Vivett Dukes

Middle & High School ELA Teacher

New York City Department of Education

New York City

Vivett reflects on the educators who created a caring classroom for her, and how that has influenced her as an educator. Thank you, Vivett!

I was smart. My parents, grandma, and siblings told me that from since I’ve known myself, and when I went to school at age five, that encouragement only continued. I didn’t come to school knowing how to read, but was raised in a print-rich environment and exposed to different cultures via family vacations abroad.

By first grade, under the tutelage of my teacher, Ms. O’Brien, I not only learned how to read but became an avid reader. By third-grade, I was recommended, tested, and selected to be in the talented and gifted (TAG) program at my school. It was in that classroom of third through sixth graders with my beloved, eccentric teacher Mr. Herb Rovner, where I felt like I most belonged. It was in that space for those three years that I was introduced and extensively exposed to the writings of Edgar Allen Poe juxtaposed learning about the infamous Lizzy Borden legal case. I learned what today would be the equivalent of entry-level HS French. I went on field trips all over Manhattan and Long Island to everywhere from the home of President Theodore Roosevelt in Oyster Bay to the top of the Empire State Building in Midtown. It’s over thirty years later and the experiences I had in Mr. Rovner’s TAG class feel as vibrant and fresh in my mind and heart as if they happened yesterday.

My time in that class have helped me strive to be an educator who provides a classroom environment where everyone is recognized for the personal goodness they bring to the class. I strive to introduce my students to information and experiences that are meaningful and long-lasting. I don’t assume that something is too hard for any demographic of student to grasp; instead I, like Mr. Rovner, seek to present to them in the most palatable way possible. A concrete way that I do this is manifested in the books that I select for my class. Our classroom library is as culturally and socially diverse as my students are. I am represented in the selections, as well. Books about various genres of music, literature, artists, poets, etc are a part of the smorgasbord of information my kids have access to via our classroom library. Every selection is intentional.

My students feel the vibe of love and acceptance and intentionality in my classroom. Everyone belongs and everyone is held to the highest of standards. You CAN versus you can’t is the mindset of my room. I have students who represent the range of academic capabilities and it is challenging to create a personalized learning community for each of them, but I try to. I try to notice them and tap into what interests each student. What I observe about them gets translated into a book selection just for that girl or boy. Oftentimes, these observations become lesson topics, fun facts, or field trips.

I’d like to think that Mr. Rovner did that for me. Whether he did or he didn’t, I’ll never know and that honestly doesn’t even matter. I felt like everything he taught was just for me. He taught me things that exemplified how much knowledge is power and that helped me feel like I belonged in many other spaces as I went further in my education that were not as welcoming to me as his classroom was. I strive to have this same impact on the students who walk through my classroom door each year