Tuesday, April 23, 2024

Future Black educators at MSU navigate careers as education becomes politicized

February 20, 2024
<p>Freshman teacher education major Kyleigh Ferguson explains the importance of new education majors and what it means in today's political/social climate. Feb. 14, 2024 MSU Library.</p>

Freshman teacher education major Kyleigh Ferguson explains the importance of new education majors and what it means in today's political/social climate. Feb. 14, 2024 MSU Library.

Photo by Trina Fiebig | The State News

Since 2021, 44 states have taken steps to restrict the teaching of critical race theory, as well as discussions of racism and sexism in classrooms, according to data from Education Weekly. Eighteen states have either signed these restrictions into law or approved similar actions. 

With the teaching of Black history being targeted in America, the positions of teachers are impacted nationally. Those studying to become teachers are preparing themselves to enter a field that has been placed under immense social and legislative pressure, and Black students are working to navigate this challenge. 

MSU teacher education freshman Kyleigh Ferguson has always been drawn to teaching. When she was a kid, she used to play school with her friends by having them sit and learn from her while she guided them through pretend lessons.

Ferguson said these attacks on Black history affect both her identity and future profession. At the same time, they make her more motivated to become a teacher. 

“When Black history and stuff is pushed aside, it sends the message that Black people, their history doesn't matter,” Ferguson said. “As someone who's biracial, I know how crucial it is for students to see themselves reflected in what they learn.”

Senior teacher education major Savanna Solano-Maefield said she wants her students to feel differently from how she felt when she was in school. 

“I didn't see a lot of myself in the material or in the curriculum,” Solano-Maefield said. “That's kind of a reason why I wanted to be a teacher, because there's so many books, so many other sides and other narratives that are out there in history, and just life in general, that we never get as children.”

The curriculum restrictions have the potential to continue spreading ignorance among younger generations, she said.

“Kids are so young and impressionable — they're like sponges,” Solano-Maefield said. “So they're taking in all that information. If you push this one idea … this master narrative on them, that's all they're gonna know.”

Solano-Maefield, who didn’t really begin learning about the history of Black and Indigenous people in classrooms until she got to college, said this is part of what needs to change. 

“So then I start to think, if I'm learning this now, in my higher education, this is something I would have benefited from in high school,” Solano-Maefield said. “So, what can I do now to fix that?”

When she is a teacher, Solano-Maefield hopes to spread "truth" to her students by presenting the varied sides to every story and letting her students build their own conclusions and opinions. 

“We just have to let our kids know about the world around them, because it's constantly changing,” she said. “That's the whole point, like when you teach both sides of the story. The future generation has to be able to think for themselves.”

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Senior special education major Savanna Solano-Maefield speaks on learning experience at MSU and the importance of education majors. Feb. 15, 2024 MSU Library.

Senior teacher education major Jessica Williams is on the advisory board for Future Teachers of Color, an MSU campus organization that began holding events this year.

For Williams, being in a primarily white institution, or PWI, makes it feel as though her voice isn’t heard at times. Having communities like Future Teachers of Color can help with this sense of invisibility and isolation, she said.

Williams said she wants to prepare her students for society through her teaching. 

“(I hope) to make them good citizens for the future, that’s all school is about outside of learning,” Williams said. 

For students like Solano-Maefield, one way to navigate these obstacles is through communities of color on campus and finding mentors. Solano-Maefield, who is also on the advisory board for Future Teachers of Color, didn't feel like she had a strong community at MSU before joining the organization. 

“I was just kind of going through it alone, because I didn't really know if anybody felt the same way or if anybody would relate to me,” Solano-Maefield said. 

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Now, she enjoys helping new freshman come into MSU with a stronger support system than she had. 

Ferguson said in classes, she has found it hard to relate to everyone, and having a Black professor has helped her.

“When I'm speaking out in class, I just feel like she kind of understands what I'm saying,” Ferguson said. 

Similarly, Solano-Maefield found a sense of comfort when she had her first professor of color at MSU. This professor was also her first teacher of color throughout the entirety of her education. 

There is another level of support and understanding when students of color have teachers of color in front of them, she said. 

“At least I know that me and the professor are on the same page, and I'm not alone in feeling like I can't say something,” Solano-Maefield said. “I feel like I can address it... When you have teachers who look like you and talk like you, it's a little bit different." 

When Ferguson is a teacher herself, she hopes to provide similar feelings of comfort for her students. 

“I want to be like an advocate and feel like if they don't have a good home life or whatever, that they can come to me. And I can help with that,” Ferguson said. 

In her approach to teaching and her future, Solano-Maefield said she wants to teach truth and create larger changes. After teaching, she hopes to become an administrator and make decisions that will fix the education systems around her. 

Solano-Maefield grew up in a bilingual household, with a Spanish-speaking mother and an English-speaking father. Because of this, she had to take certain classes and the WIDA test annually to test her language proficiency. 

“As a student of color, I know that a lot of those assessments that they give us are set up for us to fail,” she said. 

Using her personal experience, she hopes to make curriculum level changes that favor students with all different kinds of learning abilities. There are other ways to capture students' understandings than through papers or tests, she said.

“I want to teach in a way that promotes critical thinking and encourage students to do stuff on their own, rather than like, there's a textbook, here's the answer,” Ferguson said.

Solano-Maefield considers herself a multi-modal learner, and believes this type of teaching needs to be implemented in order to adapt to changing circumstances like technology and social media. 

“Kids need that versatility in their life, there's technology everywhere,” she said. “And as teachers, we have to be willing to change with the times, or we're gonna get left behind.”

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