SCHOOLS | March 11, 2021
By Ms. Marley Olivera, teacher at Fuller School of Excellence
Women’s History Month always reminds me how some of the most influential women of today came from ordinary backgrounds. When you think about Michelle Obama or Oprah, neither of them were handed their success. And they make no apologies about the work they put in to get to where they are.
I try to show my seventh and eighth graders that you do not need to be born into a certain set of circumstances in order to have an exceptional or impactful life. Caring about them beyond their academics is huge for me. I’m very into social-emotional learning (SEL) and helping students learn how to advocate for themselves.
As a language arts teacher, it’s important to me that SEL and advocacy are not only reflected in my relationships with students, but also through the texts we read in class every day. We’re currently digging into The Omnivore’s Dilemma, which explores food chains and its connection to our own community.
In Bronzeville, we have a Mariano’s and a Walmart, but they are both relatively new. So I got my students thinking about food deserts—not only about their impact on the community, but also why a neighborhood might receive or not receive certain resources.
Last week, I also read I Am Every Good Thing with my students. Sometimes you need a picture book to remind them that they have everything already within them that they need to be successful. There’s a line in this book that I absolutely love: I’m the perfect beat, the perfect rhyme, keeping everything on point and always on time—but you already knew that.
We talk about author’s purpose a lot in my class, specifically the reason why the author might choose certain words to make their point. I always tell my kids that I never want anyone to take their words out of context. But in the same way that the author is very deliberate in their choices, I am reminded that I have to be extremely intentional with how I interact with my students.
I’ve felt that the need to be intentional has been more important this year than ever before. You can’t fake a relationship with a student when you’re teaching them remotely. The desks in my room were never meant to be empty, and I am so excited to have students at Fuller again this week.
Now that I am able to teach students in my classroom again, it’s very important to me that I don’t sugarcoat things for them—because the world isn’t going to do that for them either. But that doesn’t mean I can’t strive to be the most encouraging presence that I can be, especially for my young ladies.
You want to be a poet? I am here to listen to your poem. You’re an artist? Email me your drawing. I want to save it forever.
Another one of my favorite ways to uplift my students has always been to expose them to new environments outside of their neighborhood. Whether this is through a college visit or a class trip to Washington D.C., helping them find a sense of belonging outside of what is familiar to them is a game changer. Because when we come back, they want to read and learn more about where we went.
If I were to plan an event for my students right now, I envision something a little bit out of the ordinary. I picture us all on a ranch in the middle of New Mexico or something like that. Women’s History Month is a reminder that women need to be at peace. We all need to be at peace. My students deserve self care. They deserve a place where they can get away from all the distractions.
So, when I reflect on my first few days teaching in-person, I remind myself that my classroom can be that space for my students. I might not be able to eliminate every distraction, but I know that we can find a collective sense of peace. Peace with where we currently are, all we’ve overcome this year, and what the future may hold.
The three adjectives that come to mind when I think about Fuller students who graduate from my class and move on to high school are reflective, humble, and resilient. I find peace within myself knowing that my students have embodied these qualities this year just by staying committed to their education through the pandemic.
You do not need to be born into a certain set of circumstances in order to have an exceptional or impactful life. And you do not need to be born into a certain set of circumstances to finish the school year strong. Let’s find peace. Let’s take care of ourselves. Let’s read a book or two. Let’s enjoy our time together.
Ms. Olivera says her principal at Fuller is someone who comes to mind as a role model for her during Women’s History Month. Even though she initially had aspirations to become a physical therapist, she fell in love with education and has been at Fuller School of Excellence in Bronzeville since 2014.