What Brings You Here?

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By Tenesha L. Johnson, MA.Ed

Tenesha L. Johnson was born and raised in Queens and Long Island, NY, where she lives with a true passion to educate children and young adults. Her professional background has led her to dedicate more than 14 years to higher education in a variety of leadership and advocacy roles at colleges and universities throughout the tri-state area. Tenesha currently serves as a counselor and lecturer for the Percy Ellis Sutton SEEK Program at CUNY York College. Prior to joining CUNY, she served as the Assistant Director of Residence Life for Judicial Affairs at Saint Peter’s University and Health Professions counselor at Bergen Community College in Paramus, NJ. She’s also served as an adjunct lecturer at four-year and community colleges throughout New York and New Jersey.
For the past several years she has served in a leadership capacity with anti-bullying campaigns, The Girl Scouts of America, current and former board member of Blossom Sisters Dance and Performing Arts Center, as well as B.A.S.I.C.S International. Tenesha is an active member of the Long Island Beta Psi Sigma Chapter of Sigma Gamma Rho Sorority Inc. In 2013, she founded an organization called The Dancing Nerve, a dance arts program for children and adults living with a disability. She holds a bachelor’s degree in Black Studies and Business Administration, as well as two graduate degrees in Educational Leadership and Supervision, and School Counseling. She is currently pursuing an advanced certificate in Disability Studies from the CUNY School of Professional Studies.

As the new school year approaches, educators from across the nation will ask a classroom of student’s one of the more important questions they’ll be probed to answer in their lifetime.

 ~ What Do You Want To Be When You Grow Up? ~

Many students will respond with one of the familiar prestigious career choices. I’ll be a doctor, lawyer, teacher, engineer or maybe a nurse. While naming their professional goals is sure to spark a lively and full conversation, I wonder if we, as educators often overlook the importance of helping our students dig deeper into the motivation(s) of their pursuit. Have we been honest about all that it takes to reach that goal? More importantly, have we forgone the candid conversation about how a student’s drive for success has the ability to impact their long term achievement?

An early conversation during my Freshman Seminar courses at CUNY York College has always been, tell me what brings you here? New collegiate scholars, you could’ve been anywhere else in the world today, but you’re here with me. Why? You’re making a commitment for the next four years, only to have your name printed on nice paper and placed in an expensive wooden frame? Let’s not forget the possibility of the enormous debt that may follow you for the next few decades. Are you sure about this? What will make you different from the college student 2000 miles from home who graduated with a “nice paper” in their hand as well?

The most common responses I hear are, a) I’d like to make enough money take care of my family b) this is a family tradition c) I’m not sure why I’m here, in fact I’d rather be working instead.

These are all honest and transparent responses for new students in transition. Now, now where do we go from here?

The truth is, this generation has been charged with the task of navigating a fast changing world of economic and social uncertainty we’ve not seen in many decades. The road to success is quite congested with students and their families that all want the same thing that you want. SUCCESS!

If our students’ motivation before they arrived at the final destination is led solely by material gain, what will happen when their dreams aren’t realized as planned? How do we help prepare our graduates for the day after graduation?

I believe that a motivation led by the student in the driver’s seat, is what has the potential to set an employee apart from other candidates in a large competitive work force. Academic preparedness and the strengthening of hard and soft skills; including purposeful networking and professional relationship building can be part of what offers the foundation for resilience when the internship/job interview falls through. A clear motivation is what will help our students “Bounce Back” and persist in the face of disappointment.

While the diploma/degree provides evidence of their commitment to the completion of a task, it doesn’t always indicate all that they’re capable of when plans veer off the straight dotted line.

It’s our hope that each educator will be intentional in sowing seeds of confident, capable and spirited energy into their students, as they pursue their individual success and accomplishment.

Education is Activism- Part Two

By Shannon McFadden


            I did not expect to write this soon, but the events that took place in Charlottesville, VA got my Twitter fingers moving. Charlottesville, VA 2017, is reminiscent of Charlottesville, VA 1997, 1977, 1957, 1937, 1917, and 1897. The astonishing thing to me, is the fact that we, as card-carrying Americans, are surprised that this can be going on in America. Now. How could this demonstration of hatred and bigotry happen now? The answer is quite elementary, my dear: education.

