Recently, I had the privilege of meeting one of my former sixth graders for a smoothie in the Brookside neighborhood. I taught her 12 years ago at Madison Middle School when I was 24 and she was 11.
Seeing Rayla Thomas again felt like something out of a science fiction movie, where I knew the sweet-faced kid but couldn’t comprehend the adult standing in front of me.
Yet, there we were, and here we are.
Like me, Rayla was a kid who both liked school and excelled in school. Unlike me, she was an incredibly extroverted and talkative sixth grader.
Rayla was that kid whose teachers moved her around the classroom because she made friends with everyone, yet she still managed to do well on every test. By contrast, I was the kid who was too introverted to talk much. But, like Rayla, I also did well in school.
Students like Rayla confounded me when I was a kid, and confound me to this day. How do you ace your tests and talk through the entire class? I’m not sure.
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Yet despite our personality differences, and to my sheer delight, Rayla is currently a science educator, just as I was at her age. As it turns out, we both love teaching kids about science.
Our story might end here if I didn’t have to tell you that Rayla and I were born into different life circumstances.
I am white, and Rayla is Black. I grew up in a small town in upstate New York, whereas Rayla grew up in Tulsa. So while we both found our way to teaching bright-eyed sixth graders about electricity, our paths to getting there have been quite different.
It would be easy to stop here and write more about these differences — about racism, classism, segregation, educational inequality and on and on.
While these differences are present and important, what struck me most profoundly about my conversation with Rayla was when she told me about the opportunities she’s had to forge her path in life.
Opportunities is a word I often use to tell my own story.
As an Oklahoma educator who has taught in low-income schools in Tulsa and currently works with rural Oklahoma teachers, I have spent time both lamenting and advocating for better schools and better school systems.
I believe that advocacy for more funding, more robust school counseling, higher teacher pay and safer schools is vital. I attended …….