“A father, a husband, a teacher, a person of faith” is how Ernest Morrell, ADC Planning and Advisory Committee Chair, defines himself. Morrell, Coyle Professor of Literacy Education and Director of the Center for Literacy Education at the University of Notre Dame, reflects on his 25 year journey in education, and how his theory of change has cyclically evolved over time.
Like most new teachers, his first years in the classroom were an introduction to the sobering truth about teaching: you can’t put a checkbox on being a teacher, it just doesn’t work that way. There’s always a home environment you can’t control, a school climate you alone can’t cultivate, a troubled kid you can’t reach. “I felt as powerless as I’ve ever felt” Morrell reflects; an interesting note from one of the most well sought after professionals in the field, whose reputation was built on his phenomenal work connecting students in Oakland, his hometown, to popular culture, their neighborhood and a history that he himself wished he had exposure to growing up in Oakland schools. “If I leave, I’m abandoning my kids, if I stay can I change the world?” a young Morrell questioned as he faced one of the toughest decisions of his career.
Morrell ultimately left the classroom in an effort to claim the power he felt he lacked to make a larger difference. Since then, some of his accomplishments include being the Macy Professor of English Education and Director of the Institute for Urban and Minority Education (IUME) at Teachers College, becoming an elected member of the AERA Council, an elected Fellow of the American Educational Research Association, a president of the National Council of Teachers of English, an appointed member of the International Literacy Association’s Research Panel, a writer of over 80 articles and book chapters, and an author of eight books.
Today, as a lifelong educator, he reflects on how his thinking has evolved. “I went into teaching thinking it was about human capital and the individual. Then I left, thinking it was macro - that structural change was needed.” he says. Now, as a lifelong educator Morrell’s theory of change, and life philosophy, has come full circle. “There are two billion Africans in the Diaspora, but you can make a real difference if you change the way people think about themselves. If you affect one person’s life you impact the universe significantly.”