Lets' go back to 1994: New Jersey was welcoming it's second-ever group of Corps Members (Ayanna included!), Forrest Gump captured the hearts of audiences across the U.S. and the World Wide Web was starting to make its way into American homes.
April 20, 2018
1994 New Jersey Corps Member and current New Jersey alumnus Ayanna Taylor stopped by to talk about her two-plus decades in education. Read on to learn more about Ayanna!
Name: Ayanna Taylor
Hometown: East Orange, NJ
Corps Years: 1994
Current Location: Warren, NJ
Current position: Clinical Assistant Professor at NYU-Steinhardt
What is the song or movie that defined the time when you did the corps?
"Here Comes the Hotstepper" by Ini Kamoze and Forrest Gump
What is the name of a student that changed your life?
I really can’t point to one student because I will always have a special place for my first 7th grade class at Martin Luther King, Jr. School in Paterson. There were a number of students who offered nuggets that helped me grow as a teacher. The girls, as a group, taught me how to build relationships with boundaries with my students. From them, I learned how to be an authoritative figure who effectively combines honesty, trust, and discipline in my relationships with students. From Eddie, I learned how to scaffold my instruction when he yelled out “Yo, Ms. Taylor, we not in college. We don’t understand anything you’re saying.” From James, I learned how far a one-on-one conversation that started with me asking, “What do you think you need from me…?” could take a student-teacher relationship. From all of the student in that class, I learned the wonderful weight of a teacher’s job and how much one person can impact student outcomes.
“You never know the impact you are having on someone's life, so you should do what you can to make it positive.”
What is the biggest lesson you learned from teaching?
The biggest lesson I learned is that we should strive to make all of our interactions with people, especially our students, ones that are affirming and contribute to the growth of the other person. I have students from Paterson who are now in their mid-30’s and tell me, fondly, about things that we did in class, words I offered them, discipline I meted out, or things I did for them personally that I have no memory of. I had one student from that first 7th grade class, Toccora, tell me that I was the first teacher to give her a student-of-the-month award and how good it made her feel about herself. She’s in her mid-30s and still remembers that feeling! You just never know the impact you are having on someone’s life, so you should do what you can to make it positive.
Why does NJ rock?
NJ rocks because we have club music and malls and diners everywhere! It also rocks because we are situated between two of our nation’s big cities and cultural hubs and can take advantage of them without the high cost of living there.
What do you do now?
I am a Clinical Assistant Professor at NYU-Steinhardt. I teach and supervise pre-service undergraduate and graduate teachers. I also have an educational consulting company, Access Educational Advisors, LLC. I was recently elected to my local school board in Warren Township.
What do you value most about being part of TFA?
The TFA network and the friendships I have built as a result of TFA have been invaluable to me. Even now, three of the professors at NYU who I work closely with are TFA alumni. Our collaborative conversations are grounded in a shared experience that helps us, even when we disagree.
“School can also be a site for teaching young people how to value diversity through conversations about race in this country that often make adults uncomfortable.”
What do you think is the most important issue in education today?
I think there are two equally important issues that are linked. First, employing racial equity-focused strategies in all of our schools: urban, suburban, and rural. Addressing disproportionate student discipline practices and diversifying the teacher pipeline are two strategies that could have an outsized impact on student outcomes. School can also be a site for teaching young people how to value diversity through conversations about race in this country that often make adults uncomfortable. Linked to this is the social and emotional health of our students. In addition to designing schools that attend to the trauma of racial inequity, we also need to adopt policies and practices that focus on developing the whole child. Mental and physical health, as well as civic engagement are issues that transcend the racial and economic labels and boundaries we’ve established in our society.