University of Pittsburgh, M.Ed
I have always known that I wanted to be a teacher. I attribute this largely to my very first teacher, Ms. Caruthers. I do not remember what I learned, nor can I recount anything specific about what happened within the walls of her classroom. But I will never forget how she made me feel. She is a perfect model for what Lisa Delpit calls the “Warm Demander”. Even in kindergarten, she set her expectations high and success was a non-negotiable. She was tenacious about ensuring that we were prepared for the next grade level, but never missed an opportunity to communicate how deeply she cared for and believed in us. Ms. Caruthers was convinced that we were deserving of the highest quality education and she was determined to provide it. Her investment in my learning was so profound, that she was sitting in the audience as I walked across the stage to receive my degree from the University of Pittsburgh.
Ms. Caruthers’ classroom was a place where I not only felt cared for and valued, but it was a place where I felt seen. Unfortunately, that was the last time that a teacher was able to make me feel that way. Ms. Caruthers was one of only 4 Black teachers that I had in my 13 years of schooling. While I have had many phenomenal educators at all levels, I never had another teacher who created the sense of urgency around my education the way that she did. This was only complicated by the fact that I was often the only Black student in the classroom. Mitigating the tension between developing my academic identity while also managing the low expectations my white teachers set for me was challenging to say the least.
I became a teacher because every student deserves a Ms. Caruthers, especially our Black and brown students. Each year many of our students suffer in overcrowded, poorly resourced schools with under-qualified teachers who are ill-equipped and unprepared to face the challenge of teaching students they do not know or understand. When I began teaching, I was intentional about working specifically in communities of color because I believe that it is critical for our students of color to learn from teachers who share their perspectives, understand their experiences and recognize the need to make an unwavering commitment to their success.
I currently serve as the Social Studies Department Chair at my school. In this role, I serve as an instructional leader and I support teachers in creating high-quality and engaging lessons that foster our students’ critical thinking, research and literacy skills. As my school’s Equity liaison, I am focused on interrupting teacher biases, beliefs and practices that perpetuate inequities while working to build teacher capacity to create inclusive classrooms that reflect the strengths and interests of our students.
I am in my 6th year of teaching. I spent my first three years as a 5th grade English Language Arts teacher and I currently teach 6th grade World History. Having taught at both the elementary and middle school levels, I recognized that there was a major disconnect between the instructional practices, classroom routines and schoolwide expectations between the two. Over the last three years, I have been focused on facilitating professional development, conducting parent meetings, and arranging school visits and interactive experiences that will better prepare students, families and teachers for the transition to middle school.
In addition, I help write curriculum for the Social Studies office in my district. My school district has been very proactive in evaluating our systems in order to understand how we can promote equity and advance anti-racist practices. I currently work with an amazing team of educators and we are rewriting the 8th grade American History curriculum to incorporate more diverse perspectives, connect historical topics to current events and encourage our students to find solutions to real world problems.
I am in my first semester at Morgan State University studying in the Urban Educational Leadership Doctoral Program.
Going into my 6th year in this work, my positions and perspectives around education and teaching are continuously being refined. But the one thing that will remain unwavering is my belief that our students deserve strong teachers who are fiercely committed to their development as both students and people. As a history teacher, this is of particular importance to me.
We are living in an age where our students are watching men and women who look their mothers, fathers, cousins, neighbors, coaches and friends be murdered at the hands of the people who are supposed to protect them. Our students live in a time where our political leaders use their power to strategically and systematically destroy and vilify their communities. Our students are living in the middle of history and it is our job to provide them with the tools they need to create a better world than the one we are leaving for them.
I stay in education because I want to help my students develop their agency. As often as I can, I connect what my students are learning to the social, political and environmental issues and movements of today. If they have the historical context coupled with the inquiry, analysis and advocacy skills, they will be more civically engaged students who are able to confront the injustices around them.
Recent research done by the Georgetown Law Center on Poverty and Inequality found that Black girls were viewed as less innocent and more grownup than white girls of the same age. Several other studies have observed the same in relation to Black boys. This misperception has incredible implications around the kinds of experiences Black students have and I have seen this play out within the walls of my own school.
We have a problem in education that we don’t always see Black children as exactly what they are – children. Their behavior is seen as more aggressive, hostile and threatening and this often results in much harsher punishments and consequences. This misrepresentation of Black children is rooted in biases and beliefs that many teachers don’t recognize they have. I am working within my school’s leadership team to help our teachers examine and interrogate their biases in order to become aware of the ways in which their own experiences and beliefs influence the conditions that they create for students. If we can reframe the narrative about our Black boys and girls, then we can create environments that see them for who they are and maximize their potential for who they can become.
I hope for school systems that are committed to social justice and educational equity. I hope for dedicated teachers who maintain high expectations and prioritize rigorous and responsive instruction. I hope for civically, socially and politically engaged students who know how to advocate for change.