My restless nights as a Peace Corps volunteer in Niger, West Africa, were spent with a pair of portable speakers and Nina Simone’s wisdom. Her songs became my ray of hope and comfort as I lay under the moon and a mosquito net, covered by the blanket of the night.
I joined the Peace Corps in 2006 because I needed a change from my comfortable, mundane life as an office assistant in the United States. As a young, Black college graduate, I knew I did not want to get stuck in a meaningless existence. I wanted to contribute to society in ways that really mattered.
Lurking in my subconscious was this lovely, precious dream that Nina Simone so desperately wanted the world to believe in. This was the American Dream that I, in my youthfulness, was fearless enough to pursue. I made the bold decision to travel, learn new languages, and gain experience in international development. It was exhilarating to announce that I would give up air conditioning and clean drinking water for two years to make my humble contribution to the world.
With Simone’s commanding, lyrical voice at my side, I “opened my heart.” However, on my journey through the harmattan sandstorms of West Africa, I would be forced to ponder how this dream differs for individuals depending on their cultural and personal needs.
It’s now February 2011 and I continue to reflect on both my past experiences in the Peace Corps and the heart and soul of the service I now provide daily as a special educator back in the United States. I attribute my successes to the support of countless Right Start advisors, department chairs, administrators, colleagues, mentors, and friends who encourage my professional growth as a teacher. Each day, I feel honored and committed to be working in a Title 1 school where I can serve as a role model, friend, and mentor to children who, like me, are capable of achieving their life dreams through perseverance and hard work.
A few weeks ago, my school principal and special education department chair mandated a training session in which various models of co-teaching were reviewed and discussed in an open, collaborative format. As you readers know, I have been hoping for this for a very long time. Not only did this initiative empower special educators, it validated the progress that we have made in collaborating to support students with IEPs, a specific group for whom everyone recognizes the necessity of bridging the achievement gap. Afterward, I truly felt a sense of renewed dedication to fluid, differentiated instruction.
The following week, my school facilitated planning sessions focused on delivering specialized instruction through team-teaching models where both general and special educators actively engage and assess student learning. I have long recognized what a blessing it is to work at a middle school where differentiated instruction and the pillars of the IB program are constantly discussed and incorporated into lessons. However, with this new training, I was overjoyed by the discussions specific to co-taught settings, as true differentiated instruction in inclusive classrooms really mandates the effective practices of two educators.
As a Peace Corps volunteer, I was equipped with passion and creativity to empower young females in an Islamic society. But to implement meaningful programs in the field, I depended on collaboration with and guidance from local NGO partners, community leaders, and Peace Corps staff.
Likewise, my principal has provided necessary supports for her teaching staff as we attempt to bridge the achievement gap for learners with exceptionalities. I am passionate about the service I provide as a special educator, but I am also aware of the inequalities that exist in our society. I want my students to see the world beyond their neighborhoods and daily experiences. Annapolis Middle School continues to embrace its diverse population of students, who bring with them various cultures, socio-economic statuses, ethnicities and racial identities, and languages. I also value AMS’s acceptance of the diversity among teachers, staff, and professionals in our building. We grow and learn from the unique experiences and perspectives of each other.
Nina Simone’s voice will live on forever as one that encouraged the acceptance and equality of all members of society. Her words are alive each day that I am blessed to work with my students and colleagues, all of us on a quest to pursue the American dream and fulfill our unique destinies.