Flash forward to half way through my first semester here and I’m already pleasantly overwhelmed with the many opportunities I’ve been able to take advantage of as an HGSE student. The connections, relationships, and multiplicity of outlets for practice and new experiences in the field are beyond what I expected.

Cost, on the other hand, was trickier to work out for me, even in deciding to apply to HGSE. In all honesty, I applied to HGSE on a whim—I loved the programs and the school, but the sticker shock was so real. I remember the day I told my mom I was applying to HGSE (her face could’ve been a meme); I assured her I wouldn’t actually go and that it was just to see if it was even a possibility for me. I’m a first generation college student, and as far as I knew, families like mine didn’t go to Harvard and could never pay for it. Additionally, I was already in student loan debt up to my eyeballs from my state-school undergraduate experience. When I was accepted I had already made up my mind to attend elsewhere, but every time I went to decline my admission, I just couldn’t shake that I would regret not taking the leap.

Not to downplay the cost of living here or the tuition (it definitely costs), but it isn’t as impossible as that initial sticker shock makes you believe. First, there are so many options for funding, including HGSE financial aid, outside scholarships, loans, on and off campus jobs, and paid internships. After exploring my options, I was able to engineer a financial situation that was doable for me, which included a myriad of these resources. Moreover, although cost is critical, examine the return on your investment for each of your options.

What I’ve gotten out of this program already is well worth the cost and the sacrifices I’ve made. While HGSE and the Boston area may look impossibly expensive on paper, it is possible to navigate. I took a financial leap of faith in this decision despite the chagrin of well-meaning family, and although money is tight sometimes, it is so worth it. All in all, stay within your means, but don’t count yourself out of something beautiful before you begin to reach for it.

Kaci McClure is a Master’s of Education candidate in the Language and Literacy program. Her primary passions are increasing literacy skills among high school students; addressing inequity in low-income, largely minority schools; and culturally responsive teaching. A transplant out of Louisiana who originally hails from Texas, Kaci has an affinity for sweet tea, spicy food, and the word “y’all.” She’s also an avid supporter of conscious rap and frybread, neither correlated to the other but both very powerful.  

Resources Abound!

Graduate School is synonymous with one of those crazy fun (but also terrifying) roller coasters that knocks the wind out of you while you’re on it, but as you get off you immediately crave more—more knowledge, more time with your peers, and more (let’s be honest) free food. We’re at that mid-point time during the semester where papers seem to pile up, readings feel like they never end, and free time is more of a distant memory.

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In addition to the demands of school, many students’ stress level can be affected even more by family expectations, financial concerns, identity, mental health, and the general woes of adjustment. Consequently, it’s always important to ensure that we are caring for our most valuable asset, ourselves. Luckily, there are many ways to engage in self-care practices at Harvard that don’t require a huge time commitment and address the many facets of identity.

Below are some ideas and resources for engaging in self-care, while also rockin’ graduate school.

  1. Find an affinity group

    HGSE has plenty of ways to get involved and build support networks. Don’t do everything, but do something. I’m currently one of the Co-Chairs for the Native American student group, FIERCE (Future Indigenous Educators Resisting Colonial Education). Although that adds a little more to my plate, it’s an extraordinary way to decompress and do work that is meaningful to me and my own identity.

(See a list of recognized organizations here: http://osa.gse.harvard.edu/currently-recognized-organizations)

  1. Exercise

Four words– Barre at the MAC. But, if those four words don’t make you want to dust off your workout gear, Harvard has plenty of resources to stay active that you can take advantage of as an HGSE student.

Yoga: http://cw.uhs.harvard.edu/programs/yoga.html

Dance: http://ofa.fas.harvard.edu/dance-non-credit-classes

Harvard Recreation: http://recreation.gocrimson.com/recreation/membership/graduate

Basically, the possibilities are endless.

  1. Adult Coloring Books

If you’ve yet to explore this world, I highly recommend it.

  1. Meditation

Getting started: http://cw.uhs.harvard.edu/mindfulness/index.html

  1. Put down social media

Seriously, you do not need to watch yet another Facebook video of someone getting killed or read everyone and their dog’s political opinions. A little break from screen time in general can be good for the soul.

  1. Keep track of compliments

When someone gives you a compliment, write it in a journal or keep it in your notes on your phone—when you’re having a hard day, re-read them.

  1. Admit when you need help

Go to office hours, make that writing center or research librarian appointment, or go talk to someone about the non-academic things you are struggling with. There is no shame in admitting you don’t have it all figured out.

Academic help: http://bsc.harvard.edu/ or http://www.gse.harvard.edu/osa/access-and-disability-services

Help with that paper: https://www.gse.harvard.edu/library/services

When you need someone to talk to: https://huhs.harvard.edu/services/counseling-and-mental-health

At the end of the day, HGSE is a mind-blowing and wonderful experience–one that is worth the endless reading, midterm papers, and rapid growth. However, learning to change the world requires attention to your own needs and limitations as well.

Kaci McClure is a Master’s of Education candidate in the Language and Literacy program. Her primary passions are increasing literacy skills among high school students; addressing inequity in low-income, largely minority schools; and culturally responsive teaching. A transplant out of Louisiana who originally hails from Texas, Kaci has an affinity for sweet tea, spicy food, and the word “y’all.” She’s also an avid supporter of conscious rap and frybread, neither correlated to the other but both very powerful.