Why I Teach: Ms. Tomlinson

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The Boston Prep high school began a series this year in which teachers share their personal calls to teach with the high school community.  "Why I Teach" occurs weekly and allows students insight into the powerful, often emotional, reasons their teachers dedicate their lives to this work.  Below is a retelling of one teacher's moving account.  Stefany Tomlinson is in her second year at Boston Prep, serving as an English Language Arts teacher for our freshmen.  Ms. Tomlinson grew up in North Carolina in a low-income community.

When I was in sixth grade, my 17-year-old brother died.  He didn't simply die; he was killed.  He was killed by a drunk driver.  

My brother was funny.  He was a musician, and as many musicians can be, he was misunderstood by many.  But he was my big brother, and my world was shattered when he was killed.   The despair became even deeper when justice was not served.  The drunk driver was not held accountable for the death of my brother, making the pain of his death even stronger. I learned quickly, at a young age, that race and socioeconomic status have deep social implications. I was stung by the fact that my brother's life, the life of a young, poor black male, seemed to hold no value.  

In that moment, my life changed.  I was forced to become a caretaker and nurturer.  My mother battled a deep depression, and I had to learn responsibility.  Looking to find some way out of the despair, I dedicated my life to the service of others.  I volunteered at nursing homes, mentored younger girls as I grew older, and eventually chose to attend Spelman College, drawn to their deep commitment to serve communities.  Caring for others became a way to fill the void of the loss of my brother.

This ultimately led me to teaching as a profession.  Through teaching, I get to work with young people who remind me of my brother everyday.  My brother, given where we grew up and the social atmosphere at the time, lacked many opportunities.  Many doors were closed to him.  I try to ensure that my students know how to seek out and take hold of opportunities, as a way to honor his life.  I strive to give students the skills to advocate for themselves.  I teach them how to use language to express their views effectively and how to use their voices to be public servants and activists.  I teach them to ask questions and to never fear learning.  

I have been lucky to find a home for my passion at Boston Prep.  Boston Prep provides rich opportunities to students and teaches students how to take hold of those opportunities.  We teach students to better themselves so that they can better their community.  I wish my brother had had the opportunity to be in an environment like the one we create here together.

Life matters, and our actions matter.  I choose to dedicate my actions to teaching, to showing young people like my brother that they matter and that they too can make a difference.