Chalk Talk: Syeita Rhey-Fisher
Syeita Rhey-Fisher (her friends call her “Sy”), a fourth-grade social studies teacher in Hartford, Connecticut knows the power of an amazing teacher.
“Growing up in the foster care system, I lived a lot of the challenges my students now face. My foster parents didn’t have the educational background to help me with my school work. They weren’t the nurturing type and had very strong personalities that overwhelmed me. When you’re missing that emotional connection at home, it’s important to put teachers in front of kids who can really get to know them and push them.”
And if it wasn’t for one of these great educators in her life, Sy knows she wouldn’t be the teacher she is today. Or maybe even a teacher at all.
“When I began school, I was a kid who didn’t speak. They placed me into special education because they assumed my lack of talking was due to a learning disability. But then in second grade, I had a teacher that actually talked to me and not at me.”
And to Sy, that made all the difference.
“Ms. Johnson learned that my silence was due to social-emotional factors, not academic ones. She saw my potential and made it real. She delivered assignments in such a way that made them exciting. I began to participate in class and quickly tested out of special education. I earned a full scholarship to college and became the first in my family to graduate. Every student needs their Ms. Johnson. And they need them throughout their educational journeys.”
Sy’s teacher fostered a classroom culture that brought out the best in her kids. “Children felt safe to be themselves. Not only did I know I had the support from my teacher, but I knew the kid next to me had my back just as much. Ms. Johnson gave us the freedom to take risks, be honest, and to all grow together. But teachers need this culture just as much as students, and unfortunately, this can be hard to find.”
Sy has searched for a school that looks like her second-grade classroom - one where educators feel secure to collaborate and work hard for their students. Before finding a home at her current school, she saw how poor school culture can deny kids excellent teachers.
“I worked at a school with a toxic culture, one run like a dictatorship. By my second year there I was the most senior teacher. We need to give teachers more autonomy over instruction and more opportunities to lead. When there’s excellent teachers sharing best practices and learning from each other, you build a positive learning community. This brings out the best in everyone so that they can be the best for their kids. Who would want to leave that?”
Sy wants you to remember that you’re someone’s Ms. Johnson - kids are counting on you inside the classroom and out. And, like Sy, many E4E educator members have jumped in to create real solutions to the problems they and their students face in the classroom and beyond:
- E4E-Connecticut: One State, One Future - Reimagining School Finance in Connecticut
- E4E-Minnesota: Our Students Can't Wait - Ensuring Equitable Access To Funding and Resources
- E4E-New York: A New Way to Pay - Reimagining Teacher Compensation
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