Queen Latifah in Conversation with Youth Voices

As a fitting conclusion to the Celebration of Teaching & Learning, Queen Latifah is hosting a conversation with several New York City students. But before they took the stage, a tape of the conference weekend. It was such a delight to have a visual reminder of the myriad of speakers, activities, and conversations that occurred throughout the weekend.

Queen Latifah introduces herself by acknowledging her first teacher – her mom, who happens to be an art teacher. She recognizes the challenges teachers face and encouraged everyone to stay passionate and creative. Queen Latifah spent time interviewing the students and she is a lovely person to watch and listen to.

What is school like? What do you like? What would you change?

  • We need bigger stairwells.
  • I like that it’s a “big picture school”, they trust us to do internships and projects. We need a bigger space.
  • The teachers genuinely care about the students at my school.
  • “I wouldn’t change nothin’ about it because it brought me where I am today.”
  • I like that my school is large and diverse so we have many opportunities to interact with different schools.
  • The IB program definitely helped me because I have the skills to thrive in college – “…if I’m behind and I need to write a paper the night before…”. The media focuses on the bad publicity of the school and it affects the students’ attitude and the image of the school.

Was there one particular teacher that inspired you or you felt connected to?

  • My homeroom teacher would text or call to make sure I got to school on time and didn’t drop out.
  • Junior Year English teacher – she showed how to analyze films and what they mean to the world and the community.
  • They thoroughly care about the students. My best teacher is my mom because its important for parents to be in touch with their students.
  • Sophomore English teacher got me into poetry because he read poetry every Friday. My Black History teacher encouraged me to look at my history and background.
  • “The biggest difference is that a good teacher knows each students’ personal progress in their skill level instead of just using a cookie cutter curriculum.”
  • She made me realize how much I love writing and she prepared me for writing when I was in 10th grade.

Tell me about your peers and the challenges they are facing.

  • My best friend has severe physical illness, but she doesn’t come to school often because people tell her she can’t achieve anything. I’m disappointed in her because I know she can achieve stuff.
  • For students, school is a social gathering. Even when you have a group of friends, you have to stay an individual and do what is right. “You need to remember you can influence them just as much as they can influence you.”
  • Kids have a low standard because they are okay with barely passing. I think they don’t have enough people (especially their peers) to push them to work harder.

Somehow, a conversation about the attitudes of teachers towards students ensued. The students were enraged by teachers caring more about the Regents than their students acquisition of knowledge.

Let’s talk about your community and how it affects you as a student and as a human being.

  • There’s a lot of violence in Albany that comes into school and changes how students are willing to learn. Teachers need to be involved and interested in the students’ personal lives.
  • There’s a wall between the community and the school. It was hard because I had to take the initiative to go out into the community from the school.
  • In my school they let kids who were fighting talk it out, but that doesn’t help because not all people handle their anger the same. It works because eventually you solve your problems, but I feel like there’s a better way to do it.
  • My community and my school are not in the same place, so they don’t interact. I go to the Boys and Girls Club and I just want to stay there because I feel like that’s the safest place to be. The people in the community affect how you act in the classroom; it affects your schoolwork.
  • My parents really care about me and my brother is my best friend. In a community, you need to know you are cared for and that affects school, work, and relationships with other people.
  • School ties can be stronger than gang ties because you’re stuck with those people most of the day.
  • Teachers encourage being a part of extra-curricular activities because it keeps kids from getting home and getting into trouble. Teachers try to get as many kids into their club as possible.

As you look at your country and the future, what do you plan to do about it?

  • We need to work together to solve these problems. Democrats and Republicans act like they’re two different gangs. But they’re just saying they’re not the same America. “We have to work together to provide the best future possible.”
  • I see my future success best happening in policy because that’s connected to society in the most fundamental ways.
  • Everyone is waiting for the person beside him or her to take care of a problem, but you’ve got to be ready to solve that problem with that person.
  • One of the reasons we are still in a recession is because we are not working hard enough to change that.

If you could leave one message or one thought with the teachers in this room today, what would it be?

  • Your future can always be better than your past.
  • Have more faith in your students and encourage them that they can be the best that they can be.
  • Don’t let the administration or quotas get in the way of actually teaching the kids or making connections.
  • We see you more than we see our parents, so everything that you teach us goes inside the classroom and beyond.
  • Your job is a matter of life and death. When you see a student that is disrespecting you or another student, it’s a bigger issue than that. You, as a role-player in their life, have to figure out how to help that student.
  • Educate – some teachers just teach the facts and numbers. It would be great if you could put your wisdom and knowledge into your teaching so your students could take that too.
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