TECH Freire Charter School
Dean of Students (formerly 9th Grade English Teacher)
Mediation Program Coordinator
Ramapo College, University of Pennsylvania
How would you describe your approach to teaching English and reading?
I focus specifically on teaching my students how to engage with the texts, reading strategies to develop stronger comprehension, and fluency. For example, we read Crossover, which was a book that was written in nontraditional prose, so the unit focused on poems, storytelling, how the structure and form of a poem or a piece of writing can alter how things are understood or comprehended. All of those things play a huge role in helping them become stronger writers. A lot of the class focuses on helping readers become stronger readers, which in turn helps them become stronger writers.
How did you find your way to TECH Freire?
I did a workshop for TFA and I ended up running into a 12th grade Peace and Social Justice teacher at Freire. We were talking and he really loved the themes of my workshop, and he said hey, we could really use your energy at Freire. I trained under Lynn as the Associate Dean at Freire High School for a year and then moved into the Dean of Students role full time.
I ended up teaching because I joined an organization called Black Male Educators—there are a number of statistics about the lack of black male educators in the classroom. Then I happened to be in my colleague Megan’s classroom, she was a first-year English teacher, and she did this amazing project around The Crucible. She had the students pick a scene to perform but change the genre—one of them did a scene through the lens of the horror genre, someone did it as a comedy, someone did it as a psychological thriller, someone did it as sci-fi. And I thought, “Wow, that’s such a cool way to look at English.” And I started thinking, maybe I could do more in the classroom.
I really liked the work that I saw TECH doing, and since a lot of TECH’s staff and administrators had started at Freire High School, I had worked with a lot of them. I came and I visited and I just got a really good vibe from the environment.
What after-school activities are you involved in?
I am the director of the mediation program. We train mediators on how to handle conflict, not just among their peers but also between teachers and students. We want to look at it more as an emotional support, something that can complement counseling and our emotional supports team, versus it being an aspect of discipline.
What strikes you as unique about your experience at Freire?
What I love about this school, and what I love about the Freire Schools network in general, and why I was drawn to it, is the freedom to be an individual. And you see people who have such a passion for the students, who have a love for the students, who have a genuine investment in the students, and teachers who are committed to kids. We have a school culture that’s very student-centered, where we believe in circles and a restorative justice frame of mind. All those different things to me are essential.
This is a school that doesn’t believe in pushing a school-to-prison pipeline culture—we don’t have metal detectors here, we don’t have security guards. Our kids don’t have to experience what you might experience at other schools around Philadelphia. We really believe in this idea that if you build positive relationships with students, with families, if you engage them, then you can trust that they’re going to do the right thing. It’s amazing.
I think we’re doing a really good job of creating spaces that are accessible for black and brown bodies, and spaces where there’s real-real learning happening, and where kids feel safe. Kids feel like there is a level of family that they’re able to gravitate towards and be a part of.
How would you describe the staff culture here?
We all strive to be vulnerable in ways where the kids will benefit from our vulnerability. Most teachers you’ll encounter are aware of their strengths and they’re aware of their growth areas, and they’re always actively willing to push themselves to think about what their lesson is doing—how they’re interacting, their tone—how does that impact the students? We are committed to our kids, and we’re committed to each other.
One of the things I appreciate about the culture here is that not only are we student-centered, but we’re also staff-centered. The leadership understands that if teachers are happy, students will be happy.
Do you have any advice for teachers considering a career at Freire?
I would say come with ideas. This is definitely one of those environments where the leadership look to us to be problem solvers. They’re like, listen, don’t come to us with complaints if you’re not willing to come up with solutions. We’re always looking for ways to evolve and ways to make ourselves better.
So if you’re going to work here, roll up your sleeves! Come prepared to work, come prepared to learn and grow, and come prepared with ideas on how to make us better.