            When I was a student in elementary school, we learned about American History, from the perspective of good, God-fearing Christians. Those who believed in the creed that all men were created equal, and that Jesus is the perfect example of humanity. Fast forward to middle school. American history, and the watered down version of the Trail of Tears, the Slave Experience, and the glowing reviews of the Forefathers. The Boston Tea Party and the American Revolution were discussed at length, yet, the stories of the oppressed were glossed over. There is a saying: history is told from the side of the winner. In the American education system, we are not the authors of our stories. There are no Native American history books, discussing the brutal murder of an entire people, all in the name of Her Majesty the Queen. No Japanese American history books, discussing the Holocaust-type conditions of America, circa 1940s. There is nothing discussing how Pacific Islanders were treated in the same fashion of Native Americans, where their homes made the “perfect” military base. Not to mention the lack of information on the Mexican inhabitants of Texas. Our students only learn history, from the aspect of white supremacy, which creates a sense of false superiority and false inferiority.

            In urban centers, there are so many opportunities to learn history, from different viewpoints. We live in areas where knowledge is overflowing. Everyone has a computer in their hands, where researching a topic can happen in minutes. We are afforded the opportunity to meet people from various walks of life, where traditions are held close, but evolution is welcome. This is not true for many Americans. They reside in Charlottesville, VA. In Calvert County, MD. In Shacklefords, VA. Where the only exposure one has to history, is through the public school system, the private school system, and homeschool. With this being the case, it is impossible to understand differing viewpoints, as only one point is taught. History books are written by publishers, who want to promote the idea of one America, and know the only way to instill this ideology, is through education.

            What are teachers to do? Well, first, we need to refute the lie. There are several different versions of the genocide of Native Americans and the enslavement of Africans and the oppression of the Irish. Aspects of American history, which are deemed as “ugly”, have been given less and less space in American history. How many of you actually learned about the concentration camps, full of Japanese Americans, in America? With little time spent on learning history, each generation is unable to fully connect and relate to each other. This is how Charlottesville, VA occurs. There are so many children, yearning to learn the truth, to understand why their parents are so adamant about preserving a “rich” history. We are seeing nothing new. We are seeing the product of propaganda that is being taught to our children, through a free and appropriate public education.   As teachers, we need to combat the notion that the book is right. The book is not right. We need to use our teacher unions to fight for a fairer version of history. We need to pull together our resources, and promote the telling of stories from the side of the oppressed, the loser.

            Howard Zinn wrote A People’s History of the United States, which discusses the founding of the American educational system. It discusses how education was created to maintain the social status of the upper class. As more poor whites fought for respect, the school system began to evolve. As teachers, I charge you to read this book. This is how we understand our role. We are liberators. How can we liberate, if we settle for modified history, where liberation is not at the forefront. We are disgusted by the acts of bigotry, yet we allow the stories of the oppressed to go untold. We are the tellers of these stories. Teach your students about the Crusades, and create lessons connecting the Crusades to World War 1 and 2. Explain to them the role America played in combating Nazism, while there are Americans who follow that ideology. This is not about Black and white. This is about teachers stepping up, and declaring that we will not continue to enslave the minds of our youth. We are here to expand their thoughts, their outlook on life, and to give a voice to the voiceless. Activism begins in the classroom. Activism begins with us.

Education is Activism

By Shannon McFadden

Shannon McFadden is a former educator, CEO of a small tutoring company, and Director of Quality Assurance for a non-profit organization. With a true passion for children, Ms. McFadden has spent most of her life, advocating for those who cannot fight for themselves. Born and raised in Baltimore County, Ms. McFadden received her undergraduate education at Spelman College, completed graduate courses at Howard University, and is currently attending Walden University. At Walden, Ms. McFadden is working on her Masters in Forensic Psychology, concentrating on juvenile delinquency prevention and intervention programming. With a hunger to invest in our children, Ms. McFadden plans to open a multi-generational intervention program, targeting at-risk youth and their parents, providing comprehensive services to meet all needs. Ms. McFadden currently resides in West Baltimore County, with her amazing daughter, Sharise.            



I was asked to write an entry on the education and activism, and I had the hardest time, attempting to start this wonderful article. What tone of voice I should use, should I add statistical data, and how special education is connected to the prison system. But, I changed my mind in the middle of my article, and wanted to discuss activism, and how teachers are activists.

