SCHOOLS | July 22, 2021
By Tiffany Childress Price, Science Teacher at Walter Payton College Prep
One of my most memorable assignments when I was an IB student was interviewing my grandfather for one of my history courses. He was a war veteran and had been a sharecropper in Alabama, and I learned so much from his rich experiences.
But I knew that, beyond our interview, there was no space to talk about my family’s history as African Americans in the classroom. There was space to memorize every Russian great and to read Dostoyevsky and Tolstoy. And, sure, prioritizing those topics was meant to help us prepare for our exams. Still, I wondered if school didn’t have to be so regimented.
Fast forward to my current role as a science teacher, primarily teaching chemistry. In professional developments, I’m often told that I look more like an art teacher, which I think ties back to the culture that is deeply embedded within STEM fields, and even STEM education: if you’re in STEM, you can’t be artistic. You wear a lab coat. You don’t wear big earrings like I do. You look like Albert Einstein.
Because that culture can be so elitist, it is one of my top priorities to make my classroom inclusive, collaborative, and grounded in my students’ lived experiences. We’re not going to learn a concept unless I can show you why you should care about it and how it connects to your quality of life.
Before I became an educator, I was a community organizer for a number of years, and that helped me see how good schools and good teachers are crucial pieces of forging pathways for students that will lead them out of chronic poverty.
And that makes me want to take things a step further. Instead of relying on ourselves to create a curriculum that we think will engage students, why don’t we give them a role in shaping what they will learn?
This past summer, eight of my students participated in a co-design effort with me, a few of my colleagues at Walter Payton, and a Northwestern professor to reimagine the unit on water in my chemistry classes. My students asked about the populations, ethnic groups, and identity groups who were missing from past conversations they had about this topic or the literature that intersects with this chemistry. Their questions resulted in really cool additions to this unit that brought in Chicago history and Native American experiences.
I’m really excited to be a part of the district’s Transformative Teaching Cohort to come together with other educators from around the city to bring more great ideas that center student agency and student voice within our classrooms. Something that is on my mind is how certain types of students tend to bubble up to the top of the classroom as leaders. I want to focus on uplifting the students who tend to remain in the background or are silent or can even seem invisible at times.
I also have students who tell me they don’t care about how the curriculum fits within the context of their life. They just want to be fed the information, ace the tests, and go off to a top-tier university. I want to push those students as well.
Every year, my goal is to reach more students. The energizing effect of seeing students and the transformative nature of simply connecting with other humans more than makes up for how exhausting this job can be at times. I cannot wait to hear about their communities and their families when we return to school next month. They should be prepared to bring their full selves because I am going to bring my full self. Our learning together will be an exciting adventure.
Ms. Childress Price says that teaching and engineering were the two careers in college that she thought she would never do. Before starting at Walter Payton, she taught on Chicago’s West Side for more than a decade. Learn more about the district’s Transformative Teaching Cohort here.