I am excited to be able to profile a former graduate student of mine and a wonderful early career teacher, Latricia Whitfield. When she was my student, I was always impressed by the ways in which she made meaning and use of the things we learned in class. She wasn’t just there to get by – she was there to grow. I was all the more impressed when I discovered that not only was she going above and beyond in my class academically, she was also a new teacher, working with a special needs population in a high poverty area of the city. I realized quickly that what drives Latricia is her passion for the children. She has a local-global perspective; she wants to learn how to improve her teaching on a daily basis and also how to reform education contexts in the big picture. It can be hard for a teacher dedicated to social justice in and outside the classroom to persist when many obstacles – institutional, structural, social, and ideological stand in the way. Latricia’s profile shares the story of a new teacher whose determination to make positive change in the lives of children – locally or globally – has helped to steady her through rocky waters.
- Can you share a little background with us about your teaching career? For example, what brought you into teaching? What do you teach?
My name is Latricia Whitfield and I am currently in my third year of teaching at Mastery Charter School: Smedley Elementary located within the Frankford area of Philadelphia. I am a Special Education Reading teacher, serving 5th grade students with low and high incidence disabilities. Today, I am elated to be a catalyst for change within the realm of education. However, this wasn’t my first career choice. For 5 years, I had the opportunity to work within broadcast journalism, specifically with NBC Universal. Although I had a guaranteed position after my 5 year mentorship/scholarship program was over, I did not believe that I was truly fulfilling my life’s purpose: being a difference in the lives of others. During my senior year of college, I decided to drastically change my career path and apply for alternate route programs to affect change in the lives that matter the most: our children. I was graciously accepted in the Philadelphia Teaching Fellows program… and that truly was the best decision I have ever made.
2. What motivates and sustains you as a teacher?
I have to admit; although teaching is extremely rewarding, it can also be very exhausting! Each day, however, I am reminded how much I love my career when a student is able to share their personal stories with me- when students are able to smile, reflecting on how much they truly enjoyed a Guided Reading or Literature lesson- when students give me hugs and beautiful letters sharing their appreciation of the hard work that we do together within the community. That is what motivates me. Now that I am in my third year of teaching, I have taken the time to figure out what Latricia loves outside of school that keeps me energized for the day ahead. Exercising and reading books like a habit keeps me sane when I feel overwhelmed. Finding that balance outside of the classroom truly helps you to push forward.
3. What do you think needs to change or happen in education/schools?
My, oh my, isn’t that a loaded question! There are so many factors within the world of education that I believe needs to be rectified: the use of “No Child Left Behind” and its hindrance on special education students that would benefit from another year of similar instruction- the overrepresentation of African American students classified as students with disabilities- the use of standardized assessments to dictate the breadth of knowledge that one has acquired- the constant argument between the credibility of quantitative and qualitative educational research when the primary issue behind the lack of education within the United States hasn’t been solved- the gatekeeping process that often hinders minorities that are striving for higher education- the list goes on!
4. What is something that you are passionate about as a teacher/learner and how do you incorporate it into your teaching?
I am very passionate about having my students create a love for reading, when the concept has so often been a burden to accomplish for them. I try to incorporate this love for reading by choosing novels that are intellectually stimulating for my students and developing an organic and genuine discourse about their understandings of and connections with the text.
5. What groups, individuals, or networking contexts have supported you in your work? How?
The Philadelphia Teaching Fellows program led the way for me to be in my current position, allowing me to truly begin making a difference in the lives of children within the city of Philadelphia. During my graduate career at Arcadia University, I also had the opportunity to improve my instruction through the meaningful lectures and personal advice from the professors that I held close.
6. What advice can you share with new teachers just entering the field?
- You are a priceless part of your student’s lives. Stay committed to their achievement- they’re counting on you!
- To be flexible.
- To give yourself a burst of energy when you need it.
- That everyone makes mistakes. Learn from mistakes you make and approach them as opportunities to grow. Effective teachers never stop learning!
**About Transformative Teacher Profiles: TTPs are meant to “flip the script” and offer a counter-narrative to negative and dehumanizing stereotypes about teachers. Here you’ll read about truly transformative teaching, leadership, and inspiring work. The format is simple: I ask six questions of each teacher that I profile about their teaching and learning. If you know of amazing teachers that I should profile, please write me a comment below or send me a tweet about them!**