                Activism seems to be taking a front seat lately, thanks to social media. Everyone seems to have an opinion about something, most of which are not grounded in any facts. We speak on the Freddie Gray death, the lack of convictions given to police for killing unarmed men of color, the murder of trans men and women, and the wonderful presidency of Number 45. We believe that activism is participating loudly, drawing attention to ourselves, and being infamous in certain circles. We find the Deray McKessons, the Shawn Kings, the Umar Johnsons, the Colin Kaepernicks, and the Shannon Sharpes intimidating, questioning whether we are doing “enough” for the children that we interact with daily. We fail to understand the full magnitude of the impact that we have.

                So, as an educator, how are we activists? First, teaching is not about testing and data: it is about liberating the mind. It goes beyond the behavioral management strategies; the system-approved curricula, filled with evidenced-based practices; and the framework, outlining the time spent on each standard. Teaching is giving the child the confidence, the skills, and the ability to expand their minds, and wanting to change the world for the better. Somehow, in the midst of testing and certifications, we forgot that. We forgot that a child is more than just a PARCC score, a HSA score, a DC-CAS score, or an MSA score. We try so hard to get great evaluations, we forget that a lot of our kids, the ones where school is a place to eat, feel loved, be safe, and feel secure, are not interested in data. They look to us to fulfill a need.

                As educator-activists, we are the frontline of defense. We cannot seek to educate children on empty stomachs. It is our duty to feed them. It is our duty to create the safe space, giving our students the ability to be children, even if it is only for 6 hours. Some teachers may disagree, but that is due to their personal experiences, and where the schools these teachers are employed. It is easy to ignore the role of an activist, when social injustice is not staring you in the face every day. As educators, we have to remember why we are in this field: we are here to liberate, to inspire. Every lesson should be to give our students, the ones without hope, hope. The chance that the world willingly takes away. We cannot be afraid to discuss social injustice in our classrooms. Let’s face it, we can easily make a lesson from anything. We are innovative!

                Activism is who is we are. Educators inspire, create leaders, and invoke change in the world. We have to get back to the essence of who we are. This is more than a paycheck. This is more than in IMPACT score. This is more than an evaluation. We literally are looking in the eyes of the next Barak Obama, Marcus Garvey, Steve Jobs, Jane Elliott, Nikola Tesla, and Phyliss Wheatley every single day. But, we only choose to inspire those from certain backgrounds. We have to get back to our roots, back to who we are. Without education, there is no activism.

What I learned when I stopped giving zeros

By Richard House

A passionate educator, Ricky House has spent the past four years in the classroom and is a graduate of the University Of Pittsburgh Graduate School of Education where he served as an Urban Fellow and Masters of Arts in Teaching Candidate. Upon completing his internship at Pittsburgh's Brashear High School, Ricky moved to Baltimore to begin his teaching career in the Anne Arundel County Public Schools teaching Eighth Grade social Studies and serving as a Team Leader at MacArthur Middle School on Fort Meade. One of the highlights of his time at MacArthur, was a lesson in which he has his students research the disparities the media shows between black teens and white teens. This was done in connection to a lesson on the Baltimore Uprising in April of 2015. Ricky is currently a seventh grade social studies teacher at Gunston Middle School in Arlington, Virginia where he manages the schools chapter of My Brothers Keeper  https://www.whitehouse.gov/my-brothers-keeper where he continues to maintain his educational philosophy of rigor, relevance, and relationships as a way to achieve classroom success.

This past spring as co-lead teacher of the Social Studies department in my school, I challenged myself and the other teachers in my department to stop giving zeroes and replace them with forty percents. I did this for a number of reasons and having tried it for a marking period, I can honestly say I will never give zeroes again. As more school districts around the country shift towards “no zero policies”, educators should come to understand the benefits of these policies and how they can push students towards the mark of success.

I must be honest that when I started my teaching career, I was taught not to give zeros as an intern in the Pittsburgh Public Schools. The district had a “no zero” grading policy in place so it was that much easier for me to become accustomed to the idea when I began my teaching career in Maryland. My first year teaching a student could receive a grade no lower than a 40 which was equal to a not handed in and they received 50 if they did some portion of the assignment. Many teachers argue that these policies make excuses for children and show students that they can still get by, just by doing the minimum amount of work required. We need to stop for a minute and realize that giving zeros is simply not fair.

1. Most districts grade on a ten point scale: Most school districts as well as colleges and universities across the country grade on a ten point scale. That means that there is a ten point range for each letter grade from A - D except when it comes to failing grades. If you fail an assignment in most cases you can receive anywhere from a 0-59. This is simply not fair. Once you start receiving consistent grades below 40%, it becomes harder and harder to climb out of the hole that has be dug. Our goal as educators should ultimately be to help our students achieve success, not prevent them from rectifying mistakes.

