My secondary education began with attending Rosary College. As a single parent, I discontinued my education to raise my son. About 25 years later, I resumed my education. At that time, I had another son who accompanied me to school. He attended the preschool at the CCAC south campus while I continued my education. I promised his older brother (20 years older than my youngest) that I would graduate with honors. After acquiring my degree from CCAC and graduating with honors, I continued to earn my Bachelor’s Degree at Carlow University. There, I became certified in elementary and special education. In fact, I Graduated magna cum laude!
Marva Collins and a professor from Rosary College (Sister Jean Crapo) inspired me to become an educator. I saw Marva’s televised biography as a young girl. Disenchanted with the Chicago public school system, Mrs. Collins opened a school in her home. The students entered her school below grade level. After receiving an education from Marva, they graduated surpassing their peers and achieving excellent test scores. I desired the same for my students. Mrs. Collins taught me this: Any child can learn no matter their race or social status.
Later, I attended Rosary College. At that time, I toyed with the idea of becoming an attorney or a teacher. I ignored my childhood dream of becoming a teacher. I wanted a career that made money. I knew that teachers did not earn much. So, I initially began my post secondary education majoring in International studies to become a criminal attorney. Still beholden for the underdog, I was disgusted with the way the system misrepresented and under-represented, men of color. Then along came Sister Jean Crapo. She wrote me a letter applauding my skills in English. She encouraged me to change my major and become an English teacher.
Fast forward to today, employed as an early childcare worker, my pastor noticed my skills with “challenging children”. He encouraged me to broaden my influence and to get my degree in education.
Currently, I am employed as the 5th and 6th grade science teacher at Propel East Charter school! After graduating and earning my certifications in elementary and special education, Propel employed me as a paraprofessional. For 2 years I worked 1-1 with a child with autism. Catching sight of my talents and skills, a colleague and my principal encouraged me to apply for the special education teacher position. I got the job. After two years, I applied for the general education teacher position. I taught general education for six years using my special education background to differentiate learning based on my student’s needs. Last year, my peers and the EOY (Educator of the Year) committee, chose me as Educator of the Year. I was deeply humbled by this because I am a cumulative product of my peers, my students and parents. I am who I am because of them. They shaped me into the person I am today. Without them, I would not have achieved that honor.
I am in the field of education because not only do I believe any child can learn but also because we need educators to advocate for those we teach! First, I believe with effort and dedication, children can learn anything. We must never lower the expectations for our students. Now, I do believe we must continue to scaffold and provide as much support to help students achieve success. I know this because I experienced it one year with my 4th grade students in science. I continue to observe this phenomena in my classes today. You see, regardless of the classification of the student, special ed, general ed, socially and emotionally disturbed, whatever the term given, I see all these students as my own. It becomes my responsibility to educate them based on their needs. Therefore, if it means initiating Saturday school or after school tutoring to achieve success, that is what we will do.
I firmly believe our families need advocates. Those within the education community need to speak on their behalf to institute policy reform and more. I also believe in developing relationships with the parents to develop the whole child. I strongly believe when educators and parents partner together, then it increases the child’s chances of success academically, socially and emotionally. Every child must have a strong support system of encouragement. The child sees and knows the care and concern of all parties involved. Working towards positive relationships within the classroom makes a huge difference. This is what helps to develop a positive classroom community with positive behavioral management as well as academic growth.
Unfortunately, I do see inequalities within the walls of my own school. I also see changes shifting among administration and staff members as well. I see that there is a disproportionate amount of African American males being disciplined, whether it being out of school suspension or in school correction. I also see the African American staff used heavily to restore the African American students to the community. In other words, regardless of African American positions as counselor, support staff, or educator, these individuals are called upon during times of crisis to de-escalate the problem. These type of practices place the school in jeopardy. It identifies one type of person as the expert. As an African American person, I am no different than my counterparts. I have sought to learn about my students. I have been schooled by them and their parents. Anyone can implement the same strategies I do. We are human. Study human nature. We are no different. Therefore, as an educator, I can communicate this. I can engage in courageous conversations about equity and justice. I can share my experiences about race, and I can be honest and candid. I can show how it is done humbly, yet boldly. I can be patient as we all work toward this end, achieving equity and justice for all.
At my funeral I hope my students speak about the person who they encountered. I hope they will be able to say, “Mrs. Rawlings, though she kept it raw, cared for and loved us! I am who I am because of her!” My desire is to make an impact upon the lives I touch. That’s the legacy I desire to leave.