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“A Full Circle Moment”

Meet English Language Arts Teacher Marieme Diouf.

What stories have shaped our lives? How does time, place, and social context influence our identity and the choices we make? What gives us voice?  How can we use our voices to make change? These are some of the questions English Language Arts (ELA) teacher Marieme Diouf asks of her 9th grade classes as they explore identity through all forms of creative expression. We caught up with Marieme to chat about her first year at BELA.

Where are you from originally and where do you call home now?

I’m from NYC! I went to school in Brooklyn from daycare up until college so it’s a full circle moment that I get to teach in the same community I grew up in.

Where did you attend college?

Wesleyan University in Middletown, CT for undergraduate school and Brooklyn College for graduate school.

Where is your favorite place in Brooklyn (outside of BELA!)?

The Brooklyn Museum. I have lots of childhood memories of going to First Saturdays with my family – seeing exhibits, making art, and going to the dance parties at the end! 

What do you love most about teaching?

I’ve always loved literature and writing, and being able to share this with young people. My students are inquisitive, creative, diligent, and passionate. I love getting to know who they are, what their passions and quirks are, and what they bring to the table. I get to witness them evolve as they encounter new texts, experiences, and challenges as they conquer their first year of high school. I learn from them as much as they learn from me. My students keep me on my toes, and I love that I never have a boring day!

How do you approach ELA education with your students?

I strive to facilitate my students’ growth as independent, lifelong learners. I want every student to see themself as a reader, writer, and critical thinker. I believe students learn best when they are encouraged to explore themselves and are equipped with the skills to not only navigate but to change the world. Our class texts encourage students to think critically about society and to imagine new possibilities. I hope each of my students leave 9th grade ELA feeling more confident in their identity, their skills, and their ability to be leaders in their communities. 

What are the major assignments and highlights?

Students explore identity through texts centered on the experiences and perspectives of marginalized peoples. They discover various literary genres – short stories, creative nonfiction, opinion essays, poetry, and novels, like The Poet X and The Vanishing Half. Independent reading gives students choice and directly influences their success in school and beyond. 

Ample writing opportunities, such as personal narratives, op-eds for publication, and full-length literary analysis essays, empower them as producers and creators of knowledge. Students write and perform poetry, craft multimedia presentations, and create art that reflects the literature we read. At the end of the year, students create a final project of their choosing that reflects the skills, concepts, and strategies they learned throughout the year. 

Why is it so important for students to see their culture and experiences reflected in their classrooms?

I went to a predominantly White high school, where I rarely saw myself reflected in the learning environment, in class texts, and in the faces of my teachers. The novels that did feature authors and/or protagonists of color were taught in a manner that flattened the richness of communities of color. This kind of education has a devastating impact on young people. As much as I loved to read and write, I subconsciously learned and believed that ELA was not a space for me.  I believe that students should see themselves in their classrooms because it is a humanizing experience. Students can only do their best work in school and in the world when they know that their voices, cultures, and experiences matter. 

What makes BELA special?

There is a spirit of innovation at BELA. Students and faculty have a say in how our school grows and develops. For example, I co-facilitate the Library Committee with our school librarian, and this year we’ve been working alongside students to build a new library at BELA. It’s been so fun to see students’ excitement and investment in sustaining a culture of literacy at our school.  I love that we are supported in making our visions a reality.