I’m a first year doctoral student. Pretty soon, I’ll be teaching my very first university-level class as a full-time student. It seems that just as a fast as one exciting new chapter started, another fresh new chapter has arrived at my doorstep, and I’m bursting at the seams to open it.
The nitty gritty of it all is very simple – I’m currently a teaching assistant (TA), but another instructor has to leave mid-year and my department feels that I have demonstrated the leadership and wherewithal to conduct my own class and fill in for the instructor who’s leaving.
I am very excited about this opportunity. The reason I’m pursuing the big D-R in front of my name in the first place is to teach at the university-level. Some people say I’m taking on too much too soon and that I need to focus on being a student. But I feel quite the contrary. I feel like the best teacher is the student, for more reasons than one.
The struggle is the same – and it’s real.
He’s got papers to write, and she’s got papers to write…and I have papers to grade (and write also). I’m not far removed from the hustle that is school – matter fact, I’m still in it myself. Who would be better to empathize and push students than a person facing the very same obstacles? I’ve been up late studying for exams just like they have. Maybe I’ll be more open to pushing assignments back and giving a little wiggle room than the older, more rigid and farther removed professors. I also have just about the same amount of energy of my future students, and I know they know how to hustle just as hard as I do (and probably even harder).
Students can see themselves in my shoes
When I TA, I see the students’ faces light up – not because I’m special, but because I’m not too much older than them. I work with freshmen, and they’re young, indecisive and easily influenced. For them to be able to see a student who is only a few years older than they are leading class, giving assignments and running the show so to speak serves as motivation. They respect me as a TA but they also look up to me because they can see themselves in me. In general, they can see themselves as a professor or any other leader a little more easily. And the ones who look like me can see themselves belonging in an environment we have been traditionally excluded from.
We’re all evolving…together.
I am far from having it all together, and I want my future students to know that. I’m 25 and still finding my way. I have educational and career goals that tend to fluctuate just a little as time passes. I try to define myself with my writing and I dream of starting a family in the next 5 years or so. I spend a lot of time in deep thought, mulling over the worlds’ problems. And amidst all these serious thoughts, I change my hair and my nail polish all the time, expressing the different sides of Kiara and enjoying my dynamism. To boot, I still like to play jokes on my friends and ride in the shopping carts at Walmart. My students will be young adults still learning to navigate the university, attempting to find themselves in the majors and minors available. Some of them are grappling with living on their own on the first time. Others are discovering their sexuality or their spirituality. All of them will be trying to figure out how to enjoy themselves between the hustle and bustle of their first year in college. I’m evolving, they’re evolving and we’ll all be evolving together. We’ll all be learning from one another. No judgement will be passed and all standards and expectations regarding this evolution will be null and void in my classroom.
They say learning is not a spectator sport. Why should an aspiring professor spectate from afar and wonder what she could do with a classroom full of students? Why should a student sitting in a crowded classroom have to spectate and wonder why nobody who teaches her classes looks like her? When the student is the teacher, the sport is no longer a spectator sport. I’m in it. They’re in it. We’re all in it.
KIARA LEE is the founder of #SCHOOLGIRLHUSTLE. She’s from Richmond, Virginia and she’s passionate about education and social justice. Two of her research interests are colorism and parental incarceration. In fact, she’s been featured on CNN’s Black in America for her work with children and colorism. She’s a writer before anything else, with a blog (theBlackertheBerry.org) and 2 children’s books surrounding social issues. She often says “education can be the best thing and the worst thing at the same time,” referring to the many layers of education that can make or break a student — particularly young girls. She has a bachelor’s degree in Sociology from the University of Richmond and a master’s degree in education from the University of Virginia. She’s currently working on her PhD in education at Virginia Commonwealth University — she’s an aspiring college professor. In her free time, she likes to dabble in spoken word, write and vent about the wrongs of the world on her blog, theblackertheberry.org, shop in thrift stores, eat delicious foods, travel to new places and spend time with family and friends.