My personal journey begins with four immigrants running away from religious persecution in Eastern Europe. Both my mother and father were born and raised in Russia/Ukraine. At the time, they were one of the last group of Russian Jews to escape Russian anti-Semitism in the 1980s. This was during the Gorbachev era where his reforms, Glasnost and Perestroika, allowed people to leave the country. My parents knew there was a better world out there and had seen years of individuals thrown into Gulags just for saying the wrong thing. They planned their trip in secret, knowing this was no easy task. As a child, they told me stories about customs officers who had stolen all of their valuables; they had to run from Jew hating terrorist groups in Italy; they took low-paying jobs as they waited for their visas to be accepted by the American government. They entered this country empty handed – my mother, who was a pianist and had a degree as a pre-school teacher, was no longer qualified for a job because her diploma was from a technical college. My father had an 8th grade education and was forced to join in on the Soviet war front during the early 60’s. My parents had no jobs and no money, all the while caring for my sister and my brother and taking them into a strange and foreign place. The land where they would be free but would work until they could no longer move. Coming from immigrant parents has shaped the way I work. Some say I take after my grandfather, a man who was a decorated World War II Veteran who fought for the Red Army. My grandfather worked and moved around up until the day he died. His ethics, love of people, and approach to repairing the world (Tikkun Olam) has been passed down on to me.
Ever since I was in high school I wanted to be an educator. One where I could be dynamic in my curriculum, where joy and wonder is built based on the content my students were learning. At such a young age, I noticed so many things wrong with our educational system that I wanted to be a part of the solution rather than dismiss what was going on. I grew up in poverty and noticed how many of my peers were treated so differently in our learning environments. Expectations lacked, students were treated differently based on their area codes, and ultimately, teachers knew the areas that were good based on student bus numbers.
Fast forward to 2015 when I graduated from Loyola University Chicago and just got accepted to Teach For America (Eastern North Carolina), I set forth to ensure that no child would feel the way I did in my classroom. I spent 3 years in a small town in North Carolina called Warrenton. The school I taught at was an Early College program that ensured students would graduate with a high school diploma and associate’s degree. That experience meant the world to me as both challenging and enlightening. I fell in love with teaching and working with students who were deemed as unable to perform the way their wealthier peers did. My students had so many challenges in their way and the only stability at that time was school. I was invested in my community and students so much so that I was able to revolutionize my teaching practice by incorporating SEL, developing students writing abilities, and also teach content through hands on learning strategies. With such a practice, I was able to reach everyone of my students through multiple intelligence levels. After my third year I returned to Chicago to be closer to family, during that time I worked for The Academy of Urban School Leadership through CPS.
Ultimately, I came across Ryan Banks Academy through Teach For America and an added bonus was that Michelle Singleton (one of my close friends) was going to become the STEAM educator. I quickly wanted to join the movement at RBA. What I saw and noticed, was a group of dedicated individuals who wanted to help students work through their traumas while also receiving an excellent education. So when asked why I love RBA so much, to simply put it, it is the students and their families. I see the potential of what this school will be and the family we have created here and that is something truly transformational in the Chicago educational climate.
Coming from a family that fled religious persecution, I am presented with the gift of “Tikkun Olam.” also known as repairing the world. I know personally how specific systems are put into place that consistently oppress individuals. I was the kind of student in school who went around looking at problems in my community and world for which I strived to find a solution to it. I am the kind of teacher who is the activist, the critical thinker, the cultivator, the storyteller, the solver, the fighter, the individual who gives voice to the voiceless, and the empowerer. All of these qualities impact the way I teach because they have been swimming around in my head ever since I was a child. My students and I share our experiences and I can always see that impacting the way they learn. They understand that I am there to help them and pass on vital knowledge, so that they one day can become our change agents, our community leaders, our reflectors, our educators, our doctors, and our future.
I believe that everyone in this world is made for a specific task, even if it is little. We each have a responsibility to make our world a better place for not only our communities and families, but also the future of tomorrow.
Ryan Banks Academy Humanities Instructor