Nefertari Yancie is an alumna of the Urban Teacher Enhancement Program (UTEP) and currently teaches geography and civics at Huffman Middle School. After taking a trip to Ireland last year with several of her colleagues, she shared her experiences with fellow UTEP alumnus, Tyler Bryant.

How did this trip come about and what did you learn?

Our trip to Ireland was through the Funds for Teachers grant. This is actually their second year in Alabama, and their whole purpose is to help teachers form their own professional development (PD) agenda. Their view is that if you create your own PD, then it would be something in which you would be more involved. You can go anywhere in the world, and you submit a proposal saying how you would use your travel experiences in the classroom. So I wrote a proposal to go to Ireland to research the Potato Famine that happened in the mid-1800s. At the time I was teaching the sixth grade but I definitely see where I can incorporate this in the seventh grade because the famine affected Ireland economically, socially, and culturally. It was so devastating, so I wanted to go over and see how that affected forced immigration. For many of our students, the only thing that they really think of when they hear forced immigration is slavery, but there are other kinds of immigration, and this was so with the Irish. I wanted to kind of make these connections between the Irish and the African Americans in the United States. We don’t look alike, and we don’t have the same accents, but there is that connection between us and our historical experiences. So that’s what I wanted to do. And I’m still going to be able to do that through the geography class, and even the civics class, because I am going to cover immigration. But in my geography class I’m going to do an Irish study, and we’re going to look at the culture, particularly the famine, and I am also going to have them create their own family crest.

So what was surprising about being in Ireland?

I think the most surprising thing was probably the people. I did not expect to see a lot of other ethnicities over there. This is actually my second time going, I went on a fun-type trip a few years ago, and I didn’t see as many different kinds of minorities over there. But in between that time and the recent trip – and that’s been about five years – immigration to Ireland has increased. Now you have a lot of immigrants coming over from Nigeria, so there were a lot of [diverse] faces. I took pictures of people who looked more like me to show the students that we’re all connected; even across the waters, we’re all connected.

What other similarities did you see between Ireland and Birmingham?

The clothes. The same fashions. They had a lot of the same stores. Instead of the Dollar Tree or the Dollar Store it’s the Euro Giant! That was probably the biggest similarity. The difference is in the countryside. You do see areas with a lot of poor people but it’s not like the same kind of poor [people] here. But I definitely saw a lot more differences than I did similarities, but that was good.

You mentioned that you applied for another grant to go on a trip. With whom did you travel?

Two teachers I was in sixth grade with: Donna Jones, who is also a UTEP scholar, and Contanika Johnson. Ms. Johnson teaches math, and Mrs. Jones teaches science. The other teacher that we went with was Veronica Simmons. She’s actually a Gifted Education specialist in the Birmingham City Schools, but she has a Language Arts background. So she’s going to use what she learned over there to teach her gifted students.

Did your experiences at UAB and with UTEP impact your experiences in Ireland in any way?

It did because I was definitely looking for that diversity as well to show my students the diversity. We want to be diverse. That’s what makes us beautiful. That’s what makes the country beautiful. That’s what makes the world beautiful. But we also want to show those similarities and show how we’re all connected. We might be different but we’re connected as part of the human race. So I definitely took that over there from that standpoint. While I was looking for differences I was also looking for similarities. The people were wonderful, everybody was very accepting. What surprised me was that we didn’t experience anything like people looking at us “sideways” because we were Black or anything like that. It seemed like there was more discrimination against Gypsies there because we saw Gypsies getting kicked out of stores…. They have this stereotype of being thieves.…So it’s different types of discrimination [against] different people.

How do you think your [pedagogy related to] your trip changed your students’ perceptions?

Well, I’ve always stressed to them to get outside and see the world. This is Birmingham, but it isn’t all there is to the world. Even if you come back home to appreciate home, you have to see other places and be well rounded, and I think that I was a model. A lot of people can talk but you [should] actually go out and do what you’ve been preaching and teaching them to do. And they also look at us like we have the easy job but I’ve shown them that I’m still a learner. I’m still going out searching, and trying to learn new things. So I’m showing them you’re a student but I’m a student too. While I’m teaching you and encouraging you I’m doing my homework too. I like to think I’m practicing what I preach.

Jerelle Hendon is a proud UTEP alumnus who is indeed honored to know that he is leaving a mark in the lives of children that can never be erased. Jerelle recently shared with us an interview he did while working on the 5x People TV award winning broadcast, “College Talk.” The broadcast has brought Jerelle in the presence of greats like Desmond Tutu, Stevie Wonder, Howard Dean, Shirley Caesar and more.

Why did you choose the UTEP program?
One of the things that attracted me to the UTEP program was its realistic approach towards enhancing the education of low-income students. I believe that oftentimes, people assume discipline is the greatest challenge in the classroom. What I have come to learn is that discipline can be managed but sometimes socioeconomic barriers can hinder students from learning. For example, if a child lives in a broken home and is forced to move often, it really makes it harder for the child to keep up academically. As a former UTEP scholar, I learned how to be sensitive to the needs of the students. I have used my past skills from television to develop a science television channel (sciencejunkie) and to create an online social media page (myscienceclassonline) where my students are able to interact with me and obtain discussion notes, and assignments.

