Award-winning teacher and scholar Danielle Lillge has joined the Illinois State University Department of English this year as an assistant professor.
Lillge received her Ph.D. in English and education at the University of Michigan in 2015. She has published a book, several journal manuscripts, and policy briefs in the area of English education.
What are you looking to accomplish as an assistant professor?
I am really excited to continue my research work, which overlaps with my teaching interests in English education. I am interested in English teachers’ learning as they begin in the profession and continue on, especially in thinking about how English educators and professional development facilitators can best support teacher learning across diverse contexts.
How did you become interested in English education?
Like many in my field, I began as a high school and middle school teacher. I taught in rural Wisconsin for a number of years and then moved to Michigan to pursue a master’s degree. I was eager to go back to my classroom afterward.
That’s when I started classroom research and literacy coaching work with colleagues of various disciplines. We were working on how to infuse reading, writing, speaking, and listening into the disciplinary work we were doing. That led me to connect with middle school colleagues in my district, and later, other districts in the area where I led and contributed to a variety of English and disciplinary literacy professional development efforts.
Through that work, I started to read more and realized there were questions my colleagues and I were encountering as teachers and teacher leaders. Researchers were also grappling with these same sets of questions. I never intended to return to doctorate studies, but those questions and a desire to affect change in secondary classrooms ultimately led me to do that.
What did you do with your doctorate?
At the University of Michigan, I was simultaneously working in urban high schools as part of a multi-year ethnography. I was supporting various literacy initiatives in a number of schools, and I continued my professional development work in suburban and rural schools as well. All of that kept incubating my interests around how to prepare and support English teachers.
What is the value of working in different school settings?
Moving every two to three years as a child gave me an interesting perspective of schooling. I’m grateful for those experiences. They helped me develop an understanding of school culture and work with teachers to respond to the unique demands and realities of teaching in diverse school contexts. I want to push back on the assumption that effective English teaching looks the same everywhere. One way I’ve done so is by spending the last two years co-teaching in an urban ninth grade classroom with undergraduate students. We were living in the “real” world, so everything we were doing had practical applicability and developed our understandings of how best to meet the needs of diverse students.
This semester, I’ve had the privilege of traveling with my ENG 296 students to meet their mentor teachers with whom they’re doing clinical work. I’m learning about the high schools from English teachers in the area and exploring how I might partner most effectively with mentor teachers in support of English teacher candidates’ learning and the mentors’ ongoing teaching and learning, too.
I’ve worked in a diverse set of school contexts from elementary to high school in urban, suburban, and rural communities. I’m grateful for that depth and variety of experience, because it helps my teaching and research with undergraduates and with practicing teachers.
How does that help you in your teaching now?
I spend a lot of time thinking about how we open learning opportunities for all students. How through our teaching are we able to meet diverse learners’ needs? Diversity of experience helps me to see the disparities in educational access and think about the implications of that in the preparation of English teachers. They need to be able to meet a range of student learners and also think about what socially just English instruction looks like. That’s critical, and non-negotiable in my mind. It keeps me motivated and challenged each day, and I hope that my teaching and research contribute to ongoing conversations about how best to accomplish that goal.