Thank you, Mrs. Frederick
By Dynell Kellyman
ISA's Associate Director of Partnership Engagement
I recently read a book called Black Teachers on Teaching by Dr. Michele Foster. It was an amazingly descriptive account of the history of Black educators educating Black children, and it made me reflect on my own K-12 journey. These stories of Black teachers and their commitment through desegregation to ensure Black students didn’t receive less of an education than their peers was moving. Reading it, I realized that some of the most impactful teachers in my life have been Black educators. During my time in grades K-12, I’ve had a handful of Black teachers, and they are an important part of the group of teachers that I remember motivating and encouraging me. They helped to shape me into what I am today.
For instance, take Mrs. Frederick, my 4th grade elementary school teacher and my first Black teacher. She was a grammar queen and never let her students slide on a missing question mark or proper capitalization. She always corrected us with love – she felt like family – but one thing was for certain: That love came with a red pen.
Very early on in her classroom, my writing was filled with imagination. I couldn’t wait to display my thoughts through words. But paper after paper, I would see many red pen corrections. I set a goal to receive a returned assignment from Mrs. Frederick without any red marks, but after a year in her class, sadly I never accomplished that goal. Her standards were high for all of her students but especially for her Black students. She knew it was critical for us, as Black children, to prepare our fourth-grade minds for the world we were entering, a world that we couldn’t even fully understand. In retrospect, however, I appreciate how she never lowered her expectations for me. Instead, she let me test the power of my words and showed me corrections can be given and received with love.
Mrs. Frederick represents the Black teachers I had in my journey, with their high expectations and a loving wink. She reminded me of Lerone Swift, one of the veteran teachers in the book Black Teachers on Teaching. Ms. Swift described the importance of creating a loving classroom environment: “It is important for a classroom environment to be warm, safe, and accepting. Getting to know the students and letting them get to know me is part of helping students feel that they can trust me.”
During Black History Month, I want to take the time to acknowledge teachers like Mrs. Frederick, Ms. Bailey-Williams, Mr. Jones, and Ms. Swift. Let me rephrase: During every month, but especially during Black History Month, I want to thank these teachers for creating a warm, safe, and accepting environment. Thank you for seeing every student in your class, but especially thank you for seeing students like me.