I love learning, and I often tell my students that I would be a career student if I could. A big part of my love of learning stems from my love of all things literacy. I have been teaching for six years in the classroom. However, my journey began long ago when I ran a daycare out of my home. Later I was a paraprofessional at Propel. A year later, a program known as the Propel Urban Teaching Corps began and this is where I would gain teaching experience whilst earning my masters in education. Interestingly, I initially wanted to be a professor of higher education but became fascinated by the miseducation of all students, but especially African-American students occurring during the earlier years.
Unlike many teachers, my experience in the classroom has been wide and varied. I taught at Propel for two years, then taught at Duquesne Elementary School. Following this, I taught at Avonworth Senior High School where I taught English and Creative writing for two years and now I currently teach at The Neighborhood Academy. I always think that it won’t look good on my resume, but it has also given me an advantage of being able to explore the gamut in education. I am filled with different “lens or gaze” as an educator because I have been in multiple places. I am disenchanted with this idea that “this is the way we have always done things” because it is not a good enough reason not to transform the landscape and grow. I have not been anywhere long enough to feel like an insider, and I suppose this is why I am able to look at what is going on with a critical eye. If I were a teacher who could close the door and be only concerned with my classroom, I suppose my mindset would be different. However, when I see gaps and ways to improve learning and knowing, I immediately want to fix it.
Throughout my experiences, I began to notice that there were important things being left out of education such as uncomfortable conversations and rich curricular content. Education is so much larger than schooling, and we often follow this idea that we need to pour out everything students know the minute they walk into our classrooms and pour in everything we know back inside. However, students come in with valuable experiences that are often dismissed because it doesn’t fit the standard of what we think is important to classroom knowledge. As teachers, we can hold assumptions and biases that often then lead to tracking students and this tracking follows them without allowing for growth. There are assumptions made regarding what students can and cannot produce, and many educators lower their standards because of this.
I am in the space I am when I need to be. I strongly believe that I am not supposed to get comfortable, and I don’t think educators should get so comfortable that they cease to practice self-reflection and growth of the calling of teaching and educating. Our students change every single year and so what is needed to meet the students’ needs must also shift.
Teachers need to be self reflective. These days, I see such a deficit thinking model that many teachers are operating from about students. No one can teach well if they are married to this deficit model that says I can only teach this student if they are in this place and have this much knowledge. We need to believe we can teach all children.
Currently, I teach in a private education institution, but the challenges are not as different as people think they are. Something I have realized is that teachers must be teachable (wherever they are). Continual reflection of who we teach and for what purposes, as well as training should be happening for teachers. We believe we can teach classroom management, but if there is not an inherent belief from teachers that we must teach every student and meet them where they are at, how effective are we?.
The space I currently teach in is the most at home I have felt since beginning my K12 classroom teaching career, but I am starting my doctoral degree in the Fall, and my faith is leading me to be prepared for wherever this educator journey will lead me.
It has made me more unapologetically me. I own who I am, and I own what I am doing no matter what the environment I find myself in. I am unapologetically about the students. I no longer worry about being “liked” or “disliked.” My ultimate goal is for students to feel empowered. Because I am more steady in who I am as an educator, I am willing to fight for what is right. I was at first hesitant to speak up, and would wait to see what happened. Now, I say what I feel like I need to say because there is an urgency in using our voice. If not me, then who? I want students to learn agency, ask the difficult questions and learn their own voice and how to use that. I am constantly learning from them and it makes me better and want to be better every day.
What bothers me the most is students who are passed through without a plan for their future. We remain concerned about growth as it relates to PSSA’s, and we yearn to “see” a specific color, but I don’t know if we are always concerned about the human behind the student. There is more to education than schooling. We have lost the community voice and schools in large part, which takes something away from all students, but it disproportionately impacts African-American students and students in under-resourced communities. Furthermore, our students know when we do not care about them. In such communities and schools that are deemed problematic, undesirable “behaviors” could be shifted with greater self-reflection and different approaches. How and whom do the resolutions, plans, and approaches support the current students and will it move them forward? The school to prison pipeline is not just a buzzword or phrase. Every small decision we make can contribute to continued systemic oppression, even in the classroom. If the automatic response is, “I will kick the student out,” what exactly is the student learning?
For my students, my hope is that they feel empowered to use their voices. Student voice and agency matters. For me, empowerment means that some light bulbs go off, connections are made between their history, their current circumstances, and future opportunities. It doesn’t have to be “I’m loving history” but understanding how they are situated in society right now and how important their voice is to the world. They have a story and a voice and it should be heard; they can also fight for and tell the stories of those that society has stopped listening to. I want those connections they make to take them and us into the future.
For me, I want to continue growing both as an educator and as a human being. Teaching and educating is a higher calling to pass knowledge and truth down generations, to influence the development of others and I just want to do it well, in whatever capacity that happens to be. Just as I tell my students, the opportunities are endless. I also want to continue to learn from young people, because it is encouraging and motivating to see them thrive when they realize all that they can do.