Back-to-School Equity Series, Part 1: Reconnecting With Your “Why”

by | 08.10.20

(This is post 1 in a 3-part series of Ashley’s reflections on equity.)

When I was growing up, I attended a law-focused magnet school in the Dallas area. All of my classes were centered around the law, with the idea that I’d pursue law school down the road. We would visit courtrooms and observe trials two days a week. During that time, Dallas saw its first juvenile on trial for capital murder. He was a Black kid, probably not much older than I was at the time – 14 or 15. So our class got all dressed up in our suits, we went downtown and we literally watched this kid being tried for capital murder. I kept thinking, “As much I would like to be a lawyer, this is probably not where my work would make the most impact.” This kid lost his way before he arrived in that courtroom.

I now believe that the interventions kids need most come from their teachers – and my experience in court started me on my journey toward becoming an educator.

My own high school teachers showed me just how huge the impact of educators can be. They were committed to building relationships and getting to know me. I always talk about my AP Chemistry teacher, Ms. Price. She was my first-ever Black teacher. It was the first time I had ever had a teacher who looked like me – and I was a junior in high school. Ms. Price told me, “You’re going to have to learn that you have to carry yourself in a certain way. You have to do things a little bit differently. You’re going to have to work twice as hard, because people don’t expect success from you.” 

At first, I thought, “Oh my gosh, this lady is just so mean.” But as I got to know her, I realized she was trying to empower me as a woman – and specifically as a Black woman. There is something so powerful about someone at school focusing on you – about a teacher letting you know they have your back. Of all of my teachers, Ms. Price is the one that I still keep in touch with 20 years later.

After my experience with Ms. Price, I knew I didn’t want to become a lawyer. I wanted to be an educator. I wanted to empower students on their journeys toward adulthood. After college, I returned to the area where I grew up, and I started working as a science teacher – just like Ms. Price.

During this particularly difficult moment in the education world, I’ve been thinking about my own journey. It’s so important, especially when we’re most challenged as educators, for us to reconnect with our “why.” My current principal always starts the year by inviting us to journal about what called us to this profession. Then we post our reflection in our classroom or office, where we can see it every day. We need to take time once in a while to pause and ask ourselves: “Why did I get into this?” Chances are, you got into teaching to open doors for every student. To build bridges for all students. Chances are, you got into it because someone inspired you – and you want to be that person for your students. 

I want to invite you right now to get out a piece of paper – or open a blank document on your computer – and write about your “why.

Write about the first experiences you remember calling you to teaching.

Write about the first teacher who really inspired you.

Write about your purpose as a teacher – and how that purpose drives you to support every single student.

Then, set yourself some calendar reminders throughout the school year ahead. Maybe once per month or once per quarter, revisit your “why” and reflect on the ways you can keep living up to your calling. I’ll be doing the same throughout the year!

About the Author

Ashley Washington
Ashley Washington

Ashley Washington is an educator in Texas. Follow her on Twitter @AshleyWashIC.

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