reThink ELA #013: Empowering Student Interests in the Secondary Classroom

reThink ELA Podcast
reThink ELA Podcast
reThink ELA #013: Empowering Student Interests in the Secondary Classroom

One of the most important things teachers can do is impact students’ lives by creating spaces for them to discover their passions and use their voices. This is integral for student success—especially for students who struggle in the confining spaces many schools create. 

My  guest, despite successful leadership in and out of the classroom, found traditional school a hardship. With encouragement from middle and high school teachers who took the time to get to know him and his interests, he harnessed turned his passions into a movement and career.

Ty Baker is founder of The Black Times, a media production company based in Oklahoma City. At 21 years old, Ty has covered the Black Lives Matter protests, local law enforcement, and criminal justice issues. Through his creativity and determination, Ty has created a company based on his passions for politics, storytelling, and film.

Ty’s interest in film started in middle school, along with his desire for leadership and activism. He started small by getting involved in school issues. Fast forward a few years and he found himself involved in protests after George Floyd’s death. When a local politician, during an interview, asked what company he was with, the idea for The Black Times was born.

Ty credits his teachers as instrumental in pointing him on his journey to activism and entrepreneurialism. These teachers didn’t just make sure he completed his schoolwork; they encouraged him to tell his story and follow his dreams.

Listening to Ty’s story inspires me to search for those “aha” moment that will allow me to better see my students and their interests, so I can create space for them to explore the world as readers, writers, and creators.

Topics we discussed in this episode:

  • The journey from graduating high school to starting a company three years later
  • How his teachers supported his passion for film
  • Ty’s advice to other kids who want to tell stories about their local communities 
  • Ty’s most favorite teacher and how she influenced his decision to start his company

Resources mentioned in this episode:

Essential Question: How can you inspire your students to tell their stories and follow their interests?

About the author 

Michelle Boyd Waters, M.Ed.

I am a secondary English Language Arts teacher, a University of Oklahoma student working on my doctorate in Instructional Leadership and Academic Curriculum with an concentration in English Education and co-Editor of the Oklahoma English Journal. I am constantly seeking ways to amplify students' voices and choices.

  1. This is fabulous! Thanks for sharing such an important and engaging voice. Ty reminds me to step back from the over-planning and over-assessing, so I can make room for really seeing my students, their gifts, and interests. All our students deserve to have a place in the important conversations of our times. Ty’s message speaks to all teachers of the importance of making space for students to discover and share, not only their voices, but their perspectives and talents, as well. Shouldn’t that be what school is about?

    1. Thank you so much! I’d love to see schools properly resourced so they could nurture each students’ gifts and interests. I think this is especially important in ELA because, unlike STEM or career tech, there isn’t a funded, concerted effort to cultivate our young writers and creators, especially at smaller schools with limited staff and resources. I’d love to find more ways to support teachers in recognizing and encouraging young people like Ty.

      1. Hi Michelle,

        I agree. I wish schools had the resources to focus on nurturing each students gifts and true interests rather than standardized learning.

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