As We Welcome in New Voices of Change Fellows, Our Alumni Reflect on the...

Voices | Teaching & Learning

As We Welcome in New Voices of Change Fellows, Our Alumni Reflect on the Stories They Told

By Cobretti Williams and Marisa Busch     Jun 30, 2023

As We Welcome in New Voices of Change Fellows, Our Alumni Reflect on the Stories They Told

As another school year comes to a close, so does another cycle of our Voices of Change Writing Fellowship — a program that brings together a diverse cohort of K-12 educators and school leaders to share their experiences. Our 2022-23 cohort included eight talented fellows who worked with our fellowship editors to publish powerful stories that exposed the myriad challenges and issues happening in schools and classrooms across the country.

These fellows tackled complex issues including mental health challenges, teacher burnout, school safety and confronting fear — highlighting various ways teaching and learning have been influenced by various societal forces. And they explored how their own identities and backgrounds shape their experiences.

As we culminated our work with our second cohort of fellows, we asked them to reflect on their storytelling experiences and to share the most meaningful story they published during the fellowship. Here’s what they had to say.

Whitney Aragaki

How Desk Chairs Became a Lesson About What We Deserve in Public Schools” was the most meaningful story for me. The idea for the story came from a moment that happened in class on an unassuming day — a moment that I might have brushed off or quietly dwelled upon any other day. Fortunately, I was able to share an experience that offered a lens into the ways we intentionally and unintentionally frame public education. The article sparked dialogue on social media and hopefully contributed to a larger conversation about the state of education in our nation.

Katerra Billy

During my time as a fellow, the most meaningful story I published was “My Students Deserve a Classroom. Instead, I Teach Them in a Hallway.” This story was significant because I truly stood in my reality and decided to have the audacity to go there. I have always thought of myself as an advocate, but I never had a platform to shine a light on this unfair truth until this fellowship. It felt good to embrace my role as an advocate for my students in an authentic way, walking the walk and talking the talk. I have gotten so much feedback on this story — it turns out that sadly, teaching students in a hallway is very common.

Isabel Bozada-Jones

The most meaningful story I published during the fellowship was “To Improve a Child’s Education, We Must Let Old Practices Die.” This story represents an internal shift from a mindset of scarcity to abundance, which I have tried to cultivate throughout the last year. At the end of the story, I reflect on my first year of teaching when I saw my classroom for the first time and I was filled with hope and wonder. As I head into next year, I am intentionally returning to that place of possibility and asking myself what we can do to reimagine our schools as a place where all students can have an excellent educational experience and where all educators can find a sustainable and fulfilling professional life.

Alice Domínguez

One of my favorite lines — which I often tell my students — is “writing is thinking,” so it’s natural that I loved writing “My Students Have No Hope for the Future. It’s Up to Us to Show Them a Path Forward.” Writing this story allowed me to reflect on some of the teaching moments that I’m not proud of and transform them into a more productive framework. I hope that readers who feel equally hopeless about our endless challenges were reminded of the value of communal strength.

Patrick Harris

My stories were full-length mirrors of my reality. The one that best captures where I am in my journey as an educator is my final story, “Teaching Was My Dream. Now I Wonder If It Is Stunting My Other Passions.” It was the most difficult to write because of the sheer cognitive dissonance I was facing at the time. On one side, I absolutely love teaching and am grateful to be able to stay the course, even on a rocky journey. On the other side, there are other passions I have that I believe teaching restricts me from exploring. I learned from writing this story that while I don’t have the answer, it is equally powerful to tell my story and to question the system. Writing this essay opened the door to self-exploration which I know will make me a better human and teacher.

Matt Homrich-Knieling

The most personal and honest piece I wrote — “I Used to Struggle With Where to Send My Kids to School. Now I Struggle With Sending Them at All.” — carried the most meaning for me. For this piece, I drew upon my experiences as a student, an educator and a parent. Through this essay, I was able to process and grapple with serious questions I’ve found myself considering recently: Are schools an institution that I trust to care for and protect my children? Can schools create more harm than good? How can we imagine alternatives to schools in order to protect and humanize young people? Though my essay didn’t provide definitive answers to these questions, it helped create space for me to think through them and it prompted r powerful conversations with friends and strangers alike.

Avery Thrush

The most meaningful story I published during the fellowship was my first one, “They Say That Teaching Gets Easier After the First Year. What Happens When It Doesn't?” In that essay, I explored the intense burnout I experienced upon returning to the classroom for my second year teaching in fall 2021. As the words poured out of me, I realized that this was a story I'd been bursting to tell, not only for my own catharsis, but for my friends and coworkers with whom I shared those difficult months during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, and after.

Corey Winchester

My last story, “What I Learned from My Students Who Became Teachers,” was the most meaningful and impactful for me. For this story, I caught up with five of my former students that that became high school history teachers. In retrospect, it was a culmination of my previous three stories and it gave me an opportunity to be in conversation with people who hold the same values, dreams and hopes for what teaching and learning can be. Being a public school educator in the United States can be traumatic, difficult and thankless, and this story afforded me opportunities to extend myself grace, practice wellness and engage in healing. For that, I am thankful.

Big Questions

In addition to asking our fellows to reflect on the stories they wrote, we also asked them to share about some of the big questions they are pondering about teaching and learning as they head into the next school year. Unsurprisingly, their responses reflect the critical perspectives they brought to their stories. Some asked questions about how to reimagine the traditional and alternative structures of teaching and learning environments. Others asked questions about what it takes to create inclusive, accessible classrooms that disrupt power dynamics and engage students in an increasingly digital world. And some asked questions about how best to provide space, resources and mechanisms of support so teachers may thrive and succeed.

“What I know now is that our problems in education are even more deeply entangled, multi-layered and entrenched than I ever imagined,” wrote fellow alum Avery Thrush. We’re grateful to our fellows for boldly and bravely sharing their stories about these layered challenges. We're also thankful for Aisha Douglas, Deitra Colquitt, Geoffrey Carlisle and Jennifer Yoo Brannon — fellow alumni from our inaugural cohort — who mentored our fellows this past year.

As one cohort of fellows becomes alumni, we look forward with excitement as we welcome in a new cohort of incoming fellows who will offer new perspectives that will continue to highlight the needs, challenges and moments of joy educators experience and lend a new voice to the issues that impact K-12 education today.

We are delighted to introduce our 2023-24 cohort of fellows. Meet them here and stay tuned for their stories, which we will be publishing in the coming months.

Top left to right: katie wills evans, Michael Paul Ida, Sachin Pandya, James Parra
Bottom left to right: Amanda Rosas, Damen Scott, Keely J. Sutton, Deaunna Watson
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