January 29, 2021
For as long as I can remember, I have had an intimate relationship with words.
It started in elementary school, where I wrote songs and poetry in my spare time. Later, as the Vice President and Saxophone Section Leader of Florida A&M University’s marching band, it was my job to encourage, motivate, and uplift with my words.
Today, as an English teacher, I use my voice to create positive change for my students. Knowing what I know about the power of voice, I recognize that it’s not just mine—or that of my fellow teachers—that matters.
I’ve sat in rooms with other educators to brainstorm ways to educate, engage, and motivate students. Seldom do we bring students’ perspectives into those rooms. I often tell my students their words can heal themselves and others, push the boundaries of society, and engender a more just world. As such, it’s important for me to take these beliefs outside of the classroom and carry my students’ voices with me in any conversations about their success.
What does that look like? One example is an equity and social justice professional development series I facilitate at my school in Atlanta. The series, called Eternal Flame, pushes our staff to reflect on unconscious biases, antiblackness, and systemic racism. It’s also a space to examine how we, as education practitioners, can use students’ experiences to inform our decisions and interactions. After each session, we walk away with at least one tangible, research-based strategy to promote and maintain positive classroom culture, improve student investment and performance, and create a more equitable school community. Naturally, our students’ voices must be the driving force behind these sessions.
In my classroom, I feel best when I’m learning with and from my students. Across our school community, we have the best chance at success when we illuminate the thoughts and perspectives of our students.
As we continue on the path to creating a more equitable school, I’m committed to making sure our students’ voices are helping lead the way.
Tawheedah is a Basic Reading and Writing, Honors Multicultural Literature, and AP Literature and Composition teacher at KIPP Atlanta Collegiate High School.