Tonya Perry, Ph.D., in the UAB School of Education

Get to know our next faculty spotlight, Dr. Tonya Perry!

Tonya Perry, Ph.D., is a Professor and the Executive Director for GEAR UP Alabama and Red Mountain Writing Project.

Perry received her Bachelor of Arts in English Education from The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, her master's degree in English Education from the University of Alabama at Birmingham, and her Ph.D. in Education Leadership with a concentration in English and secondary curriculum from both the University of Alabama and the University of Alabama at Birmingham.

In 2000 - 2001, Perry received her most humbling honor - The Alabama State Teacher of the Year. In fact, she was the first African American Teacher of the Year in Alabama, which paved the way for many other teachers in the state. It was an honor for her to represent the many dedicated teachers in the state.

After being named Alabama Teacher of the Year, Perry represented teachers nationally as one of four National Teachers of the Year finalists.

Throughout her time representing teachers nationally and her career as an educator, Perry strives to make sure people realize the importance and the tremendous responsibility teachers have in shaping young minds. In her opinion, next to parents, teachers are the most influential persons in students' lives.

As director and principal investigator for the UAB Red Mountain Writing Project, Perry serves, researches, and works directly with teachers, students, and families to promote researched-based literacy practices. She does this with teacher-colleagues through programs and events, such as Family Write Night, Writing with the Stars, teacher professional development, Summer Institute, summer camps, and after-school writing programs.

Additionally, Perry is currently writing a book with co-writers Steve Zemelman and Katy Smith to examine further how teachers can impact change for themselves and their students. The book is titled "Teaching Racial Equity; Creating Interrupters" and will be published by Stenhouse Publishing in 2022.

Perry advocates for students and teachers constantly and makes sure she's involved in the community to impact future generations of teachers. She currently serves in various capacities for the following organizations: Research on Women in Education Executive Board affiliated with AERA, the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE), Cultivating New Voices (Director), the National Writing Project Executive Board, the Beloved Community, and the National Site Support Team for the National Writing Project.

Get to know Dr. Tonya Perry below!


What advice do you have for students?

For students studying to become teachers and those considering teaching, I would advise that you spend some time in the community with the families and children you will be teaching. Even if you are unsure which schools, it will be better for you as an educator to know many different communities. It only increases your ability to impact the lives of all students. Find organizations in the community or events that occur in that community. Get to know agencies and non-profits that support the community. Teaching children and working with families is difficult when you do not understand their context. I challenge you to get to know students at school and in the community—to know and understand their full humanity.


What do you love most about working in education/teaching?

My favorite part of the job is the community engagement opportunities available through our programs and grants. I have enhanced my teaching, research, grantsmanship, and service through these initiatives, which have made me a better educator. The overall goal of teaching is to connect people to knowledge that can impact their lives. I learn so much about myself as an educator, scholar, and mentor when I stay connected to schools and teachers because I can fully understand the experience I need to construct with and for them.


Describe life working in education in a few words.

Education is fulfilling and rewarding, a gateway to opportunities for personal and professional growth.

So many children want opportunities to learn and develop, but there are still barriers. I grew up in rural North Carolina and worked with the communities in rural Alabama through our GEAR UP Alabama program. I truly understand that getting an education is navigating the unknowns for many children and families. Having the support of those who have traversed through the many education lands is essential. That's what we do as educators—we open doors for students and help them find their paths.


When did you know that you wanted to be a teacher?
Both of my parents were educators, and they taught me how to be a teacher through their own examples. I watched them care for children at school and after school in the community. Although I was not always sure that I would be an educator, I can see that I had it in me from a very young age.


Fun fact about yourself
I love to travel. One of my first international trips was with Parade Magazine, chaperoning children to Europe. All expenses paid!