I was born and raised in Pittsburgh and attended Pittsburgh Public Schools. I went to Carmalt, Reizenstein and Pittsburgh Westinghouse. Following high school, I attended Duquesne University for Elementary/Special Education. In addition, I have a Masters in Counseling, Masters in Curriculum and Instruction, and I am currently pursuing my Urban Education Doctoral Degree at The University of Pittsburgh. I have worked inside the Pittsburgh Public Schools for 19 years. I spent seven years at Carrick High School working with students with disabilities, I have also worked at Arsenal, King, Westinghouse, Allegheny Elementary and Middle, Weil Elementary and most recently South Hills Middle School as a 7-8th grade Math teacher.
Teaching is certainly my calling and my vocation. Since I was five, I have wanted to be a teacher. All through my elementary years I played school by myself and also with my friends. My favorite teacher was a Black teacher I had growing up, Ms. Rue. Although I cannot remember much about her, I used to always come home and talk about her, and I think this is what officially started my journey into teaching. I have always felt like I need to be in education in order to be a voice for Black students and Black teachers to ensure that change is coming and provide them with the same opportunities and resources that have not been provided for them for all these years. Even if I am not in the classroom for the entirety of my career, I will always remain an educator.
There are countless inequities that exist. However, there are a few specific ones that come to mind and that have consistently surfaced over the course of my career. There is certainly an overrepresentation and misidentification of Black students in special education. Black students with and without disabilities are constantly overlooked for advanced placement classes and the majority of gifted programs is made up of White students. Black students, especially Black boys in my experience, often receive punitive consequences and White students who demonstrate the same behavior do not get the same out of school suspensions or charges pressed against them. This constant need to focus on academics while also ignoring trauma and mental health issues which impacts their learning is a critical problem. Our school systems (administration and teachers) have become desensitized to Black death. A lot of students are experiencing trauma because of things that have happened in the neighborhood such as gun violence, and we are not addressing these issues in the schools. The events going on within the neighborhoods are greatly affecting how students are showing up in the classroom. We keep trying to separate school from neighborhood and unfortunately, ignoring trauma is not helping our students.
Finally, the non-existence of teaching Black history which is a part of American History is a critical issue when there are over 50% of Black students in PPS and their cultures are rarely seen, represented or taught within the classrooms. South Hills Middle School is currently composed largely of ESL students and special education students, as well as students of color and yet we are still only representing this small white population that we have left.
In many ways, it has helped me in terms of realizing that there is always a reason behind the behavior. Students are showing their behavior in the classroom because of something else that is going on (avoiding work) but when you dig deep behind why they are doing what they are doing, it does not have anything to do with the adults in the building, but the various events going on within the home and the trauma they are carrying with them and this is all affecting how they show up. Some students are completely withdrawn, some are angry and lash out at teachers and students, some refuse to do work and some may even bully other students. As teachers, we often focus on the disruptive, noncompliant students, but forget about the non-disruptive and noncompliant students (because they are sitting there quietly). Unfortunately, many of these “quieter” students have a lot of difficulties going on as well and these difficulties are often overlooked.
Though I have taught many grade levels K-12, in my opinion, Middle School is one of the hardest ages to teach because their bodies are changing, they are trying to figure out who they are, who they should be and much of their being is focused on them being socially accepted. Social media has made social conflicts much more difficult because students are not always communicating with their peers face-to-face. Students are on social media, messages get misconstrued, and then fights may occur because of this. My experience teaching 10-12th graders was a beautiful one. Interestingly, many individuals who teach higher grades tend to think that Elementary School is “easier.” However, people need to start realizing that students do not just suddenly develop significant difficulties when they are in high school. Behaviors, trauma and academic difficulty begin when students are in the younger grades. We need to intervene when students first enter the school because when the student is in high school and constantly struggling, it is almost too late to intervene.
Once the pandemic came along, people were blaming problems in education on COVID. However, what they failed to realize is that these problems have always existed; it’s just that COVID exacerbated the issues. Many educators realized there were other options besides education and decided to leave shortly after or during the pandemic. For me, education is my passion and will always be the work I focus on, but I do not plan on remaining in the classroom forever. Instead, I hope to focus on education policy and transforming public education the way it is now. Our current public education system is not working for our Black kids nor kids of color.
My advice to anyone entering this vocation is to remember that education should be your passion. However, if teaching and education is your passion, don’t put your eggs in one basket. Do not be afraid to pursue all of your dreams. For any Black teachers that ask me if I would recommend going into education, I would say no. As a black teacher, I am not seen, I am not heard, and to make it worse our kids are not seen and they are not heard. Administration and/or staff often do not listen when we bring up classroom issues/concerns, school issues or even systemic district issues that negatively affect Black teachers. In other words, I am not surprised that there is a shortage of teachers of color- particularly black teachers.
One of my hopes for myself is to continue the critical work that I am doing with Teach Plus. Though it is a year-long program, I hope to stay involved and to continue to advocate and be involved in education policies at the next level. In fact, I think that this is going to be my future career shift. Many teachers are not familiar with educational policies nor how the policies get passed through, and I want to be the educator that creates awareness of these policies.
A side project I continue to work on the Autonomous District Public School Initiative (ADPSI). This is a working group composed of parents, current teachers, former teachers, former administrations, community members and youth advocates to create a 21st century design where students will be college, career and life ready. The roots began with an equity, student-centered school design, organization and leadership and holistic support for students. The Autonomous District Public Schools Initiative is one that I am hoping will be located throughout Pennsylvania to transform educational outcomes for historically underserved students, students with disabilities and LGBTQ students. For me, this project is a way to restore my hope for the future of education. There is always room for hope and there is always room for change.
My hope for education is that Black students will someday enter classrooms where Black history and the contributions of Black people have made in society are taught. I’m hoping for the teaching of social justice in all content areas instead of the teaching of how to choose the correct answer on standardized tests. The intentional teaching to the test is not working and the data proves it.