2. No Grading Policies will help students confidence: After I stopped giving zeros in the spring of this year, I noticed that students who had been struggling to pass my class all year now realized that they had a chance to pass. Yes, many of these students had failed my class in previous marking period as a result of not completing assignments, but I noticed these same students were not motivated. In many cases, especially with middle schools, students tend to lose confidence the lower their grade sinks throughout a marking period. They get to a point where they think that the grade has sunk too low and they cannot recover. Policies like this help prevent that.

3.These policies focus on growth rather than mistakes: As educators we have got to get to a point where we realize that our job is to prepare our students for success and help them grow, not to punish them for their mistakes. No Zero Policies help measure a students growth over time which should always be the goal. Adolescents make mistakes and at this stage in their lives empathy and compassion from educators can go a long way. As educators we have to understand that we are not perfect and we cannot expect our students to be. Yes, we have to prepare them for a life that will not always be as generous and forgiving, but quite frankly giving a child a zero does not lower the bar in any way. Students who are not going to complete the work are still going to fail, but at the same time these same students will have the opportunity to recover without feeling like they’ve dug a hole to deep to recover.

While I understand that these policies will not be popular with all teachers, educators have always been willing to adapt to change and we must continue to do so. A 2016 Washington Post Article stated

“But many are critical of the shift, arguing that teachers are losing important tools to enforce diligence and prepare students for college and the workplace. They say that artificially boosting student grades can mask failure and push students through who don’t know the material they need to know to actually succeed.” (Washington Post 2016) .

Surely this is a worry of many educators, but no zero policies do not reward students for not doing work. A student who does no work throughout an entire marking period is still most likely to fail. Another question, we must ask ourselves as educators is “How is failing a student preparing them for college and the workforce?” If a student is consistently not handing in assignments, our goal should be to address the root cause of this problem and attempt to help them, get back on track, not punish them.

As educators we must be cognizant that not all of our students have the same learning style nor do they learn at the same pace. No Zero policies will truly help us transition from a grading system that focuses on punishment and one’s inability to recover after a series of mistakes to one focused on growth and is driven by a theme of equity. Finally as educators sometimes we become so focused on setting the highest of expectations, that we forget why we became teachers. A little empathy and compassion can go a long way.


It Starts with a Name

Heather Fischer lives and teaches in Southern California where she was born and raised. Her passion is to help students live abundant lives by igniting their passion for learning and demonstrating that there are unlimited possibilities when they take risks and challenge themselves. Heather is pursuing a Master of Teaching degree and a Curriculum, Instruction, and Publication Certificate from Biola University. She recently began creating TPT resources and blogging under the name “Fishin’ 4 Inspiration.” Heather loves to travel, explore the great outdoors, and spend time with her husband and dog.

  By Heather Fischer

          Who are you? The answer to this question can be quite daunting.  To define yourself by your age, relationship status, or even profession would seem insufficient. Most people would respond first with their name. Your name gives you an identity; it was given to you at birth and gives insight into your cultural, ethnic, and family background. Your name is sacred because it exclaims that you exist, are valuable, and have a voice.

            Our job as educators is to ensure that our students thrive academically. In order to do this, they must feel that they are loved, valued, and included within our classrooms. Knowing and using students’ names is fundamental in building strong, positive relationships within the classroom. Without it, we may be perceived as unapproachable, impersonal, or even uncaring. To demonstrate love and care for our students, we need to know and use our students’ names as soon as possible. It’s an effective way to build a sense of community and trust within our students.

            Additionally, the way in which we pronounce our students’ names is essential. When we pronounce our students’ names correctly, we not only honor our students and their cultural backgrounds, but we also demonstrate the importance of respecting diversity. Our students need to develop a global awareness in hopes that they will become competent within the 21st century.  

            My challenge to you is to know every student’s name and how to pronounce it correctly as quickly as possible. Imagine how valued our students would feel if we knew their names by the end of the first day, or even better, as they are walking through our doors for the first time! Do whatever it takes to know their names - ask their former teachers, take pictures and study them at home, or even call their families. We have a responsibility as educators to create an inclusive and caring classroom environment so that our students can thrive. Knowing their names and pronouncing them correctly is a powerful and effective way to show them that they are valuable and important.