Student strives to center underrepresented voices in the language arts

August 12, 2019

Before joining the University of Washington’s multicultural education program, doctoral student Jazmen Moore was an English language arts teacher and a spoken word coach and coordinator in Chicago.

Her students, most being students of color and possessing amazing stories to share with the world, inspired her to become a better educator.

By pursuing her PhD, Moore hopes to explore further “what does it mean to create and sustain literacy learning spaces where young people of color can boldly tell their stories, where they can be equipped with the resources and opportunities to also question systems of power and oppression through creative work,” she explained. 

In Chicago, Moore often attended poetry slams and festivals, environments that welcomed young people to share their stories and provided opportunities for them to foster community ties.

"[T]hose are really important spaces that need to be acknowledged for the work that they are doing,” Moore said. For educators, Moore added, that involves thinking critically about informal learning environments in the context of multicultural education and considering what the field of teacher education can learn from those spaces and what youth are creating in them.

Moore is a former fellow of the Institute for the Recruitment of Teachers — an organization dedicated to advancing diversity in the teaching workforce recently joined by the UW. In addition to her doctoral studies, she serves as a research assistant for the Banks Center for Educational Justice and co-teacher of a course on multicultural teaching for secondary teacher candidates. 

“[T]here was so much that I was privileged to learn from my [high school] students by being in good relationships with them and their families and their communities,” Moore noted, “so I had to learn how to build community in different ways this year and how to do that within the roles I was occupying.”

At the Banks Center for Educational Justice, where a focus on community engagement is integral to its mission to advance educational justice, Moore had opportunities to build this sense of community. 

During the past year, Moore participated in three of the Center’s major projects, including a book talk with Professors Joy Williamson-Lott and Michelle Purdy to celebrate its inauguration. The other projects, a “Teaching for Black Lives” event and a gathering with Native teacher educators, fit into the Center’s commitment to join communities in centering diverse and underrepresented populations in education.

Throughout these projects, Moore worked closely with her long-time mentor and adviser Django Paris, the James A. and Cherry A. Banks Professor of Multicultural Education. One thing she learned from Paris and often reminds herself of is that “being a teacher is not just this inherently good thing.”

Teachers must constantly examine who they are, what they bring into the classroom, their values and biases, Moore said. For example, while a teacher may appreciate students regarded as “quiet” and “well-behaved,” it’s important to also value students who have an abundance of energy and are willing to express themselves creatively in ways that seem out of the box. “If I don’t take the time to examine and interrogate my values, and then I push my values onto the student,” Moore said, “I could hurt them in many ways, and that could be damaging to them and their sense of self.”

Part of her role at the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE), a nation-wide community of educators that seeks to improve the P-12 teaching of English and language arts, focuses on mitigating potential harms of teacher bias.

Moore serves on NCTE’s Committee Against Racism and Bias in the Teaching of English and helped revise their position statement on anti-racism in the teaching of English. NCTE creates such resources, available for teachers to use and share, to promote more equitable class instruction and to support English teachers in thinking about their identities and roles in the classroom.

In 2018, Moore hosted a Twitter chat on behalf of NCTE titled “The Canon of Our Community” intended to help educators shift away from the traditional English canon — typically centered on male, Eurocentric perspectives — and to elevate the voices of people of color, Indigenous peoples, women and LGBTQIA+ folks.

For educators hoping to create classroom spaces for all voices to be heard, Moore encourages thinking about people already doing this work, such as #DisruptTexts and #EduColor on Twitter. 

“I think it’s paying attention to the conversations that are currently happening, in real-time as well as online,” she said. 

“I think it’s important also to listen to students, especially indigenous students and students of color, and to listen to them talk about their experiences, about their communities, about their families, about what matters to them and what interests them,” Moore added, “and to center their experiences and use that as a springboard for finding texts that will reflect them, their identities and the things that they care about — because those things are out there.”

Story by Tracy Dinh, marketing and communications student aide.


Dustin Wunderlich, Director of Marketing and Communications