Teachers can do a lot more than ensure their students learn about math, science, and reading. They also have the power to teach them that they're valued, boost their self-confidence, and empower them to reach their goals.
Leigha Bishop, 29, a pre-kindergarten educator at Lakeview Elementary School in Sugar Land, Texas, knows this firsthand. She's made a conscious effort to show her students they are represented and valued beyond their individual grades. She hopes to instill self-love, inspire students to be present in school and to encourage them to succeed in all aspects of their lives.
Recently, she helped one of her students feel a little more confident through a small, but sweet gesture.
Bishop loves to experiment with different hairstyles. One morning, she found inspiration for a new look from one of her students who often tries new hairstyles, too. "I told her, 'Your hair is sooo cute! Don't be mad at me when I come to school tomorrow with my hair JUST like that!'" she told A Plus.
The little girl didn't believe her. "She responded with a 'sure, Ms. Bishop.' as she walked away," Bishop said. So, the pre-k teacher showed her that she meant it. She went home and tried to recreate her student's hairstyle. "With my student's hair being similar to mine, I thought what better way to show her how she inspired me to feel beautiful with that same braided up-do hairstyle!" Bishop said.
The little girl may not have thought much about her hairdo the day before, but Bishop made sure she'd realize she inspired her to feel beautiful with that same look. She showed her that she really did mean the compliment and that the girl should feel beautiful in her own skin.
"The next day, when I opened the car door to help her out, her face was priceless! Her jaw dropped and she just stared at meI told her, 'You thought I was playing? We are going to be cute together,'" Bishop said. "Her classmates and other students at the school were shocked too! They always notice when I change my hair, but were so shocked to see my hair the exact same as their classmate."
The kind gesture was done to help remind her students that they're both special and important.
"Ultimately, this is not about hair, or being Black, or being seen," Bishop said. "It's about making a child feel they are one. They are whole. They are unique. And no one can or should make them feel any different."
Bishop constantly tries to inspire and encourage her students both inside and outside the classroom. She makes herself available at any given time for all of the kids and ensures that they feel supported.
"When my former student has a band performance late one night or early one weekend morning, I'm there," she said. "When a parent calls while I'm on vacation ready to hike a mountain, I'm answering my phone. When my student lost a sister due to a self-inflicted wound, I was calling that family morning and night to make sure they had food to eat and were staying lifted. The list goes on!"
She is motivated by the opportunities she gets to affect the lives of her students.
"What I love most about being a teacher is the power I have to pour light into each and every little soul that steps foot in my classroom day after day," she said. "While I am teaching them content needed to grow and move on to the next grade level, I am also teaching them to love themselves a little more for the next challenge they might face in the next stage of development. It is with the connections and relationships that I am able to help students succeed academically."
Bishop acknowledged that's it's extremely important to show children of color that they matter. As a teacher and single mother of a 2-year-old girl, she's particularly conscious of the affect representation can have on children of color.
"Though I advocate for all children, Black children do need more positive examples. Black men and women need to know that our young children are watching. Every post! Every news headline! How often do we celebrate Black women outside of Black History Month? Almost never," Bishop said. "If young black girls knew of the never-ending list of Black women who made a difference and are still making a difference, we wouldn't have so many little Black girls with no one to look up to."
She believes it's crucial that we show these girls that they're important and that their voices matter. "They have a story that can be told. They have a heart that can be loved and respected," Bishop said. She hopes to teach all of her students that they can achieve anything they want regardless of what they look like or where they come from.
Twitter user @JArdoin_814 re-posted the photo of Bishop on Twitter which helped her story go viral. It's been retweeted nearly 40,000 times and has almost 130,000 likes. Many people are moved by the teacher's sweet gesture.
Bishop is glad to see her story is getting such a positive response. "It has been the biggest blessing to have people from all over the world not only see the picture, but feel it too. There was indeed a message behind the picture and I think
the world got it right," she said. "Teaching and helping [both] children and adults of this world to love more — starting with loving themselves — is what I am here to do."