Blog · New York City

A NYC Teacher Gets Up Close and Personal

Let me get personal and tell you a little bit about me: in particular, what sparked my passion for educational equity and commitment to giving disenfranchised children a shot at success.

When I took 11th grade English with Mr. Frank McHugh at Elmont Memorial Senior High and we read D.H. Lawrence’s “Sons and Lovers,” I knew that being an English teacher was my professional heart’s desire. In 2010, after many twists and turns of life (children, marriage, divorce), that dream became my reality when I graduated from Long Island University – CW Post with my Bachelor of Science in English/Secondary Education.

Shortly thereafter, I began my teaching career on Long Island where I was raised and educated for my entire life. I have taught every grade from Kindergarten to 12th. After serving as a leave-replacement and substitute teacher while I attended and eventually graduated from graduate school at Hofstra University, I was offered a position to teach eighth- and ninth-grade English Language Arts at the Eagle Academy for Young Men in southeast Queens.

Eagle is an all-male, all-minority New York City public school that was designed as a direct response to counter the school-to-prison pipeline. Today, Black men from seven neighborhoods in New York City and New Jersey disproportionately populate all of the prisons of New York state. (I’ll be writing more about that in future blogs.) I taught at Eagle for four years.

This school year, I will be teaching seventh-grade English Language Arts to boys and girls from a plethora of cultural backgrounds at Queens Collegiate: A College Board School.

Why have I gone to such great lengths to explain my history to you?

Because it is this history that has molded and shaped the woman I am today: the wife I am today, the mother I am today, the writer I am today, and the teacher and life-long learner that I am today. Prior to becoming a teacher, I was a single mother of two children, a boy and a girl who are two years apart in age. We lived on Long Island and moved around a lot due to economic struggles. I got to see first-hand the rampant segregation that takes place in far too many school districts on Long Island.

In one school it was really bad. My son, the only Black boy in his elementary and middle school, was racially targeted so often and so traumatically during eighth grade that we had to move back to the district where I grew up. I personally witnessed — both through the experiences of my own son and the students at Eagle Academy — how the educational expectations for Black and Brown children are far less rigorous than those for White and Asian children

I had an insight that the average middle-class parent usually does not have: the brazen disparity in instructional rigor and quality of resources between students in affluent, predominantly White schools and students in poor, predominantly Black and Brown schools. This insight is backed up by what I learned as a teacher, by my experiences as a mother, and by the experiences of my son, now a sophomore in college on full academic scholarship at a historically Black college.

I’m grateful for all of my experiences for they have informed my practice in an authentic way.

My pedagogy and my beliefs are firmly rooted in my personal knowledge that the “least of those” in our society are disenfranchised in every sense of the word — and that their public education is no different. I will use this platform to give them a voice.

I thank you for reading and I hope that something that I write in my blogs, be it great or small, possesses a transformative power that will spark the change that our educational priorities so desperately need.

What do you think?

4 thoughts on “A NYC Teacher Gets Up Close and Personal

  1. As a friend of Mrs. Dukes I recall vividly her struggles early on in life. Her steadfast determination is what has
    driven her to where she is today. Her past is what has given her the knowledge to guide today’s youth to greatness in the classroom. Her passion is what will drive them to success in life.

    Lisa T.

    1. Lisa!!! Why am I just seeing this now? You do know my struggle and have always supported me. As a fellow educator, I tip my hat to you.

  2. I have had the opportunity to work with vivett and she passionately believes in the transformation of NYC educational system to make it more transparent to people of color.
    Keep lifting your voice until it is heard and the changes come.

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