The first day of school at Columbia Public Schools on Tuesday was also the first day of Tyus Monroe’s teaching career.
She’s Miss Ty to her students.
“Fun fact: I went to school here,” Monroe said, introducing himself to the upper class of African American literature students at Hickman High School. “Now I’m back.”
Everyone in the building wore masks, as required by the district.
She is teaching this semester after graduating from Columbia College in May. Monroe, who graduated from Hickman in 2017, is the first alumnus to begin a career with CPS under the school district’s COMOEd program, also known as the Grow Our Own Teacher Development Program.
As part of the program, she received a full scholarship to Columbia College, with the guarantee of a job in the school district upon graduation.
It is designed to recruit black students and other minorities to become teachers in the school district, so that students can have more teachers who look like them at the head of the classes. Monroe is African American.
The main teacher in African-American literature is Samantha Hayes. She started the morning by asking the students to describe in one word how they were feeling.
Many responded “tired”. Other responses were enthusiastic, prepared, grateful, with Monroe saying he was optimistic.
A student said he was bored.
“It stung a bit,” said Hayes.
Monroe introduced the students to “Reyna’s Interlude,” a poem by Reyna Biddy. First, she provided the poem written on a document.
“The great thing about Reyna is that she’s a speech poet,” Monroe said. “So we’re gonna listen to it. What does it add when we listen to it?”
“I don’t want to survive on my own anymore”, we can read in part. “Our bodies have become too familiar with chance, with each other, with freedom, but never the chance to experience freedom with each other these days.”
The students gave their ideas on the poem after reading and hearing it.
Traditionally, an ode is a very long poem, said Monroe.
“It’s like a wink at someone,” she said.
She will challenge them sometimes, she told the students.
“In this class, some of the things you’re going to break down, it’s uncomfortable,” Monroe said. “I’m OK with the discomfort.”
“I’m so excited to have Miss Ty here,” Hayes told the students. “Poetry is not my strong point, and that is Miss Ty’s strength.”
Monroe will also have English II and World Literature classes in second year to help teach, she said in an interview on Zoom Monday. She said African-American literature was her “dream class,” and told her students on Tuesday that it was her favorite class in high school.
“I think it gives students the opportunity to learn more about themselves in an authentic way,” Monroe said of the class.
She also taught students during summer school, she said.
In the last few weeks of teacher training before school starts, she learned more about what is required.
“Teaching is not just about teaching,” she said. There’s also the technology and apps like Schoology that she needed to get familiar with.
Speaking with Hayes on Tuesday, Monroe said she initially didn’t realize that the desktop printer staples documents as well.
“Last week we had a lot of teacher meetings,” Monroe said Monday. “It was really information overload. I’m just glad tomorrow is show time.”
She is happy to have the opportunity to teach the students before going out on her own to “solve problems,” she said.
She is paired with Whitney Moore, who was her AVID teacher, as a mentor. AVID is Advancement Through Individual Determination, a program designed to help underrepresented college students and help them take more advanced courses in high school.
“I’m going to have a lot of support,” Monroe said of Moore. “It’s their job. Everyone wants to see the (teacher development) program succeed.”
Despite the support, she said she felt the pressure.
“I’m the first one so there is always pressure,” said Monroe. “People will be watching me for the next four years.”
In the hallway on Tuesday, several of her former teachers greeted her and wished her good luck. She can turn to Moore for any questions or concerns, she said.
“She’s really a person that I trust a lot and has been around for a very long time,” Monroe said of Moore.
The African-American literature students went to the library to check the laptops. Back in their classroom, several minutes were spent finding outlets to plug in chargers, logging in and finding passwords.
“I always forget to factor in the first day of laptop stuff,” Hayes told the class. “Let me see, they may have emailed us instructions. “
Monroe is an asset to the Hickman team, director Tony Gragnani wrote in an email.
“I’m more than happy that Tyus at Hickman is working with our Kewpies,” Gragnani wrote. “From the first day I met Tyus, when she was a student, I knew she had the talent and the heart to be a transformational educator. I love that our community came together to support her (as well as other students like her), and now she has the opportunity to pursue her passion at Hickman. She’s going to do great things. “