Challenging the status quo in education
Aqueelah Ellzy '98 always knew she wanted to be a teacher. The only thing in question was her route to get there.
"I always knew," recalled Ellzy. "From first grade, I played 'school' in the summers and taught neighborhood friends how to read."
The route to her first classroom, and later school administrator, included Bloomsburg. As Assistant Principal at Samuel K. Faust Elementary School in the Bensalem Area School District, Ellzy says that the opportunities offered at Bloomsburg and the investment she made during her time on campus not only prepared her entirely for her first classroom experience but also to grow within her profession and work to help others unlearn the assertions that create barriers for students.
"We are conditioned to understand education in precise ways, and we have to challenge those assumptions, explained Ellzy. "We are gatekeepers of equity, and we must acknowledge the challenges our students face and that those challenges are rooted in political and economic contexts."
Ellzy, who recently completed her Ed.D. in Education and Organizational Leadership from the University of Pennsylvania, says that the teaching profession and the world in which students live have changed dramatically in the 25 years since she was a pre-service teacher at Bloomsburg. More than ever, says Ellzy, schools need to employ a critical consciousness to their classroom management that no longer includes exclusionary discipline like detention or suspension but rather to be intentional around embracing parent partnerships, teaching and reteaching expectations, and employing restorative practices that repair rather than damage, student-teacher relationships.
"I came out of school believing it was my job to teach in the same way I was taught," explained Ellzy. "I have come to understand that it's harmful to perpetuate the status quo that exists in schools and instead empower our students to call out the systems of oppression in our educational system."
Ellzy was well into her teaching career when she and her husband, Mike, returned to campus for his 2013 induction into the Bloomsburg Athletic Hall of Fame. A casual conversation with Associate Professor of Teaching and Learning, Dr. Caryn Terwilliger, facilitated Ellzy's guest speakership at the Collaborating to Assist Teacher Candidate Hiring (CATCH) Conference. For the next decade, Ellzy has volunteered as a classroom management presenter, served on alumni panels, and participated in resume reviews and mock interviews. Even after the COVID pandemic swept across the United States, Ellzy continued to do presentations over Zoom to help fellow Huskies feel as prepared as she did stepping into their first classroom.
"In my experience, the educators coming out of Bloom are among the best prepared. Acknowledging cultural proficiency is needed to advance our education system. We must understand our identity and unpack our biases to improve the world we all share."
From technology to social consciousness, the education system has always needed to catch up to the reality of its students. Ellzy was pleased to recently find that there is an option for Bloom students to take part in trauma-informed coursework that exposes them to additional content outside of standard pedagogy and classroom management techniques.
"I was excited to hear the pre-service programming has expanded to include acknowledgment and opportunities to gain awareness of student obstacles. "Teachers entering the workforce need to be aware of their students' challenges."
Ellzy remains passionate about the importance of critical consciousness and its impact on those who make educational decisions for students in all areas of the country. For her, how she and other Bloom grads influence the education system is vital in how it empowers and impacts students and the nation as a whole.
"Classrooms are laboratories for democracy, and there's nothing more important than equity," explained Ellzy. "Our world is changing, and as educators, we are responsible for responding to those changes and preparing ourselves and our students for the world as it exists now and in the future."
If you are a fellow Husky and would like to help current students on their path from college student to confident professional, Let us know!