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.

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College Struggles

BY FANTASIA

Exhausted with too much work
Certainly underpaid
Laboring  30 hours a week
While maintaining  good grades
Occupied days
Restless nights
Trying to meet length requirements
But not knowing what to write
Lazy meals
Disbursing money wisely
Unable to spend lavishly
When textbooks are pricey
Tired of seeing paper
Fed up with gripping pencils
Pulling these all-nighters
Makes coffee essential
Though I have a few friends
I’m missing my family bad
But I’ll smile in everyone’s faces
So I won’t seem as sad
Sometimes I want to cry
When I think of crippling debt,
….how I miss my mothers cooking,
…Or how I almost failed that test
For a while my  impression of college
Was difficult to convey
But now I’m content with  knowing
This schoolgirl hustle will pay off one day

(photo: Forbes.com)


FantasiaFantasia Alston is a 22 year old free spirit  and visionary who spends most of her time  writing poetry, reading (preferably mystery books), and doing whatever she can to help better the community. Whether it be volunteering at the nearest homeless shelter or picking up any litter found on the solid surface of the Earth. She also enjoys painting whatever comes to mind, cooking, meditating,  and taking long walks to nowhere.  She currently resides in Columbia, SC, but grew up 3 hours away in a beautiful, yet small, city named Murrells Inlet. She is the second oldest of 8 children, and the eldest daughter. Being the matriarch of the family was tough on her, but she managed to stay strong for her younger siblings and remained focused  to complete school. Although she graduated high school with an outstanding  GPA, and  always had a passion for attaining knowledge, Fantasia continuously put college on the back burner. She was lost and didn’t want to push herself into a mainstream culture where you have to graduate from high school by 18, graduate from college by 22, start working full-time in the corporate world immediately, and then get married, buy the proverbial house with the white picket fence and have kids. That might’ve been  a great idea for her fellow classmates, but not her. After years of soul searching and finding out what career would bring  her the most joy in life, she has decided that earning her degree would be best. She now has plans  to attend a university and work towards becoming a child psychotherapist.