April Parker, Educator Extraordinaire
"I like my sense of purpose with teaching. I like igniting a belief in my students that they can achieve something."
The students of Huntington Park High School (Huntington Park, CA) are fortunate to have someone like April Parker in their corner. We all have known teachers that seem to go through the motions of teaching and appear totally dispassionate about the task. Not April Parker. April loves teaching. She is completely in love with learning and sets a high bar in her English and Writing classes so that her students are challenged to think and analyze. Another great benefit for April’s students is her disposition. She has the attitude and energy level to engage her class and make them WANT to show her that they get her message. April was born in Phoenix, AZ and was adopted as in infant when her family migrated to Hawaii and then to Los Angeles, CA where she grew up. She has already earned her Bachelor’s in Psychology and Master’s degree in Education. She is currently in the USC Doctorate program with one year of study remaining. April started her teaching journey when she decided to home
school her son. She left her job as an Executive Administrator in the corporate environment and dedicated her days to learning the intricacies of home schooling. “I found a love for teaching, and especially learning, during this period. I remember the excitement of learning the material during preparations for courses and watching my son’s reaction when he had a breakthrough moment of understanding the lesson.” April home schooled her son for six years.
To compensate for her loss of income, April moonlighted part time in a print shop. She also marketed her computer skills and office experience to train people in using computers. She was able to land a part time job as a computer instructor with the Los Angeles County Office of Education. This got April immersed in a real classroom environment for the first time.
April eventually sought out work as a substitute teacher when she became caretaker for her sick mom and needed flexible hours. So the die was cast. April obtained a job with Los Angeles Unified School District and THAT is when the REAL teaching bug bit.
PBI: So you weren’t exactly on the path to teaching when you graduated Cal State Long Beach, I take it?
AP: No. In high school, I originally wanted to be a journalist. I was on the journalism staff all through high school, but my senior year in high school I took a psychology class and I was hooked. I didn’t have teaching on my radar at all. Thankfully, Psychology comes into play with my current studies and in the classroom.
PBI: So with your entrance into substitute teaching what was your next move?
AP: After I lost my mom, I enrolled in school to get my credential and become a full-time teacher. Once I received my teaching credential I continued to get my masters, officially a "Master of Arts in Education: Curriculum and Instruction. I have two credentials: high school and elementary teaching. I am qualified to teach elementary school, but high school seems to be my niche, but I’m currently in the USC Doctorate program with one year left.
PBI: Ahhhh… a teacher that’s also a student. So you’re on hiatus while you’re in the Doctorate program?
AP: Actually I’m still teaching daily and in the Doctorate program around my work schedule. Managing school with teaching is very hard. It creates a dilemma of me possibly shortchanging my students by not giving 100 percent. But a friend told me that my less than 100% was probably better for students than what they may get elsewhere because I genuinely love what I do. AND after three years in a Doctorate program I would bring even more to the table for my students to benefit from. A good point if I say so myself. So here I am. One more year and I will hold a Doctor of Education in Educational Psychology degree.
PBI: Outstanding!! That makes you such a great role model. Whether intentional or inadvertent. So what would you say you love most about teaching?
AP: I like my sense of purpose with teaching. I like igniting a belief in my students that they can achieve something. Not just in school basics, but in life with their education and through analytical thinking. It’s like helping them discover a power that they aren’t aware they have then teaching them how to wield it.
PBI: OK, the flipside of that. What would be something you don’t particularly like about teaching?
AP: I’d have to say it’s the extra things teachers have to do that aren’t specifically teaching in the classroom. For instance, I’m struggling this week with making parent calls, grading essays and getting grades submitted for the semester. Pretty much, all of the administrative things that don’t involve interaction with students or lesson planning. I wish teachers had secretaries to do the administrative details that are necessary, but taxing.
PBI: With teaching in the inner city do you find a lot of apathy in the parents of your students? I mean, do you get the impression that school is just a way to get them out of their hair for a few hours?
AP: In my experience, I’ve never met a parent that didn’t care. I’ve met parents that may have not known what to do with their kids. There are a lot of beliefs of what parents are or aren’t doing but I think parents are dropping their kids off and expecting us to do our jobs and no news is good news. The things I see that are lacking and aren’t coming from home are not because parents don’t care. They may not have the tools or education to make an impact with their kids’ education; there may be a lack of knowledge or awareness; there may be language barriers or other issues as well, but they want to see their kids succeed and they care about their kids' learning.
PBI: OK, after you complete your Doctorate program, what’s next for you? Or a better question may be, what will your degree qualify you to do? Teach teachers? School principal?
AP: Probably all of the above. My dream though, is to establish off-campus learning centers for students and teachers; a learning center that would be an academic hangout, like a youth center for scholars. I’d love to create a place where kids can get support in terms of tutoring, writing, or digital literacy. It would be a place where kids can prep for college in computer labs, with counselors available for guidance and support. I want to be able to offer these services at low cost or for free. This would not be like the paid tutoring services private companies offer, which can be extremely expensive. I’d like to offer support to students and also for parents; especially ESL (English as a Second Language) classes, financial literacy classes, parenting classes; exploring what works, what’s good, what’s not. All this, technically, geared toward helping the student by way of the parents. That’s what my vision is.
Another key component is that the learning centers would have to be IN the hood. So the mentoring aspect can be from within and the cultural relevance will be maintained. And teachers, or people working with the young people, will be connected to the culture they are working in. This removes another layer of racial, cultural or even language barriers to contend with.
Lastly, my degree will give me the understanding of how to make the academic side work and bring this dream to fruition. My focus in school is learning theories of learning and motivation and the factors that influence them. I can incorporate this knowledge into the curriculum. Many people believe that students are either naturally motivated or not; unless there is something they are excited about. There may be psychological and social factors at play or some students simply aren't motivated to do certain things. However, there are strategies to develop motivation in our students. This isn't really taught in credential school.
On behalf of the community, thank you April Parker. You are exactly what PositiveBlack is all about. God bless you and your journey.