Meet new faculty: Kortney Sherbine, education

Name: Kortney Sherbine

Current job: Assistant professor, language and literacy education program, department of instruction and teacher education, College of Education

Hometown: Cheraw, S.C.

Degrees: BS Psychology, Campbell University; MAT Early Childhood Education, College of Charleston; Ph.D. Curriculum and Instruction, Penn State

What is your area of study or research?

"I am interested in early childhood and young elementary literacy practices in and out of school. Specifically, I think about children's encounters with popular culture and the intersections within and out of school literacies. In school, it might happen when kids are playing together or reading books together. Out of school, I've looked extensively at Justin Bieber fan culture and the ways in which children come into relationship with ideas and materials about Justin Bieber.

"My goal isn't to draw conclusions, but to think differently about these pop culture encounters. Historically, children are thought of as consumers and reproducers of popular culture and my work looks at new opportunities and new possibilities that come up for kids when they are engaged in pop culture. Those things materialize all the time in classrooms, but they are deemed inappropriate.

"In some ways, these pop culture artifacts and texts make reading and writing really interesting and engaging and possible for kids that don't find the other kinds of school reading and writing that great."

Why did you choose Carolina?

"South Carolina is just very comfortable for me. Having grown up here, I feel pretty familiar with the culture and the adjustment has been very easy. I was excited to come to a place where I felt like I could do the kind of research and the kind of thinking that I really want to do and I'm not sure that's possible at other institutions.

"There are extensive relationships between the College of Education and area school districts. In some places, it's quite difficult for researchers to find a space to spend time and build relationships with teachers and administrators. But at USC, a lot of that is already in place and where it's not in place, it seems to be very welcome, which makes life a little easier."

What are you most looking forward to this year?

"I'm actually looking forward to building relationships with my own students. I teach grad level and undergraduate level reading courses. I really value the relationships that my students and I established together elsewhere, because I think that serves as a good example for these folks who will ultimately have their own classrooms. Perhaps having come into a relationship as a community of learners at USC, they will be able to foster their own community in their own classrooms."

How did you become interested in your work?

"I wanted the opposite of being a teacher. I actually graduated undergraduate with a psych degree, so of course you have to go to grad school with that. When I was applying, the only two deadlines that hadn't passed were the MAT program at the College of Charleston and the nursing program at MUSC. I got into both, but there weren't any seats in the nursing program. So that's how I got into teaching. I was really reluctant until my first day of student teaching, which happened to be in a kindergarten classroom and I wound up teaching at the same school for six years. It just fit.

"The fact now that my life work is preparing many folks who have wanted to be teachers for their entire lives is a bit ironic. It was a very unexpected surprise.

"If you talk to people in my family, they will say it was my calling and I ignored it."

"In terms of my research, when I was in the classroom the first year I taught I had a little guy that honest-to-God thought he was Buzz Lightyear. It wasn't even pretending to be Buzz Lightyear, he was Buzz Lightyear. So he taught me to look for those really playful, but serious engagements with pop culture and I've been thinking about that ever since."

What made you decide to go into academia?

"I had a whole lot of questions about kids' learning and kids' play at school that culminated for me engaging with my students. But I didn't feel like I had the language or ways of thinking about what was going on, so I left to think about those things. Then I stumbled across these French philosophies that allow me to look differently at children's encounters with popular culture.

"It's a bit like complexity theory. They look at the relationships between, not just people, but people and materials and nonhuman things and they look at what is produced in those relationships. So for me, it's a very hopeful way of looking at life really that there's always something new being made instead of the same thing happening again and again."

What do you hope to accomplish over the next five years?

"I hope to engage in some really meaningful research with the potential to help teachers look at students' learning in new ways. I'm not sure what that will look like. I'm looking forward to becoming more entrenched in the scholarly community.

"Working with teachers and establishing my scholarship and really building the relationships with the students here at USC and helping them navigate a really weird time in public education with lots of mandates and things that are called reform that aren't really reform. I want to help them think about their own practice as intellectuals and about the students that they will one day have."

What is a talent that you have or something you have done that people might find surprising?

"It's not a talent. I once tried to save a squirrel that had been hit by a car. I was scratched and bitten in the meantime and had to get registered with the health department in case the necropsy revealed rabies, which it did not. Instead of waiting for my friend to find a container, I picked it up and ran across the Penn State campus – actually it was more of a speed-walk – with the squirrel, so we could take it to the emergency vet, where of course, it was euthanized because it was a squirrel."

"Also, my students live-tweet my classes. I encourage them too. Basically, I just ask them to quote all the funny stuff because I like laughing. I don't really know what I'm saying half the time, so I like to go back and read it."

Where do you consider home?

"Pennsylvania. I'm a big fan of mountains and low humidity. I love squirrels, but I don't love mosquitoes. My family is originally from Pennsylvania and I'm a big Pittsburgh sports fan."

What was your dissertation?

" 'Mapping Emerging Childhoods and Justin Bieber Fan Culture.' I hung out at concerts, the whole thing."

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