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Curriculum and Instruction for Social Justice: The program that defined me as an educator and teacher leader

I did not want to teach.  I was adamant and there was no one who could convince me otherwise and believe me they tried.

I earned my bachelor’s degree in Interdisciplinary Studies from Johns Hopkins with the goal of opening an all-girls’ middle school that would focus on educating girls from the inside out, building self-esteem and inner strength while educating the mind.  This goal was fostered by my journey to find a learning environment that would meet the needs of my bright, rambunctious, relationship-driven, curious, playful, frustrating, and caring child.  We tried three different schools, including private and that place did not exist for her, so I decided to create it.

To make this happen I needed to know and understand the inner workings of teaching and education systems and then be prepared to motivate, educate, and inspire the adults that would help me achieve this mission.  This began my journey at Loyola, the program that would define who I am as an educator and teacher leader—the Master of Arts in Curriculum and Instruction for Social Justice (CISJ) degree.

My first course was a mind-blowing experience, and it would come to frame my opinion of Loyola University Maryland and set the expectations for the remainder of the program—HUGE shoes to fill.  It was entitled “Race, Class & Gender in Education” and the first night of class we talked about white entitlement, privilege of the same and its educational impacts.  I left class that night astonished, wanting more, and more confident that what I would receive at this institution would be worth the sacrifice of sleep and time with family.

I expected a quality education from this private, predominately white institution; I just didn’t expect to get ‘schooled’ on the first night.  I like to attribute part of my resistance and truth-telling in the classroom today to the training I received at Loyola in the CISJ program.  I like to think a portion of my bravery in speaking truth to my students came from my professors who spoke truth to me (us). 

My professors didn’t shy away from the necessary conversations that should happen among teachers who would either begin or continue to serve children of color.  We learned to focus on what was best for children—period.  We spoke of courageous conversations with colleagues and advocating for our scholars, standing up to our school leaders or becoming one of them to provide the change we want to see, making dynamic changes in and outside of the classroom through our instruction and modeling the way, or finally, being seen and heard by stakeholders and challenging ourselves to be more than teachers, but to be educators in every sense of the term.

I should not have been in such an awe.  What I received should be the standard. Never engaging in these types of courageous conversations is one of the major reasons children of color find school to be a place that’s obligatory, but not engaging. Dismissing their realities and histories is perhaps why they don’t feel welcomed, appreciated, respected, why they face the highest rates of suspension, and low expectations and invisibility are often foisted on them.  The CISJ program would go on to provide tutelage on the history of education and have us explore it through the experiences of the grandparents and elders in our lives from their mouths.  We would learn how to teach our students how their interactions with media can cause harm, how to look for the signs, how to combat it and use it to their advantage.

I went into education with a cookie cutter idea of what it was and what it could be.  During my CISJ program experience, I began to understand the nuances that exist and how to create the change I wanted to see.  The program gave me educational tools, but also the conviction that being brave and speaking the truth, educating not just teaching, using a diagnostic approach to instruction, and pushing back against the system when it wasn’t serving or meeting the needs of my students. 

Instead of opening a school, I enter others and leave a footprint for others to follow, the way one was left for me.

RaShawna Sydnor is a 2012 graduate of the Master of Arts in Curriculum and Instruction for Social Justice program. She is a middle grades teacher at Green Street Academy.

The Master of Arts in Curriculum and Instruction for Social Justice program unpacks the field of K-12 education, teaching, and the impact on society. The program helps teachers and educators use instruction as an instrument of positive change by studying social, cultural, philosophical, and historical issues in education that have operated to marginalize some, while maintaining the status quo for others.