Social media has the power to inspire in many ways, big and small. But engaging online also means resisting comparisons.
This also applies to young people who grew up on social platforms and teachers who learned to adopt social platforms. Islah Tauheed, a fifth-grade English art teacher at PS 567 Linden, said: Bronx Tree Elementary School.
That’s why she comforts the words of feminist writers Audre Lorde About defining yourself for yourself, rather than following the expectations of others. If that means her classroom is a bit noisier, messy, or musical than a colleague’s classroom, that’s okay. “I don’t teach for likes or followers, or post pretty pictures on Instagram,” Tawheed said. “I teach for the children in front of me, so they feel safe, loved and affirmed in this classroom space.”
Tawheed recently spoke with Chalk Beat New York.
This interview has been lightly edited for length and clarity.
What led you to an educational career?
I truly believe that I was born to teach. My mother was a special education teacher. The other kids skipped school and went to the mall. I skipped and came to my mother’s class. Her colleague was my “aunt”. Like other kids, I used to play at school when I was a kid, but I’m worried that by the time I’m nine, I don’t have enough credits to graduate and become a teacher. I suffered and went to my mother. She laughed and assured me that I had enough time. Educational careers also carry on the legacy of grandparents who have been denied access to equal education. As a result, many of my grandparents had difficulty reading and writing. When they gave birth, they were strong and vocal supporters for the public education in my hometown. My grandmother was often featured in my hometown newspaper because of the comments she made at city meetings. While following in the footsteps of my mother and consciously taking on the mission of my grandparents, I am paving the way as an educational leader.
I read what you wrote about radical empathy. Why is empathy a radical act, and how do you teach your students to empathize?
I read this quote from writer Isabel Wilkerson:
“Empathy is not the sympathy or sympathy you are in. Sympathy, you look down on someone and feel sorry for them. Sympathy, you may look over someone and feel bad for them. Sympathy means getting inside them, understanding their reality, and not looking at their situation and saying, “What if I were in their position?” But’what are they doing? Why are they doing what they are doing in terms of what they have endured? And that’s an additional step. There are multiple steps a person must take to really accept it. “
Empathy is not as passive as sympathy. Empathy requires you to question yourself. Empathy is motivated to shift your mind to a perspective that is not yours. Empathy is an action, and I think every action you take to guide you out of your comfort zone is radical.
When I taught 1st and 2nd grade, I thought it was easy to teach empathy because I thought small children were naturally empathetic. But they are still in the ego phase. There were many teachings centered on listening positively. I practiced picture book characters. We practiced identifying how the character feels and how we can say it. Finally, I wrote and played a role in writing the words we can say and the actions we can take to support the character.
How do you approach the current event in the classroom?
Since going to remote areas in 2020, there have been numerous big events, including the Verdict of Breona Taylor and the presidential election. This year, Sara K. Ahmed’s “What is your newsLessons from her book “Being a change.. I love framing. Because students have the opportunity to show exactly what they are thinking, instead of making assumptions. Reading their answers gives me a starting point for conversation.
Tell us about your own school experience and how it affects your work today.
Interesting facts about me: I have never been to public school! I attended a private Islamic school from kindergarten to 12th grade. I went to my hometown of Newark school. My mother was one of the founders of my elementary school. All my teachers were black, the nurses were black, and the principal was black. A great focus was on celebrating the history of blacks.
It shaped me in a way I didn’t notice until I was an adult, and I realized that most blacks don’t have this experience. I didn’t have to ask who I was in school. I didn’t have to doubt if I was treated differently for my race. I have never experienced Tokenism. As a result, when I was young, I was very confident about who I was and that my skills and achievements were the benefits of my own. There was a representative in front of me, so I didn’t limit my dreams.
As a result, I am obsessed with creating a classroom space where students can prosper while being their own. Beyond teaching, building a safe and loving classroom culture is my priority. I want the students to have the strong confidence and sense of belonging that I had.
What did you read that made you a better educator?
To be honest, tweets and texts. Tweets from Lorena German, Aeriale Johnson and Akiea Gross were particularly influential this year. Lorena and Aeriale remind us that “loss of learning” is a myth and this year students are learning in different ways. Educators are free to show what their students know, beyond the constraints of state exams and curriculum essays. Akiea makes my speech more comprehensive by using a genderless language and checking resources to make sure I haven’t excluded the contributions of strange people in color from the stories I’m sharing. I urged you to do it.
What is the best advice you have ever received? And how did you do that?
“If you don’t define yourself, you’ll be absorbed in the fantasies of others and eat alive.” — Audre Lorde.
Especially now, on social media where everyone posts classrooms and educational practices online, it’s very easy for educators to fall into impostor syndrome and doubt our talents. It never undermines the voices and needs of the students and families I serve, but I need to define my style as my own teacher. I have to teach in a style that is real me. I am myself and I have to teach like myself, knowing that what I have is my property. This includes using African-American Black English (AAVE) in my guidance. This includes playing grandfather’s jazz music when the children finish their lessons. This includes some classrooms that are a bit noisier and less organized than elementary school classrooms would expect. You always have to think about why you teach. We don’t teach for likes or followers, or post pretty pictures on Instagram. As I teach for the children in front of me, they feel safe, loved and affirmed in this classroom space.
What do you want to know about your students?
They are wonderful, thoughtful, inspiring and hopeful. When I ask what I’m most proud of this year, when the pandemic begins, I’m used to being in the room with my teacher and making phone calls whenever I need to, so I learn from home. Answered that he was very nervous. Help. But they spent a year at a level of independence that they didn’t realize. They are very proud of it. When asked about their hopes for next year, each student wanted a kind and “sweet” teacher who understood that he had spent the whole year away. They are patient when teachers re-enter the building and want to understand whether to do things more slowly.
How I Teach: This New York teacher says empathy is a “radical” act
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