Education: Education: Meet Aishah, a Science Educator for Teach for America

Interviewer: Shaurir Ramanujan; August 17, 2020

Interviewee: Aishah Ahmed

Teach for America emphasizes education as a way to reckon with our purpose in the World (Teach for America).

Could you tell us about yourself and describe your occupation? How does your role impact the local community?

My name is Aishah Ahmed, and I grew up in Michigan. I have always loved science, specifically life sciences, so I went to Harvard for undergrad and majored in stem cell biology. My admiration for the power of science to progress society, as well as my interest in community empowerment and education, led me to my current job as a 7th and 8th grade science teacher through Teach for America. It is especially meaningful to be able to do this in my home community of Detroit and to have the humbling opportunity to be an educator prior to attending medical school in two years.

What inspired you to join Teach For America as an educator?

Education is life-changing for anyone who has been educated, not only because of what we learn about our world, but also because it leads us to reckon with our purpose within our world. I have a deep appreciation for the value of education, and understand that passionate teachers can affect positive change amongst students who may be struggling with their purpose. I chose to be an educator because I remember, quite viscerally, what that struggle is like, and how much I would have loved a teacher who I could lean on as a support. Additionally, my favorite subjects have always been STEM ones because it is broad enough of a field for anyone to discover a niche within it. I think that is very unique to STEM, and I would love to facilitate that discovery among students, especially those with identities that are underrepresented in the field.

"Education...leads us to reckon with our purpose within our world."

What emotions are you feeling as you enter a tumultuous school year? Are there some aspects that are consoling?

I am honestly feeling nervous. My school district made the decision to have students do virtual learning, but is requiring teachers to report to the school in-person and virtually deliver content to students. Being in a building regularly with dozens of other people is something I have not done in 6 months, so I hope that we all take precautions seriously. I am also feeling hopeful that my students will succeed during this semester of virtual learning, but concerned that there is only so much academic/emotional support that I can give them if something happens to them or their families. One consoling thing is that we don’t have to worry about being in a classroom with 30 students, so that risk is eliminated.

How is Teach For America adjusting to the events of COVID-19, and what precautions are being taken?

Our summer training, which is usually 7 weeks and done in-person by our specific region, was made virtual and national, meaning that we were not only receiving training with others in our region, but with Corps members from regions across the country. In Michigan, the choice to reopen schools or remain virtual is up to the discretion of individual school districts, so the choice made by my district to keep students at home is also an adjustment from normal life.

How has your outlook on life during COVID-19 changed, both professionally and personally, throughout the pandemic?

Professionally, it has made me very aware of and humbled by the responsibilities of being an “essential worker”, which I am considered. It has also made me cognizant of how education and healthcare are inextricably tied to one another, and how adequate funding and advocacy for both of these sectors is a non-negotiable necessity. Personally, I have been able to better appreciate the people I love, including family and friends. It has made me realize that the people in our lives are what makes life worth living.

"...Adequate funding and advocacy for both [education and healthcare] is a non-negotiable necessity."

How will your interactions and relationship with students change as a result of the transition to virtual learning?

While it isn’t impossible to become close to students over a virtual learning platform, it is certainly more difficult and will take a lot more intentionality than if we were in-person. Not being able to establish solid, trustworthy, close relationships with my students is something that concerns me, because students learn best from teachers they personally like. In order to best bond with my students virtually, I plan on implementing some fun virtual activities, such as get-to-know-you games and “fun” office hours.

What is the greatest lesson we can learn from life within this pandemic?

Life is very precious -- it can change in a heartbeat, so no moment should ever be spent in boredom.