Aphra Behn: Accessibility and Availability

I listened carefully last week at New Teacher Orientation as Massapequa’s new teachers shared reasons why they chose teaching as their lifework.  Saturated in all of their responses was their inspiration: parents serving as teachers, a favorite teacher who provided a spark for their careers, the opportunity to change the world, etc.  Of course, not one mentioned that he/she wanted to be a millionaire.  I sat there reflecting on my own story.  Yes, I had many relatives who taught, many amazing teachers to aspire to be, and I believe that I have changed many lives. However, my story really begins with Aphra Behn, author of Oroonoko.

Walking into Welles Hall at SUNY Geneseo for my first ever class, English 142: The Picaresque, I remember wondering if taking this English class as part of my English minor would be the right choice.  In fact, I was only taking the course because my sister recommended the professor, Dr. Maria Lima.  This same professor changed my life.  Our first text that semester was Oroonoko.  Of course, I never read anything like it in high school.  Its author, Aphra Behn, is credited as the first female voice to ever get published.  A daring voice.  In her book, Behn explored the themes of slavery, race, and gender.  Unlike others, Behn put the “other” in a sympathetic spotlight and forced her readers to think about the stereotypes that exist in a reader’s mind.  Virginia Woolf wrote that it was Aphra Behn who “earned women the right to speak their minds.”  It was also Aphra Behn that led to my obsession with Black British, Caribbean, and postcolonial literature.  I then knew that teaching English and education would be my lifework.  The walk down to my advisor to change my major from Psychology to English was extremely easy.

As I begin my sixteenth year in education, I can still make connections between my work and the ideas expressed in Behn’s novel and the books that would follow.  This year, there is potential that a woman’s voice may reside in the most powerful seat in this country.  Regardless of your political stance, this must inspire us that we can achieve whatever we want in our lives.  Similar to the presidential seat, education needs to take note that accessibility and availability should exist in everything that we provide for our students.

In September, we will open doors to makerspaces in all elementary libraries.  Spaces that will provide opportunities for all students to code, use tools such as Osmo, ozobots, Dot and Dash, print 3D designs on 3D printers, learn circuitry with Little Bits and Snap Circuits, build Lego and Keva structures, be creative using cardboard and duct tape, and the list goes on.  All students will be part of the makerspace.  No test or set criteria for admission, no assessments, no homework, no lecturing, and nothing traditional.  It is a space that captures what we all believe education should be.  Like Behn’s work, all voices and statuses will be cherished.

If asked today what inspired my decision to teach, I would never have thought that a possible answer could include Aphra Behn.  I always thought the answer was Dr. Maria Lima who prompted me to see the power that literature can have on the way one sees the world.  But, it is just that.  Through making authors like Behn possible for her students to read, she forced me to realize that education has to be accessible and available to all audiences.  I can’t wait to continue this journey!

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