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Meet Paul Hankins

by Leigh Anne Eck

Not only are the students in Room #407 at Silver Creek High School in Sellersburg, Indiana fortunate to learn from Paul Hankins, but so are the educators who engage with him on social media. His dedication to the arts, his students, and to the education profession is a blessing to those around him. Paul will be presenting at the ICTE conference this March. Come meet him in his session: T.H.I.S is Multigenre Writing: Year-long Projects in the Writing Classroom.

Colleges/Degrees: Indiana University Southeast, Master of Science Secondary Education English

Current School and Position: Silver Creek High School, English 11 and AP English Language and Composition

Teaching history: I have been teaching English 11 since 2004 and I have been teaching AP English for over a decade now (adding dual credit to this piece within the past few years).

How and when did you know you wanted to become an English teacher?

My English teachers were among the most supportive in the classroom of my latent talents and passive resistance to the work. I had a number of influences while I was in high school who helped me to shape the fuzzy vision of the teacher I didn't know I wanted (or could be). I think I knew I wanted to be an English teacher. . .or A teacher, when I sat down and reflected upon these early influences upon my life, quietly tapping into those talents that were trying to express themselves.

How would your students describe you?

I hope that they would describe me as one who knows his content area, but they may not know this language as descriptive of their teachers. They would probably say I read a lot and present characters with different voices. They would probably say my room looks different from the others they might sit in.

How would you describe your teaching career in one sentence?

I might sum this up in a sort of six-word memoir style: He kept learning as he went.

You believe in bringing art to the English language arts classroom. Why is this important to you and/or your students?

I think that a multi-sensory approach is the way to deliver information and to bring that information back. If we are presenting from our art as teachers, we might invite the same expression of art in student response. There is a new, but not-so-new, interest in multimodal composition and I am excited that some of this can be brought out in collage, in memes, in visual representations like infographics. The means by which we bring our response to ideas and stories can be wide open to artistic expression. This is not to say that we don't write in alphabetic form anymore, but I would suggest that even in the pre-planning, we are bringing in that art as part.

Favorite book you read this school year: If you ask me tomorrow this might change. One of my favorites this year has been Gae Polisner's upcoming YA, Jack Keruoac is Dead to Me. One of the reasons this is my favorite, aside from the fact that this author has been so good to us in Room 407, is that the publishing representatives sent along extra copies so that I can read this along with ten of my students in a small group of early readers.

Currently reading: I have been reading through Renee Watson's books for middle grade and young adult readers. Part of this has been for a proposal for an upcoming book on integrating the arts into ELA and content area classrooms, but this has also been about making sure I am able to talk about and share a greater number of MG and YA titles with my students and colleagues.

Share what advice you would give to new teachers or students who are thinking about teaching as a career?

Know who you are as a student and what this has meant to you up to this point in your journey (whether in your studies or in your practice). Knowing this will draw from within you the authenticity those students need to see each day in your room. A lot of this idea is expressed in both Gravity Goldberg's Teach Yourself and Thomas Newkirk's Embarrassment. These two texts have been mentor books for me in the past couple of years. Venerable is what you hope for at the end of the journey of your practice. Vulnerability is what will get you through to the last bell today.

Share what gives you energy in your classroom.

It's about students, right? I know this is the right answer for this one. It's probably the one I will get right for this series of questions. Yes. Students. That feels right. When you know they are starting to get it. When they start pushing on the rules and constructs to bring forth some new insight or new way to respond. We talk a lot about "right" vs. "write" answers in Room 407. At that point in the year (usually by the end of the first week) when we start to hear "write" answers in the room, I begin to light up. . .and write up.

How do you recharge away from school?

I'm a collagist. This time in working with paper and paste helps me to center the way working a puzzle might for another. I enjoy a good documentary that helps me to see how to be a better human. Of course, reading sustains me too. Going home to a loving wife and son and daughter is also recharging.

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