After college, Raven Hebert worked as a junior chemist, doing the same thing every day. “It was horrible,” she says. “My dad, who is a teacher, said, ‘Why not teach while you figure out what you want to do?’”

Teaching was what Hebert wanted to do, and variety was why. At TC, inspired by science education faculty member Jessica Riccio, she embraced her “inner happy nerd” and learned to gear instruction to different students’ needs. “With 30-plus kids, there were so many opportunities to connect.” 

Raven Hebert

Raven Hebert (M.A. ’06) (Photo Courtesy of Raven Hebert) 

Making connections hasn’t come without bruises — like the time Hebert asked an angry student to sit down. “She cussed me out, with all the kids in the class watching. It was a little devastating. I took two days off and was seriously rethinking my situation.” 

Later the girl apologized. “Her dad had been shot. Her mom wasn’t working, she was taking care of her siblings. I thought, how do you even come to school?” 

Yet as rough as it can be when kids act out, the greater danger may be when they don’t. Recently in this magazine, TC doctoral student Wenimo Okoya, who previously taught in New Jersey’s public schools, wrote about her favorite student, Lakeisha Daniels — “a brilliant 12-year-old . . . far more interested in reading The Diary of a Wimpy Kid than in watching Pretty Little Liars like her peers.”

Over time, Okoya noticed that Lakeisha often was missing homework assignments, frequently falling asleep in class and, in general, becoming withdrawn. She asked the girl’s grandfather (her legal guardian) to make sure that Lakeisha was getting enough sleep. But during that summer, Lakeisha called Okoya to say she’d been diagnosed with leukemia. Five years later, she died.

“Lakeisha’s lesson should be a central part of teacher preparation across the country,” wrote Okoya, who is now a health educator at Children’s Health Fund, directing the organization’s “Healthy and Ready to Learn” initiative. “Let’s ensure that every educator has ample training to look ‘beneath the surface’ before she or he enters the classroom.”