What did you do before coming to CPS?
I taught Biology at a school in the Los Angeles area called Campbell Hall for three years, and then I taught for 5-6 years at a public school in Georgia.
Where did you grow up? What was school like for you?
I grew up in Georgia, in a suburb outside of Atlanta called Conyers. It was kind of like the country but not the rural country: it was definitely suburban. I had fun! High school was great, and there were three high schools in my county and so everybody went to one of those three. It was kind of a small town. I had pretty much the same friends from elementary school all the way through high school. I have a little brother named Jamal, and we grew up just the two of us playing in the woods and falling in creeks and stuff.
What made you decide you wanted to teach?
I decided to major in Biology because I was like “Oh! I want to be a doctor!” and then when I was in school it felt like “I don’t want to do all this, I don’t know what I’m going do now but this is not fun.” I felt like I wasn’t connecting with the people: it gets so science-y, in terms of chemistry and physiology, that it disconnects you from the interpersonal relationships that I think of when I think about being a doctor. I took a teacher exam and I passed on the first try, and then I went to one job fair and I got hired on the spot! It was almost like the sky opened up and said like “Here’s what you’re supposed to be doing” and I got this job and it was great!
I like science, but I also like arts, and I like cheer and dance, and I got to do all of that at the first public school I got a job at. I was asked to choreograph for musicals and I got to run a step team and coach cheerleading for a little bit. In addition, I ran the GSA club there. Teaching allowed me to tap into all these different parts of myself and I thought “Oh! That’s why teaching is so great!” You can teach the thing you love but you can also do so much more, particularly in a high school where they embrace the whole student rather than just their academic selves. That’s how I ended up in teaching.
Why did you want to teach at CPS specifically?
I taught in LA for the last three years, and although I liked the school that I was teaching at, I didn’t necessarily connect with LA as a city. I had met someone who ended up being my partner, and she lived up here in Oakland. She invited me to come visit and I really liked it, and I thought, “Well this is interesting because Oakland is kind of cool. And I just happened to look around on the National Association for Independent Schools website and there was this job in Oakland. I came and I did the interview and I said “Oh, this is great!”
I like this place and I was really impressed with Monique. She seemed interested in developing all of her teachers fully, and seemed kind, compassionate, and really intentional about making sure that College Prep students and teachers are not one dimensional, that the school is not just academic. The kinds of environments that I thrive in are the ones that embrace the whole person, and her philosophies really impressed me. In addition, I had some really good conversations with Bernie Shellem, who was very helpful, and Sharona, who was the Assistant Head at the time. I was really impressed with the teachers here and the kind of community that College Prep is. I thought to myself, “Oh! This actually might be doable!” and when they offered me the job, I said, “I am totally down, this sounds awesome!”
Where are you taking grad school classes?
I’m taking them at Seasun, which is at Cal State Northridge, and although I moved up here, I can take them online. I’m working on my Masters in Public Health, which will allow me to be able to actually use Biology in the field in a more applicable way, and it also teaches me how to bring real world applications of Bio into the classroom. I see it as a service learning situation, because Public Health is all about teaching communities about themselves and how they can be as healthy as possible, and I bring that into the classroom. It kind of just goes together for me.
What have you liked about it so far? What are you looking forward to?
I really like working with Dr. C. Although she’s not teaching Honors Bio this year, she’s so excited about teaching AP Bio that it kind of makes me more excited about teaching Bio. We have some really good conversations about how to teach or ways to approach pedagogy in the classroom. I really appreciate her and Mr. Shellem when we have our little Bio meeting and they say “Okay, this is what we’re going to do, this is what’s coming up.” It’s a nice balance because Mr. Shellem has all these years of experience in education and in teaching AP Bio, and then Dr. C has mad energy, like crazy amazing energy, and I really appreciate her excitement about teaching Bio. I think I have a little bit of both of them in me, and so I think we make this great little triangle.
What do you do in your free time? Are there any things around the Bay Area that you’re excited to try?
Right now I’m reading… I read a lot of books. I’m currently listening to this great podcast called Harry Potter and the Sacred Text because I’m a Harry Potter fan. It looks at every chapter of Harry Potter’s first book through the lense of a particular theme that shows up in other texts like the Quran or the Bible or the Torah. Every chapter in Harry Potter could have a theme about commitment or loneliness or fear. I love looking at these chapters in this book that I connect with so much and being able to analyze them.
I am kind of excited about the idea of doing salsa in the Bay Area because I love to dance and when I lived in LA. I didn’t really get to do that as much. Now I’m thinking, “okay, well how can I be active here in a way that is fun and not stressful” but can also provide opportunities to meet new people and make my own friend groups, since it is such a new place? I’m looking forward to taking some salsa classes and giving Shanti a run for her money!