Dear Sister of Any Age

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BY TANYA

Dear Sister of Any Age:

First of all, you need to know that you matter.

The most meaningful advice I could ever give you in school is to celebrate small victories, advocate for yourself, and embrace the struggles. I share this analogy with my students all the time; one that I’ve heard many times, school is a marathon not a dash.

Celebrate your first test, your first paper of the semester. You deserve it! School is not easy or convenient for most of us, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t worth it. School, at its best, in my opinion, is to help grow into our best selves. As you we celebrate, we also recognize that we are celebrating moments of growth. So please, even if it is just, having a meal (I’m foodie) or posting a status on social media, do it! Celebrate!

As a black woman, to be perfectly honest, the world is not destined with our advocacy in mind. We know this.  I have learned that oftentimes, the people we think will speak for us will not, especially in the classroom. Therefore, you must speak up! I know there is sometimes a very real sense of fear involved; fear of rejection from teachers or classmates, fear of being labeled “The Angry Black Girl or Woman,” or even the fear of our own brilliance. I’m here to tell you that whether you speak up or not, many of those labels will be placed on you anyway! So, share what’s on your mind! Your thoughts are valuable in your learning communities that exist in the classroom and beyond! I would argue that all learning communities are incomplete without the musings of the marginalized. Speak up, all our learning and growth depends on your contribution!

Returning to the marathon analogy, there comes a point in many marathoners’ journeys where they are so close to the finish line and they hit a setback. Perhaps, it is a leg cramp or hunger or just feeling exhausted – yet, many continue. I’m here to tell you just like a marathoner, school will present similar struggles. Embrace the struggles. It in the embrace of the struggle that we learn to brace ourselves, in my long run, for life’s challenges. Sure, you worked very hard on an assignment and didn’t get the grade you wanted. Sure, you had a group experience was less than ideal, and you found yourself doing all the work. It happens to all scholars! And in life, the same happens. Struggles are a part of all journeys especially in school settings. And though, some struggles may slow us down, don’t allow them stop you. Keep running my scholar sister, you got this!


tanyaRev. Tanya Boucicaut is beginning her doctoral studies as a Writing and Rhetoric student at George Mason University this spring. She is a Focused Inquiry adjunct instructor and theological writing and research affiliate faculty member at the Samuel Dewitt Proctor School of Theology at Virginia Union University. She is the founder and CEO a faith-based nonprofit youth theatre, Perfect Love Community Youth Theatre. Her goal is to empower and embrace every person in she encounters to dream and live their best lives fearlessly.

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The Best Teacher is the Student

PROFESSOR PIC EDIT

BY KIARA

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.


meblacklipstickKIARA 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.

The Middle School Girl

BY STEPHANIE

I once spoke with a young lady about a boy she was interested in. I asked her how open she was talking about boys with her mom and dad, and her response took me by surprise. She said, “ Well, you already know that my mom don’t play, but my daddy said that he doesn’t care if I date boys now, just as long as I’m not kissing on any girls…. you know…. cuz my sister is gay or whatever, and he don’t like that.” I was speechless for a second because I didn’t expect that response. I actually met this young lady a year prior to this conversation in a middle school hallway. She was dancing down the hall, singing at the top of her lungs with her tongue hanging out of her mouth. I didn’t know this young lady very well just yet, but I knew that she frequented the principal’s office for fighting other boys. I stopped as I watched her in the hallway and called for her to come over. I leaned in and said, “you are a beautiful young lady with class, and I need for you to remember that.” She smiled at me, and her facial expression showed me that she knew she wasn’t actually being very classy in that moment. Then she continued down the hall to class.

This first interaction was so powerful that as I got to know her, she began to confide in me and listen to the advice I had to give. She sought me out whenever she was upset, and I became a positive influence while she was at school. I listened to her issues with other teachers and peers while also showing her when she was in the wrong. She talked to me about other boys she was interested in, but I couldn’t help but be bothered by her sense of accomplishment  when certain boys took an interest in her. I wanted her to realize that she was supposed to see herself as a prized possession. Just like this young lady, so many young girls don’t seem to understand their potential and worth. They become distracted by other young boys who don’t seem to have a clear understanding of what respect should really look like.

Understanding this about young ladies and young boys in school is key to meeting them where they are academically so that they can learn and push toward their potential. The education of all students is important to me, but before I try to meet them where they are cognitively and academically, I have to understand where they are emotionally and socially. The education of the middle school girl, especially, can be very complex when she wants to be successful but doesn’t understand the barriers that block her. As her body goes through changes and romances come into play, it can be a real struggle trying to establish her identity. She tries to do this all while maintaining a social scene. On top of this, she is expected to sit in class, maintain focus and learn. During this time period, she tries to differentiate between positive and negative influences in her community, home, school and media sources.

As educators, parents, counselors, mentors and coaches for young ladies, we have to take all of this into consideration when trying to guide them to success. In the end, that’s really all that we want from them.

(photo: Michael Stravato from Education Week)


StephStephanie Granderson is a community advocate driven by her passion for education. Though she was raised in Richmond, Virginia, much of her cultural background comes from Trinidad and Tobago, where most of her family was born. As a first generation citizen and college graduate, she aspires to motivate her students to be successful just as others have done for her. While attending the University of Richmond, she was able to connect what she was learning in her classes about social inequalities with her experience volunteering in various schools and non-profits. Part of her experience was AT Higher Achievement, where she had the opportunity to teach math and mentor students in under-resourced communities.  After graduation, she continued to serve Richmond through VCU’s AmeriCorps program where she tutored first and second graders to establish a stronger foundation in reading. She continues to tutor students in math, from kindergarten all the way up to calculus,
part-time after working at a middle school with students who have special needs in the City of Richmond. Stephanie loves to knit, dance, eat sushi, and practice speaking Spanish whenever she has the opportunity.