Interestingly, my initial journey into education did not start with education, although there were certain moments during my childhood that hinted at this vocation. I am a native of Homewood and when I was younger, I remember creating lessons for my brother and his friends to complete while hanging out on my grandmother’s porch in the summer. However, when I went to college, I chose to pursue a degree in engineering. I recall taking a test in high school, and it highlighted my strengths in both math and science. Following this, I entered Penn State as an undecided engineering major. When I explored further, I realized that Architectural Engineering is what I wanted to do with a focus in Construction Management. I spent almost twenty years working in the construction industry and to this day, I still enjoy riding by and talking about the construction projects that I was a part of such as the David L. Lawrence Convention Center and the August Wilson Center for African American Culture. At one point during my career in construction management, there was a shift in my drive and I knew that I wanted to do something else, but wasn’t quite sure what. After much reflection, I recognized that I enjoyed tutoring family members in math. I also volunteered at the Light of Life Rescue Mission and helped a resident with math to support his goal to obtain his GED. I also distinctly remember planning and hosting a Princess Party with my friend and she admired the way I was able to plan and execute activities with the girls and I was encouraged to explore the possibility of a career in education. With this reflection, I started to consider a shift towards education by first having conversations with and shadowing educators.
Nevertheless, I had a few hesitations in making this vocational shift. If I was to make the jump, would I be able to find a job? What about the financial shift? Eventually, I heard about a residential teaching program that would cover the cost to obtain a Masters of Arts in Teaching as well as provide a stipend, health insurance, a mentor, and two years of guaranteed employment. Knowledge of this program, answered all of the questions and more related to my initial hesitations of making a jump from engineering into education. I knew that if I truly hated it, I could always return to engineering. However, since making the shift, I have never turned back. I began my teaching career at Propel Braddock Hills Middle School, taught at Manchester Academic Charter School and finally landed at LIFE Male STEAM Academy. As a math teacher, I am able to show my students real world examples of how they may use math in the future. I am also able to draw on my 20 years of authentic mathematical experiences as an engineer which is quite helpful in bringing real-world content to the classroom as well as sharing the importance of soft skills.
I did have teaching opportunities during my time as an engineer. While working at Turner Construction Company, I had the opportunity to teach a class for the Turner School of Construction Management which provides small minority/women-owned businesses with knowledge on different components of the construction industry. Also, while at Turner, there was a company wide systems change that integrated siloed systems into one. I was selected as one of the trainers as this change was made company wide.
Every single experience I have had has provided me with important insight into the profession and everlasting connections with some fantastic educators. However, whenever I had moments of pause, my heart would always go to my Black boys. I cannot explain it, but it was most definitely a calling. As soon as my Black boys walk out of the door, they automatically have two strikes against them- they are black and they are male. I didn’t want their inability to do math to be another strike against them.
During my time at Manchester Academic Charter School, I asked for approval to start a math program just for boys after school. One day a week, we held a math club with just middle school boys that were interested. This club brought me great joy and allowed me to do more for boys beyond the classroom setting; helping my yearning to focus my vocational journey on this subset of students. I am thankful for the vision of Dr. Darryl Canady and Rev. Taleeta Canady to start an all boys STEAM school. It is because of them that I am now able to do every single day at LIFE Male STEAM Academy what I did once a week last year. Know that I do have love for and want to see all succeed, and as Black female engineer and educator, I have love for this group of students also as well as all students, but there is just something about our Black boys that continues to pull on my heart strings.
There are many inequities that exist and one of the many that stands out is opportunity which is directly linked to resources. When there is a lack of resources, there is a lack of opportunity and exposure. I believe that it is very important for many reasons. Giving scholars opportunity allows them to make informed decisions about their future, allows them to have well rounded experiences, as well as gives them a seat at the table. This is one of my biggest education philosophies; providing exposure and experiences for all. There are scholars who want to follow the same career path as their families because that is all that they know. Exposing them to other possibilities allows them to make an informed decision based on knowledge. If in the end, they still decide to follow the same career path of their family, that is perfectly fine knowing that they were able to see other possibilities. During the pandemic, lack of resources and the digital divide were clearly seen. All children, no matter their zip code should be given similar educational experiences.
I had many amazing mentors and coaches along my journey. All have added valuable tools to my tool kit. One in particular mentored me during the residency teacher program. I experienced student teaching for a full academic year which was very beneficial in terms of learning, observing and reflecting on methodology and best teaching practices. From that experience, I connected with a teacher that I consider my mentor teacher. There are a lot of things that I do in my classroom today that I gleaned from her classroom. She was very hands on and intentional and excellent in terms of authentic feedback. I was able to observe some things from her and she was able to continuously observe me and give me feedback as well. As a result, when people would walk into my room during my first year, they could not believe that I was a first year teacher. This was mainly attributed to my mentor. I am forever grateful for all that she has helped me with. In addition to having some terrific instructional coaches, you realize as you continue on this journey that you begin to take ideas and strategies from a wide variety of teachers you have worked with or observed and add it to your educational toolkit. New experiences and relationships continue to make the educational toolkit richer.
The answer is quite simple. There is still A LOT of work to be done and there are still many Black boys that I want to impact. Any impact I can make, I want to make. A few weeks back, I attended the August Wilson Block Party, and I immediately thought about how I would love LMSA (LIFE Male STEAM Academy) to be involved in the future, not only to market and share the mission of the school, but to also lead STEAM activities for attendees. Thinking back to those days of construction, I have no regrets, but I LOVE WHAT I DO NOW. It’s not easy, but it’s where I want to be. It’s where I have again found joy and an opportunity to make an impact. Now, in addition to riding down the street and talking about the construction projects that I was a part of, I have now added to the story of being a part of the village to help build and develop young scholars. Not only do I have an awesome opportunity to educate scholars, but I am truly blessed by the learning community that is fostered where the scholars too get to teach me and their peers.
When I think of our educational system, my heart breaks OVER AND OVER AGAIN. There is so much work to be done in so many different areas. This school year, I was selected to be a fellow in the Teach Plus Policy Fellowship. The mission of Teach Plus is to “empower excellent, experienced, and diverse teachers to take leadership over key policy and practice issues that advance equity, opportunity, and student success.” My involvement in this program opened my eyes to many additional inequities and especially in the area of equitable funding. One of my hopes is that all schools in all school districts would be fully funded. I would also love to see equitable resources distributed amongst schools such that scholars become great citizens and change makers. For me and my future, we will see where life takes me next. Interestingly, when I went into teaching, my cousin assured me that I would not be in the classroom forever. My hope is that I would be used in a way that meets the needs of my students and education in general whatever that role may be.
Not only do I hope that schools will be equitably funded, but I also hope that scholars will be in learning environments where they can see themselves in the picture with educators connecting to their interests, goals, and history. I hope to see scholars prepared not only academically, but provided with experiences and tools to help them socially and emotionally as well as be aware of social injustice. It truly takes a village to raise a child, and when all parts of the village are operating at its best, impact happens. Equipping parents, connecting with community partners, and working together to prepare scholars to be responsible and informed citizens is my hope and a change that I would love to see.