By Shelbi J. Wilson-Fields
CSU San Bernardino Alumna
Master’s in Comprehensive Examination
Teacher at Abraham Lincoln Continuation High School
Teaching a class in Psychology as a graduate student at CSU San Bernardino was a huge moment of personal and professional clarity for me. I had been on a different academic and career path at the time, but the experience of being in front of a classroom called to me. I knew that the front of the classroom is where I belonged, and that knowledge changed my life.
For those of us who are fortunate to be called as teachers, life is full of inspirational moments. A teacher is an agent of change. We bring our own experience, personality and knowledge to the forefront in order to change the trajectory of another person’s life. I have run into students who graduated and tell me “you were my second mom.” What is more mission and life affirming than that?
The need for positive intervention in young lives is never-ending. At Abraham Lincoln Continuation High School, students are constantly looking for guidance. I’ve been privileged to work particularly with teen parents. Often these students must overcome domestic violence, financial concerns, custody battles or other family issues. I am able to direct the students to resources, and add my own guidance mixed with understanding.
The path before these students is hard, but their determination is great. The challenge for a teacher is to meet students at the place in life where they are and work with them to raise their personal expectations.
Too many students believe life does not have a path for them to succeed, and that an hourly minimum wage is their life sentence. In that case, a teacher’s role is to show that life gives you many options. Yes, a four-year college is within reach. For students who are not there yet, community college or the military can provide a structure to get to that four-year degree.
I also regularly work with students who see teen parenthood as a wakeup call in life. They have a renewed ambition to succeed academically and professionally. There is a driving sense of urgency, because they know that slowing education is often a precursor to stopping education. For those students I heavily promote the CSU. The services, support systems and class schedules that aid young parents in finishing their degrees are commonplace at Cal State campuses.
The lesson I hope to impart to every student is the work ethic needed to meet and exceed the norm. Seek excellence at every point, give your best to every person you meet, and your life will be better for it. Also, understand deferred gratification. Every successful person I know can remember something given up along the way, a want put off for the future. Sacrificing today can lead to better world for you and those around you tomorrow.
Finally, I seek out among my students those who would become the next generation of teachers. I love teaching; it is both a job and a passion. It is my personal goal to share that call to teach with my students, and in doing so help shape their lives.
Note: Shelbi is featured with other alumni on a CSU Voices and Views entry titled Seeking Future Outstanding Alumni. She is listed among more than 70 CSU African American distinguished alumni and is also featured in the “Working for California” project.