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Creating Long-Term Impact in the Classroom

Ndeye Coumba Gueye Reflects on Her Growth as a STEM Educator.
A woman in a red blazer stands with her arms crossed

A Childhood Dream Come True

As a child, Ndeye Coumba Gueye grew up imitating her greatest inspirations: her teachers. She has vivid memories of coming home from school and pretending to do what she saw her kindergarten and first grade teacher do in front of the classroom.

“I remember using my mom’s old wooden dresser as my blackboard,” said Coumba, “and finding some chalk to write on it. My audience was my sister and my imaginary students.”

Coumba also credits her parents for being her motivation to pursue a career in education. Growing up, she admired her father who was an elementary school teacher for three years before he joined the military. Her mother, although not a formally trained educator, was influential in teaching Coumba life skills in day-to-day matters.

More educators came into Coumba’s life as guides after she entered high school. She was fortunate to have a philosophy, English and math teachers who showed her what educational excellence looked like. After the Senegal native won a scholarship to the United States, she taught for the first time in front of her own students, living out the dream she’d once only envisioned.

“I was very proud of myself when I started mentoring and tutoring kids in French and Wolof (my native language),” said Coumba. “They were all so excited, especially when they were preparing for a trip abroad. Their engagement made me see that a teaching profession was for me.”

On Centering Diversity

Coumba eventually came to St. Louis Language Immersion School (SLLIS), an institution that provides bilingual and culturally responsive instruction to students in St. Louis city. She’s currently a 3rd and 4th grade teacher, helping children learn French and exposing them to diverse lessons that enriches their lives.

“I plan my lessons and make sure I keep my classroom clean, organized and safe for students,” Coumba said. “I implement the curriculum, test my students and track their scores. I set clear and achievable goals for all of them, and I also organize some extracurricular events.”

Four years ago, Coumba created and introduced her students to a new event, Francofun, to help them celebrate all French-speaking countries in one day. The idea came during her first year at SLLIS when she was one of only two or three Black teachers. The disproportionate number of Black educators, she recalls, caused confusion among the children who typically associated French speakers with white Europeans. Francofun is instrumental in exposing SLLIS students to all the countries around the world, including west and northern Africa, where French is the government language.

Coumba also organized SLLIS’s Black History Month celebration. Before her arrival, Black achievement was merely announced in February, but Coumba felt compelled to advocate for the implementation of academic activities in the classroom that acknowledge Black history, including drumming and writing competitions. Students learn from in-depth lesson plans that combine all four subjects (English, math, science and social studies) and present on a different topic during the month.

“I Was a Little Intimidated”

Coumba’s implementation of rewarding activities at SLLIS shows her remarkable bravery, but even innovators have their shy moments. After completing her internship at Mount Holyoke College, she was faced with the tough choice of relocating or finding new opportunities in the U.S . Fortunately, Teach For America and her ties to Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM)-related education caused Coumba to choose the latter.

“I wasn’t ready to go back home to Senegal to finish my Master’s degree in English and African American studies, due to the continuous strikes at the UCAD university” Coumba said, “and I heard about Teach For America through a former colleague. Back then, I was not a permanent resident but years later, I was nominated for TFA St. Louis’ Instructional Excellence Fellowship (IEF) cohort as a STEM Professional Learning Community program participant at SLLIS.”

She went on to say, “The first day, I was a little intimidated, but I noticed the cohort could help with my critical thinking skills. The second time I attended a meeting, I was up and participating as a really engaged participant.

As a non-alumni who hadn’t joined TFA as a corps member, Coumba gained unique insight as an IEF/STEM PLC participant. She credits the cohort for having a lasting, positive impact on her career trajectory and aspirations as a STEM educator. 

A Time for Reflection and Development

“My time with IEF/STEM PLC helped me accelerate my teaching skills and grow my network with experienced, diversity-focused educators,” said Coumba. “The program also enabled me to actually watch myself teach for the first time in the decade that I’ve been in this profession. I get to see myself as an educator and reflect on how I teach so I can assess what I can do better. And, using the cohort’s feedback puts me in the position to hone my teaching skills.”

With IEF/STEM PLC, participants like Coumba can further their professional development and apply what they learn in their classrooms. She remains excited to infuse the program’s takeaways in the lessons she provides her students.

“As a STEM educator, “ Coumba said, “these kinds of programs are crucial because we don’t usually know how to apply STEM to the classroom but this cohort helped me know how to align it with my lessons. I also feel more comfortable being social with my peers, with a willingness to really make connections.”