Each year, Evergreen selects one exemplary alumni teacher as its Distinguished PK-12 Educator of the Year. This year, the award was given to Chimere Hackney, a 2010 graduate of Evergreen’s Master in Teaching (MiT) program. An English teacher at GATES (Greater Alternatives to Educating Students) High School in Parkland (Wash.),
Hackney’s commendable work extends far beyond the classroom. She is a member of the school’s leadership team, as well as an AVID site coordinator, a job that entails attending workshops and leading teacher trainings. She also occupies a spot on the District Content Planning Committee, which helps plan content for English teachers across Franklin Pierce School District, and she writes the School Improvement Plan at GATES, crafting goals for the school and ensuring that progress is made.
On top of all this, Hackney is a passionate advocate for restorative justice circles, which serve as a powerful alternative to traditional forms of academic discipline such as suspensions and expulsions. These circles involve getting students who have broken rules to speak with those effected by their actions, thus getting to the crux of the issue, and creating space for reconciliation and growth. Her creative circles work inspired this recent KNKX/NPR story, and is just one of the many ways she is helping to empower students and improve education at
GATES, and beyond.
What drew you to teaching English, and to doing so at the high school level?
Like many adolescents, I was having an identity crisis in high school. I was poor, queer, and one of very few people from African descent going to an extremely affluent school. I was put into Mrs. Sugiera’s ELA (English Language Arts) class, and she began slipping me books full of characters I could identify with, characters that ended up making it through the same experiences I was going through. I was blessed with literature and a high school teacher that saved my life. I vowed to do the same.
What do you enjoy most about the work that you do?
I love seeing students tap into their academic identities. I love to watch and listen as students begin to name and celebrate the value of considering multiple perspectives. I love the moments when students feel brave enough to publicly change their minds.
You have been an advocate for the use of restorative circles over traditional methods of discipline. Why is this work important to you?
In the real world, we usually have the opportunity to try and fix things when we mess up; this is learning. When students demonstrate harmful behavior, I remember a wise professor, Sonja Wiedenhaupt, once told me to ask myself, “who is doing the thinking?” So, when students do something funky, instead of punishing or lecturing them—this would be me doing all of the thinking— I create the space and experience for them to do the thinking and learning.
What motivates you in your work as an educator?
The spread of social justice and love. My faith and the examples of teaching and learning that I gathered from Jesus, Yoda, Gandhi, Leslie Flemmer, Grace Huerta, Sonja Wiedenhaupt, and my wife Kelsey Hackney motivate me during the toughest moments. Also, cognitive neuroscience keeps me fascinated and hopeful, as it is key in our efforts to close the achievement gaps.
How did Evergreen’s MiT program help prepare you for the work you do now?
The MiT program reinforced my social justice in education soul! The MiT program taught me to check my ego. Perhaps most importantly, the MiT program showed me how to recognize and deal with cognitive dissonance.