Alumna Bayan Shaku on the Challenges and Opportunities of Another School Year in a Pandemic
After experiencing one year of in-person learning followed by one year of remote learning, Bayan Shaku is looking forward to implementing the lessons gained from teaching through a pandemic.
August 23, 2021
Bayan Shaku held various roles in which she advocated for access to higher education before joining TFA in 2018 and making the career switch to teaching. She realized that in order to make lasting change, she needed to understand the full lifespan of a student and see where she could have a bigger impact on educational equity. Bayan was born and raised in Central Asia and came to the United States as a junior in high school. “In many ways I can identify with my students’ dual language experiences and their parents’ immigration journeys. For me personally, education, especially higher education, served as access to more opportunities in life,” Bayan shared in her interview with us.
What motivates you to work towards making an impact towards educational equity?
Seeing what pride-building can do for students of color, both in terms of social-emotional wellness and academic achievement, motivates me at the moment. There is growing research on the connection between ethnic pride and achievement. I have been able to witness it in my own classroom. Pride-building coupled with rigorous instruction allows for a more organic growth trajectory.
“There is growing research on the connection between ethnic pride and achievement and I have been able to witness it in my own classroom.”
How has being a TFA Alum impacted your trajectory? In what ways have you engaged with the organization or alumni network since finishing your corps experience?
Being a TFA alumna has allowed me to access post-corps professional development opportunities. I have also found it extremely helpful to be able to reach out to experienced alumni, especially those in leadership, to gain insight and plan out my next career steps.
Last school year you participated in TFA’s Rise Fellowship for current and aspiring Teacher Leaders. How was your experience as a fellow? What was the best part of the fellowship?
I really enjoyed my Rise Fellowship experience. It was great to catch up with fellow corps members, as well as meet alumni who have been teaching for 10+ years and learn from their expertise. There was a clear sense of purpose and excitement about improving teaching and leadership practices and I felt well-supported by both the facilitators and my project group mates. The best part of the fellowship was seeing how our projects took shape from the initial brainstorming of ideas to the final presentations. It empowered me to have important conversations about improving bilingual services at my school.
What’s the next step for your development as a Teacher Leader?
This school year I will continue building on my Rise Fellowship capstone project through an organization called Teachers Supporting Teachers (TST). TST coaches teacher leaders through a year-long project implementation process. In the absence of formal leadership opportunities, especially in small schools, TST helps create and implement teacher-led initiatives. I am also working toward my principal endorsement as a second year EdD candidate at the University of Illinois so I will be taking on additional leadership projects as part of my practicum.
With the 2021-2022 school year upon us, what do you anticipate will be the biggest challenges and opportunities ahead for students, families, and educators?
Making sure that our students (especially those under the age of 12) are safe is definitely the biggest challenge. It is impossible to socially distance in classrooms with 30+ students so we’re hoping other measures are enough to carry us through. In terms of opportunities, I am excited to build upon the independence and self-sufficiency that our students developed as a result of remote learning. My fellow teachers and I are re-examining and changing our classroom management procedures and the way we motivate students in favor of fully student-generated and student-led practices. Students have also become very tech savvy and it will be crucial to harness those new skills and continue developing them even as we re-introduce more paper-based materials. It’s bittersweet but in my experience, the pandemic has brought parents and educators closer together. Remote learning has allowed us to virtually step into each other’s homes and classrooms and gain more understanding and appreciation for each other. Parents are much more outspoken and I hope we can create opportunities for families to play a greater role in our students’ education.
“It’s bittersweet but in my experience, the pandemic has brought parents and educators closer together. I am excited to build upon the independence and self-sufficiency that our students developed as a result of remote learning. ”
What are you most looking forward to in the 2021-2022 school year?
As as 2018 corps member, I only had one full year of in-person teaching experience (2018-2019) due to the pandemic. Going into my fourth year of teaching, I am looking forward to having another full in-person year to hone in on my teaching skills and implement new curriculum and strategies. I am also excited to spend part of principal practicum in another charter school. It will be interesting and useful to experience a different school and see what works well elsewhere.
What do you think we can do to diversify the teacher leadership pipelines in our region so that more students have teachers that are representative of the diversity of this region?
In addition to POC teacher recruitment, in order to diversify the teacher pool, we need to diversify the leadership pool. We need to encourage those who have had decision-making power for a while to examine their leadership practices. There’s a crucial difference between a school principal seeking to fill openings and one seeking to intentionally take their students’ identities into account to make hiring decisions. It is so important to intentionally approach teachers of color to cultivate leaders amongst them.
What do you think makes Chicago's Educational Landscape unique?
There is no way of sugar-coating the fact that Chicago is a highly racialized city. It is very obvious where investments are being made in the city and where neighborhoods are underfunded. It directly affects our schools. On the bright side, there is neighborhood pride, grassroots organizers, and passionate residents working towards change. It gives schools an opportunity to take an asset-based approach and partner with community allies to have a greater educational impact on students.
“In Chicago, there is neighborhood pride, grassroots organizers, and passionate residents working towards change.”
What advice would you give to community members who are seeking to grow their leadership and impact in education and the Greater-Chicago Northwest Indiana Community?
I would highly recommend getting to know and staying in touch with the TFA alumni team. I also found it helpful to talk to different alumni who are in leadership already and learn about their journeys and challenges. When I talk to alumni I ask them to connect me to one more person. That’s how I ended up talking to someone who advised me to apply to my principal prep program and I was able to start it before reaching my four year teaching mark.
Ten years from now, what is something you would want people to remember about your work in education, with students, and with the community?
I would like to be remembered for leading a community school that supports students, families, and the community holistically, in and outside of the school walls. In order to attain educational equity, we need various policy level changes that can take a long time. I would like to be part of local initiatives geared toward creating neighborhood-level changes and models of equitable education.
To read this interview on our regional website, please click here.