In his title track for To Pimp A Butterfly, Kendrick Lamar raps the following lyrics, “Everybody lack self-confidence, everybody lack confidence. How many times was my potential anonymous?” These questions and ideas are at the heart of my instruction and my strategies when I enter the classroom. My main focus in my teaching is that I want students to love themselves as much as Kanye West loves Kanye West and to have Kanyefidence (confidence). I want them to believe that there is nothing they cannot do. You can get a student to believe in him or herself, but one must create a community in which all students can be who they are and be proud of who they are as well. This is not only my belief, but I have seen this in the classroom that I have worked in since September of last year. My biggest example is a student I have had the honor of working with: Tabitha.
When Tabitha first joined our classroom community she was very self-conscious and had a difficult time dealing with peers who would talk about her and some of her tendencies or behaviors that make her the beautiful, creative person that she is and continues to become. At the beginning of the year her grades were very low. I’m not saying that grades determine the value of a child, but as a result her self-confidence was low, too. Any time someone said anything to her she would shut down completely and begin to cry; she was very sensitive to what others said about. There were times when Tabitha needed to be held back from prep so that she could be talked to and be reminded that she is loved and valued within the classroomneeded to be reminded that the opinion of others should not affect how she views herself.
On these days, instead of critiquing Tabitha and telling her to work harder in reading and math and science, I simply made Tabitha feel like she was a person of worth. I made her unique tendencies the very things she began to love about herself. She began to no longer want to fit in, but she decided that she would rather stand out and love the things about herself that make her different. In a community and time where Blackness is defined as a singular identity, students like Tabitha are often lost because they do not fit into the stereotypes that have been prescribed to Black children. It is often the “Tabitha’s” that, bullied or transformed on the west side of Chicago because no one is there to foster that Black child who is a big fan of Ladysome communities, when a Black child says they love Lady Gaga, they are considered a sell out because as a Black child they should love Queen Bee and be a part of the BeyHive.
Tabithas are rare and are often destroyed or silenced in the process of growing. They are socialized and manufactured to be a certain type of Black child and to act in prescribed ways. But there are many other students in my class that are just like Tabitha in the uniqueness of their dreams. There is another young woman in my class who wants to be a professional wrestler and a judge. When she told me this I let her know that that was the coolest career aspiration that I have ever heard in my life. Other students are obsessed with cartoons and love to draw and to make up stories. It is the responsibility of teachers to feed into these creative and unique personas of students and to give them the confidence they need to stay true to who they are. Teachers should be just as invested in artists, dancers, YouTube bloggers and Lady Gaga fans as they are in the doctors, teachers, lawyers and members of the BeyHive. But the question is how do we foster these children? How do we nurture them to continue to become who they are not to try to get them to be who we want them to be or who we think they should be?
Easy, we let them be! At no point have I told a student who is good at math and science that they should be an engineer. At no point have I told a student who is good at writing that they should become a writer. But I can tell you what I have done. I have built my students’ confidence so they know that they can be whatever they want to be and so they have the confidence to continue growing into the people they want to become. I wait for the child to tell me their dreams and aspirations and then I reinforce or admire their dream, no matter how outlandish it may seem to those outside of the walls of our classroom community. One student’s mother was a little upset with me because I reinforced her daughter’s passion to be a singer and actress, and I did not push her into a “secure” career because of her good grades. Sometimes as a teacher, you have to defend your kids’ dreams because sometimes they cannot defend them on their own. But at the same time, my teaching philosophy revolves around the persona of Kanye West. I tell my students that they have to love themselves and their dreams so much that no one can stop them from achieving them, I tell my students that they must scream like Chris Brown and state, “DONT WAKE ME UP!” when people try to deter them from their dreams and aspirations.
As they dream and as they blossom, I must remain the fertilizer that gives them nutrients for their dreams. In feeding their dreams, Kanyefidence and self-love, you see the correlation in their grades and standardized tests. After investing in students they go and take on the test knowing that it does not define who they are, but rather they define who they are. But the biggest thing with working with these dreamers, these children, is that you too must be a dreamer. I am 23 years old and my students ask me what I want to be when I grow up and I tell them I want to continue to be a teacher, but I also want to change the world. As my students dream, I dream too. As my students grow in Kanyefidence and self-love, I do as well.
As your students are dreaming crazy dreams and refusing to be woken up, are you?
“Society has put up so many boundaries, so many limitations on what’s right and wrong that it’s almost impossible to get a pure thought out. It’s like a little kid, a little boy, looking at colors, and no one told him what colors are good, before somebody tells you you shouldn’t like pink because that’s for girls, or you’d instantly become a gay two-year-old. Why would anyone pick blue over pink? Pink is obviously a better color. Everyone’s born confident, and everything’s taken away from you”
― Kanye West