||The Power of A Great Teacher||
I grew up in the housing projects of Chicago, on the same side of town and on some of the very streets that’s getting the exposure on violence in the city. While some of the news being shared is propaganda, it’s true that on that side of town things can get bad. And in my home, things were bad. And in my family, things were bad. And in my world, things were bad. But not at my school. Not in the classroom. I had a teacher who saw me. She saw each of her students, but I knew she saw me. She didn’t see a kid from the projects with parents who were functioning drug addicts. She saw me and she taught me.
Ms. Straight taught us with conviction and pushed us to our limits... And through that experience I learned, she saw no limits in me. Every program she knew about in the community, she signed us up for, every writing opportunity, every event she deemed worthy of us, she took us to them all. Some of us saw those opportunities and complained. Some of saw those opportunities and shrunk. Some of us took those opportunities and soared.
What I can tell you is, Ms. Toni Straight treated us like we mattered and never gave up on us. She was my home room teacher (an all subject teacher) from 5th-8th grade (one year I had a separate social studies teacher). Our schools in Chicago are mostly k-8.
I am writing you from Italy now because of her foundational teaching that nothing is too good for me to have. I loved coming to school because even though there was an undercover bully in my class who teased me everyday and even though Ms. Straight was very strict, she was consistent and firm. And that kept me safe. I loved coming to school because Ms. Straight loved teaching me.
I graduated salutatorian in my 8th grade class, went to a selective enrollment high school where no one came from the projects, except me. After graduating in the top 25%, I went to the #1 Historically Black College, Spelman, and graduated with a 3.5 GPA then went to graduate school and soared. Within my second year of teaching, I was promoted to an associate dean of students and remained in the classroom partly because I wanted to carry the torch.
And all of this because a teacher didn’t see my circumstance, she didn’t let the school politics overwhelm her, and she didn’t let our behavior make her resent us and quit. In fact, I was deemed the student who “talked toooooooo much in class,” yet she’s still an active part of my life at age 28 and has been to every one of my graduations since 8th grade.
All this to say, some students will need a Ms. Straight. And it will be hard to tell who, so my charge to you is to treat each student as if you are their answered prayer. Like you are the champion they didn’t know they needed. Remain firm, loving, and consistent. Communicate with students and families alike, as early as possible. One day, they will write a story like this about you… From an island, from the president’s office, from their teaching desk, from a place where they are living their dreams out loud!
Here’s to the phenomenal teachers who will make it happen for students who need “it” to happen! I’m leaving Italy tomorrow and headed to Amsterdam or Germany. I’ve gotten several stories already from families in orphanages and mothers who were former prostitutes. The world is filled with incredible stories. And I want to document them.
Yes, it’s scary and yes, it’s sometimes lonely, but I am committed to the journey. Thank you all for praying and sending you LOVE AND LIGHT.
Here’s to the Ms./Mister Straights of the world!
(I originally sent this as an email to my former school)****