‘Even though I didn’t see my dad except on Saturdays … I felt his presence’

Chalkbeat journalists ask the people we come across in our work to tell us about their education stories and how learning shaped who they are today. Learn more about this series, and read other installments, here.

Shawnta Barnes is a literacy coach at School 63 and a psycholinguistics instructor at Indiana University Purdue University Indianapolis. She has taught at Indiana Math and Science Academy and Wayne and Washington townships. Growing up in Indianapolis, she attended Indianapolis Public Schools and Lawrence Township schools through inter-district busing.

My dad actually worked seven days a week because he was saving for us to go to college. He had a purple heart so we had some of our college paid for through the VA loan, but he wanted to make sure that when we left college, we had no college debt. He worked second shift seven days a week, so I would see my dad on the weekends.

I would do my homework, and I would leave it. Then my dad would look at it. And then he may put something like a sticker on it. When I got older he would write notes on it, then I could see it the next day. It was this constant feedback. Even though I didn’t see my dad except on Saturdays, he was very involved. I felt his presence.

My dad really emphasized being able to read because his grandmother could not read. It was really important for us to have a lot of books in our house. I had magazine subscriptions. I would go to the bookstore every week. And even now, as an adult, I go see my parents every Sunday after church, and my dad saves stuff for me to read.

(As a literacy coach), every morning, I work with a group of third graders to do remediation. We read a story called Bad News for Outlaws. It was about the first black U.S. Marshal in Oklahoma territory, and the kids were super excited. I just love that I get to start my day off with a group of kids, and get them excited about school. And then I give them books all the time. They’re like, ‘you got some books?’ I just want them to be exposed to as many different stories and texts as possible so they can get excited and figure out what they love to read.