I change my hairstyle often—like every week. So when I see cute and creative styles, I love to give them a try. I have a student who also comes to school with a new hairstyle every week—and sometimes every other day. One particular Monday, she came to school with the cutest up-do that I knew I had to try. I told her, “Your hair is so cute! Don’t be mad at me when I come to school tomorrow with my hair just like that!” At first she didn’t believe me. So she responded with an eye-roll, a “sure, Ms. Bishop,” and walked away. After school, I went home and got to work on my hair. What better way to show my student how she inspired me to feel beautiful than by coming to school with the same hairstyle?
In today’s society, it is rare to hear these kinds of stories.
Pictures of my student and me wearing the same up-do went viral. I hope this story showed the world that there are inspiring teachers out there. More importantly, I hope it showed that students also inspire their teachers. Sometimes, that inspiration has nothing to do with academics.
I am a teacher who sees my students as whole people and not just bodies sitting in my classroom. I am a woman of color pouring positive light into young girls of all races and ethnicities. I am a mother who is pushing for good mental health to be just as valued as education. It’s through these identities that I will continue to make a positive impact on my students and their parents.
Teaching, to me, means to enhance a child’s success by promoting their individual growth and their well-being in all aspects of life. We should celebrate children in ways that have nothing to do with academics, and that is my goal, year after year.
Understanding that students are whole is vital! Whether students are in first grade, fourth grade, or Pre-K, they should be taught to love themselves. When mental health is a priority in our schools, many other things will fall in place. When a student knows the teacher genuinely cares about them, they are more willing to open up and seek help, even when they are not succeeding academically.
What I love most about teaching is the power I have to pour light into every student.
I am teaching students the content they need to grow and move on to the next grade level. But I am also teaching them to love themselves. Doing so gives them confidence to face the challenges they will surely encounter as they develop. By connecting and developing relationships with the whole student, I am able to help them succeed academically. And it’s those same connections and relationships that allow me to help children who never knew what being whole felt like. In turn, their example helps me to become a better teacher—and person.
While I advocate for all children, my support is especially important for black girls.
How often do we celebrate black women outside of Black History Month (if even then)? Almost never! Young black girls, especially, need to know of the long list of black women who have made and are still making a difference. It is important for these girls to see themselves in their role models and to know that they are important, too! We should listen to their voices. We should pay attention to and learn from their stories. Most importantly, they should be loved and respected for being themselves. As a black woman teacher, this is part of my duty.
As teachers, we should reflect the light of our students back onto them. It’s essential for us to connect with students in ways that have nothing to do with the three Rs. Whether it’s talking about a video game, discussing a favorite sports team, or, yes, finding inspiration in their hairstyles, we must connect to the whole child. It’s through those connections that we not only more fully help students but also remember why we teach. In the process, we might even pick up a hairstyling tip or two.