A resident advisor and future educator, Devon is following in her father’s footsteps to become an advocate for the next generation. We sat down with Devon to learn more about her path to becoming a teacher, the importance of diversity, and how her experiences at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign have helped shape her future.
Tell us about yourself.
“I’m from Bellwood, which is near Chicago and O’Hare Airport. I’m currently studying middle grades education with a literacy concentration and hope to get an ESL [English as Second Language] endorsement when I graduate. I’m also currently an RA [resident advisor] at Ikenberry Commons Nugent Hall.”
Why did you choose to attend UIUC?
“I got this teaching scholarship and internship bundle called Golden Apple Foundation, which has the Golden Apple Scholars Program. After I got accepted into that, I looked at where I wanted to go. I grew up in an area where it was predominantly Black and Latinx communities, so I wanted to make sure I’d go to a school that’s very diverse. And so, one of the best schools I considered was here.”
“I used to want to be a teacher when I was like 6, but you know, 6-year-olds change their mind every single day. … When my dad had recently passed, then I realized maybe I want to be what he was to my family and community. He was a mentor, somebody everybody can always go to. And I’m like, ‘What can I do with that inspiration? And where in the field can I be?’ …
“I can count on one hand—and not even use all my fingers—and account for all of the Black teachers I had that looked like me. I only had three, so I was like, ‘Yeah, we need more of those. Maybe I could do something with that.’ So that’s why I chose education.”
How do you hope to change that for people in the future?
“Um, I think that’s my problem right now. Golden Apple is a great foundation that has not only provided financial aid but helps with jobs and summer internship opportunities where we can learn about what it takes to be a teacher and classroom experiences. I am happy to be a part of it and thankful for the opportunity. With this opportunity, I have noticed something that is also prevalent in education as well.
“For instance, at the first Golden Apple Scholars Institute, there were almost 200 scholars in my cohort; however, there were less than 20 black scholars including myself—possibly about 17 in total, if I remember correctly. If you want to go into low-academic, low-economic schools, the majority of the population will be Black people and Latinx people. The 17 of us, we grew up in those schools, so we know what it’s like. We can have that advocacy, and we want it, and it takes one to know one to go back into that community and give back. …
“You need to go into those schools and show them that there is a program to help them pursue a career in teaching. Like, ‘Yo, here’s the degree, here’s the program, here’s the outcome. If you think you want to be a teacher, you want to be a mentor, you want to be an educator, you want to help change the system, come on over.’ …
“You need to go into the community because those communities are going to be the future generation. I think it is the first major step.”
What led you to middle grades education?
“Middle school kids are in the prepubescent stages of their lives. … They’re trying to figure out who they are. And if I can be that mentor and help them figure out who they are, then that’s very important. … Like, ‘Yo, I’m here for you, and you can come to me in any way, shape, or form.’”
Why did you decide on literacy as your concentration?
“I like reading. I’ve been a bookworm since I was a little kid. … I remember in middle school, I had one language arts class where I loved it, and I was like, ‘I want that.’ …
“It kind of makes sense to do literacy and ESL because they both have to do with languages but they also have to do with being able to teach with a global mindset. I was going to pursue linguistics as a major originally, and then I learned what linguistics actually was and I’m like, ‘I’m hearing impaired—this is not going to do me any favors.’
“At first, before I decided to pursue education, I wanted to do language coaching of some sort where I can coach in a language and help others. This career choice was inspired by a YouTuber I used to watch where she was an English-language coach for Japanese actors in Japan.
“Eventually I changed my mind, as at the time I did not want to commit to something I’m unsure of. So I decided to trust myself more, because I knew that my career choice needed to involve languages, but I also knew that my main purpose in finding the career that suited me is getting the opportunity to play the role of a mentor, ally, advocator, coach, counselor, and so forth.”
How do you think your experiences as an RA will help you on your path to becoming an educator?
“You have to learn how to build a community, you have to know your resources. So basically being a mentor, being able to be a person to come to for advice, is mainly what an RA is. … It’s just knowing how to support people that may not look like you, but they all have their different struggles. Doesn’t mean that your struggle is invalid, because then you have that whole imbalance and then that’s not fair to yourself and that’s not fair to the other person. …
“Being an RA and having that educator background is very beneficial because you’re going to have to do this in your own classroom; you’re going to have to be able to seek out ableism and you’re going to have to help them be an advocate and be an ally. … That way, you can learn something but also gain something, like learn how to self-care and learn about compassion fatigue. Learning about yourself to make yourself a better person is what an RA is trying to help you do.”
You mentioned earlier that you are hearing impaired. How do you think this experience will impact the way you teach?
“I know what it’s like to have IEP [an Individualized Education Program], I know what it’s like to have to be accommodated all the time. In an academic setting, it’s not normalized. … I want to make it feel easier, because you having this or that doesn’t mean that you are any different from anybody else. You still are valued, you still are worth the room you’re in, so to be that advocate is what I think is important. Especially if you understand what it’s like, at least you know how to support them in a way where they want to be supported.”
What advice would you give to those who have experienced the world differently?
“It’s okay to be different. I think, when the world just keeps trying to tell you that you’re different and that your being different is a bad thing, just know that standing out is way more important than trying to fit in. … If you try to fit in, you’re blending in with everybody, and nobody wants that. Everybody deep inside wants attention, and sometimes the negative energy can become positive.
“So when things seem to be negative, there’s always going to be a positive outcome. … There is somebody always rooting for you in a corner, like when you’re in a boxing ring and you think you’re going against the most antagonizing, most excruciating, painful thing ever. … There’s always somebody in the corner rooting for you, waiting for you, and always there to support you no matter what, whether you win or lose. They’re always going to help you get back up again.”