I remember it clearly…
(Jihan Burdah is a 3rd grade teacher in Minnesota.)
I remember it clearly... I was a senior in high school facing the daunting question all seniors have to answer: What was I going to do with my life? What legacy did I want to leave behind? For some, this was a simple question to answer; they imagined themselves as doctors, lawyers, nurses and policewomen as children. Growing up, that passion never left them and they embarked on a road towards a profession that seemed to claim them so early in life. They seemed more capable of preparing themselves for their future because their vision of who they were and what they wanted to become had been so clear to them for so long. But I've wondered: how did they get that vision and passion so young? And how was it sustained?
Black History Month
I was a young African-American girl going to high school in New Jersey. I had always known that going to college was a must and I looked forward to that journey. But, it wasn't until my senior year, when I was faced with choosing a career path, that I realized how unprepared I was. This unpreparedness was not academic in nature. I had studied hard and knew that I had all the confidence and brain power to survive college, so academically I was fine. However, I realized that I didn't have a dream for myself. I had never taken the time to visualize myself past those college gates. I was there, but I was there without a vision. Vision is needed to be successful in life. It allows us to forge a path for ourselves, even when the path is riddled with stumbling blocks and detours. Vision keeps us focused and motivated. It offers hope when all else fails. I knew that I could not step foot onto a college campus without a vision or some sort of plan as to how I was going to forge a path for my future so that I could be successful after college. And so, it became my mission to enter college with a vision. My choice to become an educator was due in part to the fact that I had gone through my entire primary and secondary educational career without a vision for my future. Did my teachers fail me? Was this just another side effect of a flawed system? How many other young students were allowed to embark on such a life changing journey without a road map? Worse yet, how many students were never allowed to dream? I realized then that I wanted to be on the frontline of helping our next generation create a future for themselves. I wanted to be a part of efforts that ensure they had all the necessary tools needed to fulfill the visions they had for their future. I wanted to be sure they knew that the road had been forged by many before them and was ready to embrace them. I wanted them to dream.
Of course, nothing in life is perfect. Sometimes plans must change to accommodate unforeseen challenges. This is all too true in the field of education; however, when you understand that ducation prepares students to not only realize their dreams but that it also enables one to compete in a global society, we have to continue to test new theories and models that will work for our kids. I had graduated and I was a new educator fresh out of college with only one goal I think all teachers share: to change the world, one student at a time. While I was hopeful that this was possible, I knew deep down that it would take more. It would take more than just being in the classroom teaching. It would take more than going to college and getting a master's degree in education. It would take action! It would take going into the community and informing parents on educational policies and how they would affect their child and their community. But in order to do this, I needed to be well-informed and equip myself with the knowledge, power, and resources necessary to take action. StudentsFirst not only gives me the platform to be the change I want to see in my school and community, but it also gives me the information needed to change the policies before they enter my class. I am not only able to be a part of efforts to weigh in on legislation that affects our schools, but I am also able to empower others to do the same.
As an African-American women and educator, I know the damage that unjust educational policies and legislation can cause. It threatens not only the system itself, but the human spirit. Education should be the means by which one becomes. It is the path towards discovering who one is and who one wants to be. Take that away, and you’re left with a system that strips students of vision, exploration, and dreams. For some students, school is the only place where they have the opportunity to envision themselves as doctors and lawyers. I believe it’s my voice and action to advocate for policies that will positively affect students and the quality of education they receive, that will determine whether these same students can achieve their dreams. I believe that all my students have the right to dream a beautiful future. It is my job to make sure they have a vision on how to get there. But as global citizens, it is our collective responsibilities to make sure the path is clear and ready to embrace these students and their vision; because their future is our reality.
The work I do with StudentsFirst is really important to me, and those in my community. Last week, I, along with a group Transformation Team Members, went to the state capitol with our Outreach Director, Donna, to meet with elected officials. It was an awesome experience. I encourage everyone to take an active role in protecting the vision and dreams of our children. They’re depending on us.