- Personal and Professional Growth
- Impact on Your Classroom, School & Community, and,
- Imagining the Future
During the month of August, we’ll share some of our Fellows’ Passports to get us all in the “Back to School” mode. Today, we’re proud to share the reflections of Amber Neal, teacher at Almeda Elementary School in Houston, TX. In her grant proposal, she shared the inspiration behind her fellowship:
As a Black little girl, I grew up learning about Africa in school, but exclusively through the lens of the Transatlantic Slave Trade. The curriculum and textbooks only reinforced stereotypes of Africans as remote village dwellers with spears and shields and co-existing with wild animals. Years later as an educator, I noted the elementary curriculum was greatly restricted by academic expectations and statewide annual assessments, completely lacking creative, culturally responsive texts or materials. In fact, our state’s education system actually came under fire for producing textbooks and curriculum that romanticized slavery, misinforming students that slaves were actually immigrants that made the decision to travel to the New World.
As a Black educator, I felt deeply offended that across the state, teachers were essentially educating students on historical half-truths. This trip will serve as a reminder that I am obligated to not only teach the standards of the course, but to recognize what’s not included and ask why. It is vital in our roles as educators to check our own perceptions and beliefs to become more cognizant of how important our part is in perpetuating stereotypes in the malleable minds of our students.
Experience Tanzania’s history, language, culture and educational climate to deepen understanding of African refugee students and develop learning experiences that enhance global awareness, celebrate cultural differences and enrich classroom discourse.
Personal & Professional Growth
This fellowship expanded my worldview and enhanced my knowledge and understanding of East African cultures, languages and history. I’ve already utilized the acquired knowledge, skills and resources from Tanzania to develop instructional materials that will enrich authentic student learning experiences. Lastly, it has provided me a springboard to critically analyze what we teach, the methods in which we teach and the efficacy of the curriculum taught.
Observing Tanzanian teachers instruct and lead with upwards of 100 students per class was awe-inspiring! Tanzanian teachers are not always afforded the modern technological advances that are so prevalent in American schools; instead they use innovation, passion, inspiration and creativity to bring their lessons to life. I plan to incorporate various Tanzanian folktales, oral histories, and cultural artifacts in my ESL Reading classes to celebrate cultural diversity and improve global competence.
My greatest personal accomplishment was my ability to be completely immersed in the culture. Through this fellowship, I reaffirmed my identity as a Black educator by drawing connections between African-American and traditional African cultures, which will prove invaluable in my instruction of predominately Black students. I am also proud of the Swahili language skills that I acquired and plan not only to utilize them in the classroom setting, but will continue my study of the language.
Impact on Your Students, School & Community
While the current social studies curriculum mandates that 3rd-5th grade students learn both state and U.S. history, much of the curriculum lacks examination through a global lens. My fellowship experience will expose students to the beauty of the African diaspora by honoring history, celebrating cultures and recognizing the continent’s global impact. Students will develop their critical thinking skills by participating in activities that require critique and collaboration on real world issues.
I also believe that by sharing my experiences, curiosity among my colleagues will grow, inspiring them to seek out non-traditional professional development opportunities and challenge them to critically examine the curriculum and their own biases when working with students of color and students of historically under-served backgrounds. I want to be a role model for teaching a global citizenship curriculum, balancing critical literacy instruction and providing culturally responsive instruction.
Imagining the Future
Students will celebrate their new learning by reading the book Africa is Not a Country, which orients students to Africa as a continent through the exploration of the traditions and cultures of kids from 25 countries, including Tanzania. This interactive lesson will help students recognize country names, locations and regions while the mini-narratives in the book illuminates the immense cultural, linguistic and ethnic diversity of the diaspora and dispels the myth of it being a country.
There is a large push in Tanzanian education reform for students to be a part of a global economy through their learning of the English language. However, in many public schools, the access to literature has been a challenge. I want to inspire my students to donate some of their favorite books to some of the primary schools, and include book reviews to inspire Tanzania students to read, in English. Through this experience, students will develop a sense of empathy for other students’ experiences.
This fellowship provided me the opportunity to explore the African diaspora, which was life changing, on a professional and personal level. The warmth of the people and my overall experiences felt like a pilgrimage back home. Through my journey, I have become more invested in my career as an educator and reaffirmed my passions as a lifelong learner. I will now bring my global experiences to the classroom and expose students to the world outside of the four walls of their communities.
Amber (pictured picking up her FFT grant check) utilizes her social work background to improve students’ social, emotional and behavioral outcomes. She infuses culturally responsive materials to foster social justice, global awareness and civic engagement. A 2018 HEB Excellence in Education statewide finalist and 2017 Fulbright scholar, she also uses her global experiences to bring experiential, hands-on learning to her urban classroom.
The title photo of Amber was taken at Olduvai Gorge, considered the birthplace of humanity.