Fellow Q&A: WW Teaching Fellow LaWanda Mitchell
WW Teaching Fellows come from many different backgrounds but are united by a single goal: to teach science, technology, engineering, and math (the STEM fields) in some of the nation’s highest-need schools. But what makes these Fellows tick? What inspired them to pursue a career in the classroom? In this WW Perspectives series, we hear from WW Teaching Fellows about what drew them to the program.
LaWanda Mitchell is a 2012 Indiana Teaching Fellow who is deeply committed to creating a positive school environment where students feel safe and inspired to learn, as she tells WW Perspectives here:
WW Perspectives: What drew you to teaching?
LaWanda Mitchell: The need to inspire change in my community drew me to teaching. I became very uncomfortable with watching young African American girls fall into the trap of looking for love in all of the wrong places. Too often where I’m from, young girls were constantly being added to the teen pregnancy statistics, becoming teenage mothers. It was a cycle that I wanted to combat in any way that I thought possible. Teaching became the catalyst I used to spark solutions and fulfill a desire to challenge societal norms and expectations in my community.
WW Perspectives: Why did you choose the WW Teaching Fellowship?
LaWanda Mitchell: A member of my community thought it would be a great way to transition into teaching. After researching and finding out more about the program, I was intrigued, thoroughly impressed, and decided to pursue my new passion through the program. Best decision I ever made!
WW Perspectives: What do you think was the best preparation that you’ve received for the realities of the classroom?
LaWanda Mitchell: The best preparation was the knowledge and experience gained from actually being in the classroom the entire year of the program. Gaining experience is vital to the success of any teacher. Having the opportunity to develop your own teaching style and establish what works for you and what doesn’t, separates the good teachers from the great. This program builds GREAT teachers and allows them to excel at their craft.
WW Perspectives: What matters most to you about the students you work with?
LaWanda Mitchell: That they feel loved, have a voice, are celebrated, feel safe, and are allowed to find and build their passions regardless of their demographics or geography. One of my mentors once stated that a student’s demography is not their destiny. I am committed to doing whatever it takes to ensure these rights for every child.
WW Perspectives: What’s the most rewarding part of the program so far for you?
LaWanda Mitchell: It’s the confidence that comes as a result of being well-trained. I truly believe that I am a master at the art of teaching. Not simply because the program did an excellent job of preparing me, but also because I took the time to learn from all of the lessons taught to me by my students. There is something powerful about seeking first to understand and then to be understood. When working with children, seeking to understand them and intentionally building relationships are keys to success and building one’s confidence as a teacher. It was and still is the most rewarding part of the program and teaching in general.
WW Perspectives: What would you say to someone who’s considering becoming a WW Teaching Fellow?
LaWanda Mitchell: I would say “JUST DO IT!” If you’ve been waiting for a sign, HERE I AM! It has honestly been one of the best life decisions that I could have made. I wake up excited, passionate, and full of fire to help students and other educators understand that stepping out of our comfort zone is something we MUST do from time to time. If we want to influence the world in a positive way, we HAVE to take risks. Schools are GREAT places with great people making a world of difference. In the marvelous words of Nelson Mandela, “Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.”
The skill set, knowledge, and expertise gained through the program and the intense classroom experience will equip you with those vital weapons. Arm yourself and let’s go to war for our students… They need you!
Interviews have been edited for length and clarity.