Creating a Path to Every Student’s Passion

by | 07.11.19

Dianna Tejada is a teacher in D.C. Follow her on Twitter @Mx_Tejada.

As a young person, I didn’t know what it was like to feel valued, heard, seen, or loved by most of my teachers – and that’s part of what led me to teaching. Students are at the forefront of every decision I make. Some of my students have been treated harshly by their teachers, and I want to show them that those experiences are not and should not be the norm. I want them to know they can and should be respected by adults in their lives because they are human. They deserve that. It’s my mission to make sure kids feel seen, heard, loved and free to envision and create the world they want to live in.

Very early on in my teaching career, I learned that the high turnover at the schools I was teaching in impacted my students’ mastery of grade-level standards. Most of them came to me below grade level in reading and writing. This meant I had to get creative about how to ensure students were developing their critical thinking, reading, writing and speaking skills without feeling demoralized or overloaded. One student was struggling with her reading comprehension and her writing. But when it came to speaking, she blew everyone away with her thoughtfulness and insight. 

To support her in using her strengths to empower her learning, when I assigned a paper I gave her the option to record herself. She would speak her responses to the prompt, using evidence from the texts, and then she’d share the recording with me. We workshopped her writing together, and she learned to make it sound like she spoke, so her academic self could meet her everyday self. We worked toward making sure her words had the same power on the page. 

Within a year, she came into my classroom to invite me to a slam competition. She took the hard work she’d put into reading and writing, combined that with her oratory skills and became a spoken word poet. She made the local team, and then she was competing nationally. That led her to community organizing. Now she’s made a name for herself by using her voice to achieve powerful things. 

To see that the skills my student once struggled with are the same skills she used to find her passion and put her stamp on her community – that’s a story I hold very near and dear to my heart. As teachers, we are problem-solvers, continually innovating and learning to support our students in new ways. It’s my mission to make sure kids feel seen, heard, loved and free to envision and create the world they want to live in – and that requires doing things we’ve never done to get results we haven’t seen. Every child deserves that.

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