Janelle Jennings-Alexander Wins Early Career Educator of Color Leadership Award
Janelle Jennings-Alexander considers her teaching as a natural extension of her scholarship. So, Alexander, who is a Ph.D. candidate in Florida State’s Department of English, felt profoundly honored when she recently found out she is a winner of a prestigious educator award.
Alexander won the 2018 National Council of Teachers of English Early Career Educator of Color (EC-EOC) Leadership Award.
“This award means that my professional interests and ideals, and the potential for change they create in the classroom, are shared by others, and that's really important to me,” says Jennings-Alexander, who is assistant professor of English at William Peace University in Raleigh, North Carolina. “I am grateful to continue to be molded and mentored by scholars who are shaping the future of inquiry at the intersections of writing, literature, and anti-racist teaching and learning. It's really exciting stuff.”
The purpose of this award is to provide early career educators of color a national forum for professional collaboration and development with an opportunity to attend an EC-EOC Institute in the first year and to present a session at the NCTE annual convention in year two. Jennings-Alexander plans to attend the Whole Languages Umbrella Literacies for All Summer Institute July 12-14 in Baltimore, Maryland.
“The workshops being held that weekend connect well to some of the big questions in diversity that I am grappling with,” she says. “Being engaged in substantive discussions around these topics over the next two years in going to be really impactful for my development as an educator and a scholar.”
Jennings-Alexander is currently finishing her Ph.D. in literature, with a rhetoric and composition minor, and her dissertation is titled “Reading Whiteness: Applying a Lens of Critical Whiteness to 21st Century Black Authored Texts.” Her research critically examines whiteness within the context of late 20th- and early 21st-century African American literature and seeks to explore the role an anti-racist pedagogy might play in transforming modern race relations and in recruiting social justice allies. Her teaching explores the intersections of race, rhetoric and composition in the literature classroom.
“As much as we strive in the 21st century, post-civil rights era, post-Obama presidency, to position ourselves as an anti-racist, post-race society, we have a long way to go,” she says. “One of the reasons we seem stuck in our progress on this topic of race is that we don’t know how to talk about it. We fail because we have very few settings where people of all backgrounds can come to the table and feel safe to talk about race in substantial and informed ways.”
FSU Assistant Professor Rhea Lathan is on Jennings-Alexander’s doctoral committee, and she admires Jennings-Alexander for her efforts.
"As teacher, scholar and researcher, Janelle demonstrates true courage where she is attempting to dismantle incomplete theories about critical race theory and teaching literary analysis; especially those that place whiteness ideologies at the center of discourse within black literary traditions,” Lathan says.
In turn, Jennings-Alexander appreciates the personal and career support her doctoral committee members give her, especially since Jennings-Alexander has taken a non-traditional path to further her education. She began teaching at William Peace before completing her Ph.D., and she is thankful that she received letters of recommendation before finishing her dissertation.
“My committee, specifically Maxine Montgomery and Rhea Lathan, could see that teaching is what connects me to my research,” Jennings-Alexander says. “Those women are tremendous mentors and my biggest cheerleaders. I'm also really indebted to Deborah Coxwell-Teague, whose phenomenal teacher preparation program is really the model for how effective college level English educators are created.”
Jennings-Alexander began teaching at William Peace in the fall of 2017, and she says the institution encourages all of her interests.
“As the only black female faculty member on my campus, I fill a unique, sometime contentious void, but all of my colleagues have been fierce advocates of me and my research,” she says.
Lathan says Jennings-Alexander’s leadership award shows that her research is valuable and advances important ideas.
“Janelle is one of those complete scholarly minds whose potential to bridge the intersections of literary and composition theory is limitless,” Lathan says. “It's clear that NCTE recognizes this as the future of English teachers."
Jennings-Alexander says that with the support of William Peace administrators, such as the English department chair Corinne Andersen, provost Charlie Duncan, who is an FSU graduate, and university president Brian Ralph, she is proud of her academic direction.
“While working at such a teaching intensive institution has slowed down my writing,” she says, “it has grounded me in my values, with teaching as a primary focus of those.”