Hannah A. Franz
I am from Richmond, VA. Like many schools across the country, the public and magnet schools I attended operated under racially and socioeconomically segregated tracking, which impacted my academic and social life. A White middle class student, I was pulled into gifted and advanced classes with most of my other White peers, but very few of my African American peers. The impacts of tracking by socioeconomic status were also notable to me, especially as I entered middle school, where a student’s neighborhood seemed to determine placement in accelerated or honors classes. At the same time, I learned from my teachers how to cultivate empathy, and I also learned that great teachers come from all different backgrounds and speak all different language varieties.
I went to William and Mary for college and majored in linguistics. I took a course on Language Attitudes with Anne and learned about the implications of language variation in the educational injustices I had observed in school. We read widely on this topic in her course, and I continued to do so for my senior thesis research. With Anne as my thesis advisor, I undertook action-based research to design a website for teachers to learn about language variation, particularly African American English, and find resources on how to use this knowledge to increase educational opportunities for African American English speakers. Because of my experiences with impactful teachers, I knew that teachers, if provided with the necessary tools, could do positive work for students from underrepresented backgrounds even within an unjust system.
My undergraduate research led me to further pursue sociolinguistics and education in a Masters program at North Carolina State University (my undergraduate research was essential to my acceptance to and funding for this program!), to expand my knowledge of K-12 literacy at a Masters program at the University of Pennsylvania, and finally to teach middle school reading back in Virginia public schools. I taught at a predominantly African American school, designated Title I based on the percentage of students receiving free or reduced lunch. I learned from my fellow teachers and my students and their families how to communicate and collaborate cross culturally and how to focus education on community engagement. I also learned other, more difficult lessons. By the time I began teaching, U.S. public schools were notably different from when I had attended them. I found that what I had to teach was determined almost exclusively by standardized test preparation, and that different types of preparation assessments took up much of our instructional time. I began to think of other positions from which I could address educational inequities.
I returned to William & Mary as a PhD student in Curriculum Leadership at the School of Education. The most important aspect of my PhD work has been my involvement with the William and Scholars Program under Anne and Cheryl. I work with college students from K-12 schools like the ones I attended and taught at. My research now looks at how more students from schools burdened with educational inequities can be prepared for, access, and reach their full potential in college. I continue to have a focus on literacy and language, now looking at how students can learn college literacies, even as K-12 systems demand that they instead learn standardized testing literacies. In writing Highest Honors, I aim to provide you, as a student, directly with access to these college literacies and the possibilities that they open up for you. In telling my story, I aim to provide you with an example of the opportunities that undergraduate research can afford for graduate schools and a career, and how research in college can lead you on a path to influence the lives of others. After completing my doctorate, I plan to continue my current work from the college side of the high school-college transition both by directly teaching students about reaching their full potential in college and by preparing future educators to teach for equity. Research will remain crucial to my work, as I explore the best ways to achieve these goals.
Photo of Prof. Franz by Christine Fulgham