I had the opportunity to interview a dynamic teacher who is changing the lives of students within the city of Philadelphia. Aaliyah Thomas' dedication to the children of the School District of Philadelphia is inspirational and for this reason I am excited to feature her as a flowering teacher. Ms. Thomas currently works as a 7th and 8th grade English Language Arts Teacher in the northeastern section of Philadelphia. It is evident that Aaliyah Thomas is passionate about literacy instruction and will continue to be a change agent in the lives of intercity youth.
What inspired you to be an English Teacher? More specifically in an urban school district?
“I have always loved literature and poetry especially. I have always found inspiration in African American Literature. I have always viewed education as the best chance to achieve equality and I always thought it was criminal how kids in urban communities received substandard education. I wanted to fill in the gaps the best I could.”
How long have you been an English Teacher? "I think it has been ten years...maybe 11."
What has been your hardest challenge as an English teacher of middle school students? What has been your greatest reward? "My biggest challenge is trying to meet one hundred and ten needs per day. Honestly, when you have such a wide spectrum of gifts, abilities and deficits its really hard to meet one hundred and ten people where they are at. I experience my greatest rewards once children graduate and they are eager to tell me what they are reading and how they are doing in high school. I love to hear what colleges they are applying to and their programs of interest. One of the biggest rewards is when kids come back and share what they are doing. This makes me feel I played a role in their success."
What do you find is your hardest literacy skill to teach? "I had a hard time putting together a unit for bias and propaganda. But now that I have been teaching for a while teaching the standards comes easier. I do find that grammar can be challenging to teach though. Finding the time to teach grammar can be difficult in addition to all of the other skills we have to teach."
Do you plan on staying in urban education as an English Teacher? "What are your future goals? "Yes, I plan on continuing to serve this community. My goal to get a Ph.D. one day. This is a personal goal of mine."
If you could have your students remember one thing that you taught them, what would it be?
"I would say that... I like for my kids to know that whether or not they have a physical teacher or substitute, resources or not, it is their responsibility to seek knowledge and learn to go after what they came to accomplish in school. This is their responsibility to themselves."
What advice would you offer to novice literacy teachers? "Extend the same level of understanding to yourself as you do to your students. Extend the same level of patience to yourself as you do your students. Failure and mistakes are a part of the process and are necessary for success. Also, find balance and don’t neglect yourself. It is easy to feel you have to in order to be productive."