On the Front Lines: Southfield Public Schools
NCPERS On the Front Lines series is back as the global pandemic rages on. NCPERS is looking at public school teachers back in school during COVID. Our second installment brings us to Southfield, Michigan.
On the Front Lines: Southfield Public Schools
For more than 25 years, Teneshia Moore has known the importance of political engagement in making teachers' voices heard.
During Moore's career with the Detroit Public School District, which spanned over a quarter century, she has not only had the responsibility of developing curriculum and aligned benchmark assessments, conducting professional development and supporting teachers, but she also coached her students to help them to develop a mindset to engage within their communities to ensure that they have access to resources, and that their voices were heard by the representatives within the city of Detroit who are responsible for legislating at the state level on their behalf.
“I had a great career in Detroit,” Moore said in an interview. “I've taught all my life and I decided it was time for a different path.” Last year, she joined Southfield Public Schools to teach 8th grade Physical Science and to work with the National Education Association (NEA) to mobilize voters at the state level by working with Michigan Education Association (MEA).
From the summer through Election Day, Moore was part of a push to contact MEA members who were registered voters and offer mail-in ballots to get out the vote and advance the union's agenda. The effort helped to flip Michigan to President-elect Joe Biden, and while it fell short of gaining a Democratic majority in the Michigan House of Representatives seats, it succeeded in holding the Republican majority steady at 58-52.
Moore chose teaching as her career path over other options. She was a pre-med student in college and was accepted to medical school, “but teaching called me back,” she said in an interview. In fact, she sees public service as a high and honorable calling. “I do not answer to any other sector; I work for my students and their families. I am preparing them with tools necessary in order for them to be a global contributor in the flat world that we live in -for the future and their success.”
Teaching drew Moore in, because she recalled “the awesome teachers that supported me as a child.” She remembers the impact it had in 8th grade when she walked into her science class and saw that her teacher, Gail Snoddy, was African-American, like herself. Her horizons instantly felt wider, because “it was the first time I was able to see a woman of color in that role.” She followed the footsteps of the teacher who “taught me to think and analyze and always encouraged me to do the best I could.” Years later, she is proud to say, she and her most influential teacher are Delta Sigma Theta sorority sisters, part of a society dedicated to public service to advance the African-American community. Another one of her influential teachers, Edythe Friley-Hayden wrote her recommendation letter for admission to the sorority.
Having personally experience the importance of having a mentor, Moore has taken one of her students, Arethia Jones, under her wing after the loss of her mother. Arethia was initially a difficult student and very combative, she said. After engaging in a conversation with Arethia, she confided in Moore that her mother had passed away. Without any hesitation, Moore said, she held her until Arethia let her go. Moore knew then that it was her responsibility to be to Arethia what Mrs. Snoddy had been to her. From that day forward, Moore said, she made it her role to ensure that Arethia had what she needed and that she was engaged in all classes and that she interacted with her peer group. Moore provided resources, transportation to school, and whatever Arethia needed to operate day to day. During her last year of high school, Moore recalled, she and Arethia were trying to decide what would be best for her—the military or going to college? Arethia chose the military and laid out her plan of going to the military to earn the GI Bill so that she could go to college. The day that she left for the military, Moore met with Arethia and told her how proud she was of her and that I would never leave her side. Moore explained to Arethia that someone stood in the gap for her and that when she had the opportunity, the expectation of Arethia is to do the same for someone that may need her.
Arethia Jones and Teneshia Moore
Moore acknowledges that the day-to-day work of educators is strenuous. The hours are long, resources are under pressure, and small paychecks mean tight personal budgets. She is adamant that while teachers get into the profession for love of education, they work hard for the money, and no one should take them for granted.
She laments that the profession is finding it harder to attract and keep young people, and says the tilt away from public pensions and other benefits is hurting the profession. “Michigan no longer has a guaranteed pension. New teachers coming in since 2010 are responsible for their own investments. I think it's a terrible thing. When somebody has dedicated their life to this profession and worked at a lower wage structure, in all fairness, you ought to at least make sure they have the ability to retire with dignity.” Fewer and fewer teachers have the mindset of staying for 30 years, in part because the incentives fall short compared to private-sector jobs requiring comparable levels of higher education.
Moore said she hopes to see education elevated on the national agenda for the next four years, with creative approaches to improving pay, decreasing class sizes, providing more resources to children, and protecting pensions so that teachers have reasons to stay. “We need to make teaching attractive to people who are not using this career as Plan B,” and pensions are a vital part of that discussion, she said.
One thing Moore is proud of and excited about is that the incoming First Lady, Dr. Jill Biden, is herself an educator. The teaching profession is looking to Dr. Biden to help create a vision for the future of what teaching and learning looks like in all communities with a focus on the communities in urban/rural areas—those that have less access to excellent teachers and resources.
“If I had the ear of Dr. Biden, I would plead with her to take care of our children and the people who take care of them,” Moore said. “If the teachers had the resources that they need to ensure that they are able to create a classroom environment where teaching and learning can occur at the highest level of academic achievement, we would then be able to create a future for our children that stabilizes them and assists them in engaging in the global society, by giving them a voice at the table. Give our teachers what they need to do the work in their classrooms. All of our students need their voices heard.”
You can read our previous On the Front Line series: On the Front Lines: New York City, On the Front Lines: Seattle, On the Front Lines: Fairfax, VA, On the Front Lines: New York, On the Front Lines: Minnesota, On the Front Lines: Washington, and On the Front Lines: Texas.