Dr. Rachel Lotan will hold you accountable as she holds your hand and heart (by Jennifer Ruef)

Congratulations to Jennifer Ruef for winning 3rd place in the adult category of the #SuperAuntie Writing Contest! Please enjoy reading Jennifer’s interview responses and winning entry. 

Name: Jennifer Ruef

Hometown: Madison, Wisconsin

What is your advice for other writers? Write from your heart. Say what you mean. Worry less, love more.

What are some of your favorite hobbies? Springboard and platform diving, swimming, dancing, reading

What is something you enjoyed about school when you were a youth? Being good at it.

Anything else you’d like to share? Our students are usually our best teachers.

Story title: Dr. Rachel Lotan will hold you accountable as she holds your hand and heart

I have a lot of academic aunties and honorary aunties.

Mrs. Kapter, the teacher who called me her poet laureate and first told me I was good at math.

Dr. Joshua Chover, an uncle who taught me probability theory and the relationship between humanizing both students and mathematics.

Dr. Amy Ellis, who told me grad school was looking for someone just like me, and I should apply.

Dr. Michelle Jacob, who asked me to “hop on” a paper, providing mentorship and publications.

Dr. Melynda Casement, an academic sister, writing partner, friend, and co-conspirator.

But this paper is about Dr. Rachel Lotan.

I often tell people that Dr. Rachel Lotan is the Jewish grandmother I didn’t know I needed. She was the director of the Stanford Teacher Education program I worked for during my doctoral program. She was a member of my dissertation committee. From Rachel, I learned the paradox of data that breaks the heart of teacher educators while piquing the interest of researchers: our failures to reach and educate new teachers pave improvements to teacher education programs.

From Rachel, I learned to forge meaningful connections between research and practice in teaching. Rachel’s foundational work in Complex Instruction harnessed important social psychology research in service of teaching for equity. Her work shares and shows how to effectively teach in de-tracked classrooms, and how to find and shine a spotlight on the brilliance of students whose academic offerings might be overlooked by peers. In these ways, I found a clear path between what I envisioned in teaching for equity and social justice and the actualization of that vision. Of course, I am forever and always on the journey, forever and always approaching that destination.

From Rachel, I learned that high standards are a form of love when presented as expectations and coupled with support. From Rachel, I learned to reach out and ask for help. From Rachel, I could expect a warm hug and a firm shove to get moving. I can see myself reflected in her eyes. I can hear her indignantly weaponizing my own name: “Jenny!” she would say, without fail, when my self-confidence wavered in any way. Stubbornly, Rachel would not break my gaze until I reflected back to her that I was competent, capable, obligated, and on fire.

Once, when I was struggling with some academic challenge, I reached out to Rachel and she asked me if I remembered what she said to me during my dissertation defense. I honestly did not—I remember very little of my defense. The past decade has brought many struggles. I know I am not alone in this. This past summer I reached out again, and asked a favor. I mailed Rachel a small piece of paper and asked her to write, sign, and return to me that praise: “Jenny, your writing is exquisite.” I keep that framed statement on my desk as a reminder that I “have important things to say.”

Photo credit: “LEGO Hearts” by Bill Ward’s Brickpile is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Read more Auntie stories in the book that inspired this writing contest, The Auntie Way. Order here or from your favorite book seller.

Published by Michelle M. Jacob

Owner of Anahuy Mentoring

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