Do you have any advice for students who are thinking about going into the teaching profession?
I would really encourage anyone considering a teaching career to “love what you do and to be passionate about children.” As a proud UTEP alumnus, I really believe in pushing kids to achieve their best.

You interviewed civil rights icon Jesse Jackson. Explain how this came about?
I caught up with Reverend Jackson at the highly watched Stellar Awards. For those who may not be familiar, the Stellar Awards program celebrates individuals that have made major contributions to the gospel industry. Meeting Reverend Jackson was an honor for me because I read about the things that he, Dr. King, and Al Sharpton did during the civil rights movement and I felt like I was truly in the presence of a legend. What I really found interesting was the fact that Reverend Jackson and I met again when he spoke at the funeral of my cousin, Gospel legend Inez Andrews of the chart-topping group, The Caravans. 

Name one thing that the civil rights icon said that influenced you as a teacher?
During the interview, Reverend Jackson explained that education is valuable because, “strong minds are capable of breaking strong chains.” This has been my mantra every since. I remind my students that we live in a world where there are so many chains that bind us i.e., oppression, discrimination, and poverty. Education is truly the key that can help break those chains that hold us down from being leaders. Speaking with Reverend Jackson, I learned that he was more than just a doer. He was a thinker. Form this I learned that, those who learn “how to do” will always be the employee, but those who “learn how to think” can definitely be the employer. Reverend Jackson is able to lead people in such a way that can change a nation. This was illustrated during his recent involvement in the Trayvon Martin situation.  

How are your experiences in the UTEP program and the UTEP competencies helping you to be a successful teacher?
I must admit that prior to being a part of UTEP, I really did not have a clear understanding of the family nor of the community dynamics that my kids came from. One of the things UTEP taught me was to really take the time to understand my kids academically and emotionally, along with their home environments, and to establish positive relationships with parents and community stakeholders. To this day, I try to involve parents as much as possible because they indeed have a vested interest in their child’s future. When parents and teachers are working together, learning can truly take place.

What do you hope to accomplish from this video?
First, I hope that my kids will see that when I tell them to reach for the stars, this it is not just something I am speaking, BUT the life I am living. I hope they will see that you can be educated, and still have careers in entertainment. I believe that reality television and rap music really give a skewed image to young kids i.e., in order to be successful in entertainment, you have to display a sense of ignorance. The fact that I was able to secure this interview with Reverend Jackson, and to become a 5x People TV Award winner, shows that there is a place for individuals who choose not to degrade themselves for a brief moment in the spotlight.

Any words of encouragement for current teachers?
Remember, you hold a valuable place in history. You are teaching the next leaders in our communities. Being a vessel that enhances the educational opportunities for lower income students gives them a great opportunity to improve their communities. Remember, you can change the negative stereotypes in our community by changing the mindsets of children and showing them that they have a civic responsibility to improve their communities for those behind them. Will you join me in leaving a legacy of change in the community?
UTEP truly continues to inspire the best and brightest stars of the new century.

View the Jerelle’s full interview with Reverend Jackson.

Why did you choose to pursue National Board Certification?Moriel Purnell

I chose to pursue National Board Certification because I knew that the process would help me to become a better teacher and because I have a desire to continue to grow professionally.  

What was the most challenging part of the process?

Each entry for National Board certification requires candidates to reflect on his/her practice and truly evaluate each aspect of a lesson  These aspects include the method of lesson presentation, assessment, and a complete look at the overall effectiveness of the lesson.  The most challenging part of the process was the reflection aspect in which I had to ask myself why I designed my lesson/unit the way I did and how effective the lesson/unit design was in accomplishing the objectives and goals. 

What was the most rewarding part of the process?

The most rewarding part of the process was that I learned the importance of setting goals for each lesson or unit and the importance of reflecting to ensure that those goals were achieved.  I learned that if they were not, then I would need to determine what the next steps would be to accomplish the goals.

What was the most challenging part of the National Board Certification process?

The most challenging part of the process was the consistent sacrifice it required.  Late nights and early mornings were normal to organize and study the materials necessary to be successful.  I have a wonderful wife and daughter, and we are very active members in our church so there was always a constant pull on time which required a ton of discipline and time management.

What was the most rewarding part of the process?

For me, the most rewarding part was to be recognized at a very prestigious level and to feel that sense of accomplishment that comes from overcoming a lot of adversity.  There were many times I thought about quitting, but God carried me through by pushing me through my faith and support system (which was led by my wife).


Was there a moment when you knew that teaching was the career for you?

I realized that teaching was the career for me the moment I realized that I was learning as much from the students as they were from me.  It was a very humbling experience as an adult.  Adults should have a large majority of the answers, but I didn’t – not for my students.  That’s when the teacher went back to school!

Why did you choose the UTEP program?

I chose UTEP because of its unique perspective in dealing with students in urban schools.  Although I was teaching, I wasn’t sure what I was dealing with as far as the students were concerned.  I had never seen students so disconnected from the educational process and I had no way to help them. I was a passionate, but ill-prepared teacher.  I could identify with some of the students, but many I could not.  I was in desperate need of strategies and techniques designed to reach my students.  UTEP offered just what I needed in addition to so much more.