~ Compiled by Jefferson Beavers, communication specialist, Department of English
The College of Arts and Humanities welcomes new faculty Dr. René M. Rodríguez-Astacio to the Department of English. He earned a doctorate in Curriculum Instruction, focused on literacies and English language arts, from the Pennsylvania State University. His research interests include English education, LGBTQIA+ topics in teacher education, as well as the representation of Latinx and LGBTQIA+ populations and its intersections in children’s and young adult literature. He is informed by critical multiculturalism, queer theory, Latinx critical legal theory, and critical content analysis.
What are you most looking forward to, teaching at Fresno State?
I am looking forward to meeting the students. During my online campus visit, I engaged in conversation with students here whose creativity, inquiry, and compassion made me feel welcomed and eager to meet them in the classroom.
What are your teaching specialties? How did you become involved with those areas?
My teaching specialties are methods for teaching English at the secondary level, with a focus on the selection and implementation of multicultural children’s and young adult literature in the English classroom. Within that realm, I research and advocate for representations of Latinx and queer populations in children’s and young adult literature in the English classroom.
Growing up as a young, queer Puerto Rican student, I was often teased at school. Many peers would make jokes about my gender expression and sexuality — an aspect about my identity I had not even developed yet. I remember looking for comfort in the pages of books, although I was never able to find myself represented in the literature we were provided in class. At home, my mother and I would engage in book talk all the time. This always made me feel safe. She was the person who ignited the love for reading and teaching in me. From there, I always felt the calling to become an educator and advocate for safe spaces for students who, like me, could not find comfort and see themselves in the pages of a book.
Fast forward a couple of decades. After finishing my bachelor’s degree, I pursued a master’s degree in English education from the University of Puerto Rico at Mayagüez. During that time, I joined the Mayawest Writing Project, my local writing project group under the National Writing Project. There I met with many teachers from the island, where we connected and talked about the texts available to students in classrooms. My desire to help create safe spaces for students and my love for literature prompted my decision to further specialize in this area and apply for a Ph.D. at Penn State.
What was the title of your dissertation, and what was it about?
For my dissertation project, “They’re Here and They’re Queer: Conversations About LGBT-themed Books with Pre-service Teachers,” I focused on the conversations of pre-service teachers enrolled in a semester-long teaching methods course in which participants discussed LGBT-themed children’s and young adult literature. It illustrated how participants discussed the value of this literature in the English Language Arts (ELA) curriculum, their possibilities, personal beliefs, as well as any questions or concerns they had. It also focused on how a teaching methods course became an important formative space that contributed to their teacher education on choosing and including of LGBT themes and texts for their future classrooms.
How do you hope your background will elevate the English department’s offerings at Fresno State?
It is my hope that my interests in Latinx- and queer-themed adolescent literature, and my background in queer literacies, will serve as a vehicle for students to explore the value of this literature in the teaching of English as a subject, as well as an exploration of important themes through the use of these texts.
I would also love to develop innovative courses that push the boundaries of the English classroom and the traditional English course. For example, I would love to teach a course on queer Latinx children’s and young adult literature.
As a new instructor who will be preparing the Central Valley’s future English teachers, what’s your biggest wish for undergraduate and credential teaching hopefuls?
As an instructor I hope to inspire students to become lifelong learners and educators that both address the core foundations of English education but are also willing to continue their inquiries and put innovation at the forefront of their practice. The English classroom is an incredibly versatile space and teachers have significant opportunities to make an impact on the lives of their students. Ultimately, it is my hope that teacher hopefuls find tools in my classroom that will serve them in their future practice.
What are you reading right now?
Currently, I am reading two books. I am about to finish The House in the Cerulean Sea by T.J. Klune. This book has made me laugh out loud and the characters are cleverly written. I am also reading Side by Side: US Empire, Puerto Rico and the Roots of American Youth Literature and Culture by Marilisa Jiménez García, as I work on an article about teaching Puerto Rican counter stories in ELA classrooms. As I write this, I am eyeing the new Star Wars High Republic series as my next read. So many books to read, so little time!
What is a book you think everyone should read, and why?
One book that I believe everyone should read is Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Sáenz. There is something magical about coming-of-age stories and Sáenz poetically captures the complexities of identity and growing up, finding your place in the world, and the importance of family. I feel this novel has something for everyone. This is the one book I wish I could experience for the first time again. I am looking forward to its sequel coming out soon.
For readers who are looking for fantasy elements, another book recommendation is Tracy Deon’s Legendborn. For me, it is easily the best book of 2020.
What’s a fun fact people may not know about you?
I used to play the flute back in my school days, playing in the school concert band and performing in many flute recitals. But I also fell in love with the written word as a teenager growing up during the years Harry Potter was being published. Had I not pursued English as a content area, I would have continued to study music and be a music teacher. Apart from being a music and book nerd, I am also an avid video game and tabletop gamer.
What are your fall 2021 office hours?
My office hours are on Fridays from 12 to 2 p.m. and my office is Peters Business, room 440. I can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.