Changing the Conversation in our Heads

During a recent professional development focusing on the power of hope, grit, and growth mindset, Kevin Sheehan prompted our entire staff to think about the moments that shifted the “conversations in our heads.”  He asked us to consider how certain people impacted our careers and our futures.  He challenged us to document these moments and share with those who had the courage to make us rethink our own mental models.  I am dedicating this blog post to the person who changed the “conversation in my head” while a student at SUNY Geneseo.

In late August of 1997, I met with my freshman advisor from the psychology department (my chosen major) to choose my classes for the fall semester.  My sister, a junior at Geneseo, forced me to take a course titled English 142: Picaresque.  She claimed that although I planned to be a psychology major, I would find the professor, Dr. Maria Lima, to be engaging and life-changing.  She was absolutely right.  Not only did Maria Lima inspire a heightened love for literature, she forced me to think outside of my comfort zone.  I quickly fell in love with literature that empowered characters who found themselves on the outside of the mainstream.  I became obsessed with post-colonial literature with a main love for Caribbean writers.  I adored Jamaica Kincaid, Edwidge Danticat, Sam Selvon, and others who begged me to reflect on privilege and the impact of experience.  Although this genre, which was so foreign to my experience as a high school student on Long Island, captured my attention, it truly was Maria Lima’s absolute passion that intrigued me.  Her energy.  Her honesty with closed minded students.  Her drilling of our hegemonic ideologies.  Her precise power to make us undergo a process of unlearning.

Intersession of my freshman year. I remember walking into the Sturges building to find my psychology advisor, Dr. Terrence Bassett, to inform him that I no longer could consider a major in psychology.  The teaching of reading and writing would saturate my life.  I knew the answer to the question that burned inside me throughout the entire semester learning under Dr. Maria Lima.  I was a future English teacher.  My life would be dedicated to teaching and learning.  My walk into Sturges that day is still clear as day in mind.  It was my turning point.  The point when I  realized that someday, maybe, I could be Maria Lima.  That someday I could use an author’s words to inspire curiosity and conviction.  The opportunity to prompt a student, a reader, to see himself and his future in a text.

Four years later, just before graduation, I walked into Maria’s office to try to put her impact into words.  I needed to tell her that my teaching would follow her guide.  I needed to tell her that teachers do change lives.  I wanted to express to her that because of her, like the characters that she shared with me, I found my home.  Before five words escaped my mouth, I couldn’t contain my tears.  She knew what she had done for me.  She knew I appreciated her.  She knew I was the character in my own text.  She looked at me and stated with her smile, “Ed, you are going to be a fine teacher.  You don’t need me any more.”

Thank you, Maria Lima. Your impact continues to write my story.

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