Student Spotlight: Kyla Bivins
"We dig deeply into identity so that kids understand - we each have our own, but our classroom identity is about all of us."
Kyla Bivins identifies as a world traveler. After college, she jumped on an opportunity to teach English in China, learning about multiculturalism and multilingualism in the process. But she notes that where she teaches now - Manchester, Connecticut, right outside Hartford - can also feel like another world compared to her native New Jersey.
It’s not anything in particular. It’s just that Bivins is just very attuned to how we each construct identity and community - building on influences such as race, gender, ethnicity, nationality, sexuality, disability, social background, personal interests and strengths, and so much more.
And it’s why she made the deliberate decision to come to Manchester Public Schools. “I wouldn’t be teaching anywhere else besides here,” she says. “Our race and equity department is different. The talk is real, it’s needed, and Manchester is on the forefront of this work.”
Bivins is in her first year of her Master of Arts in Teaching degree at Relay, enrolled in the Teacher Residency program. She started the year as a resident co-teaching in a 3rd grade classroom; because of the teacher shortage, in January the district moved her to a full time role in the 1st grade. Teaching full time and pursuing her degree is challenging, but she says “I am loving it. I call it the ‘beautiful struggle’.”
Bivins says that in Manchester, the district is committed to having conversations about race at a wide scale, to ensure students have a strong sense of who they are. “Twice a week we do equity read-alouds, reading books that provide mirrors (i.e. stories that reflect students’ experiences) and windows (i.e. stories that showcase new and diverse experiences). For example, last year we read “Hair Like Mine”, which helps kids understand that people are different, and loving our own hair helps us love others. We dig deeply into identity so that kids understand - we each have our own, but our classroom identity is about all of us.”
She says that it helps that her Relay coursework aligns with the district’s approach. “From Relay, I’ve gotten affirmed that the work happening in the district and for me personally, is all too real. We need to keep doing the work of equity.” She’s also had to grapple with the “savior’s complex” teachers can have: “We’re not doing this just to help kids - we are trying to create self-sufficient individuals. I think Relay is on the forefront of that.”
That same approach was reflected in Bivins’ experience as a resident. Her resident advisor, Ms. Case, treated her as a co-teacher, not just as a student teacher trying to follow along. Bivins started out by observing, and then gradually took over teaching various class periods. Bivins compares it to learning how to dance with a partner - “We learned each other’s ‘8 count’, the 5, 6, 7, 8,” she says with a smile. She sees how this approach will lead to a more solid foundation and better teacher retention, compared to other models, “The co-teacher model is efficient. Relay sets you up for success.”
Like many other teachers, Bivins did not actually find school that easy as a child. She is dyslexic, and didn’t learn how to read successfully until 4th grade. But it is because of this experience that she can connect with children who may be struggling like she did, and be the person they need to affirm them and help them succeed. “I had teachers who went out of their way to help me, and I still remember them to this day.” By opening up her students to the wider world (She’s even taught them some Mandarin Chinese!), as well as helping them understand themselves, Bivins' mission is to be one of those teachers.
Thank you to Ms. Bivins for all of the amazing work you do for your students and community!