It’s Teacher Appreciation Week, so we reached out to chat with the best teacher in Miami. Precious Symonette, who works at Norland High, is Miami-Dade County Teacher of the Year and a finalist for Florida Teacher of the Year.
She has spent 10 years in inner-city schools teaching creative writing and inspiring middle and high school students to express themselves through spoken-word poetry and writing.
What teacher did you most admire and why?
My high school English teacher, Naomi Payton. What I admired most was her charisma. She had the ability to captivate an audience with some of the most boring topics. She was so dedicated. And she loved the challenge of getting us excited about things that we normally would have no interest in.
Why did you get into education?
I’ve always wanted to be a teacher. When I was seven, I wrote in journal and I got such a kick out of being teacher’s pet. While playing, I would always play the teacher and I’d help my peers. I’ve always loved learning and valued education.
Even as a kid, I wrote down my feelings. Growing up, I was an introvert so writing was my refuge. It was how I naturally expressed myself. When I was coming up, teaching wasn’t something people raved about becoming, so I wasn’t always sure it was the course I was going to take. But there would always be signs. People would always steer me in that direction. It became evident that the Universe wanted me to teach. It was my calling.
Tell us about your teaching philosophy.
The first thing is that I need my kids to learn how to be resilient. They face so much adversity in life, and it is important that they know how to rise above it. But it’s a community effort. There are certain systems put in place in order for them to be successful in all areas of their lives. They have the school system, family and the community. But students needs to have an active role in their education and have a seat at the round table when it comes to the discussion about the process. I force them to get to know themselves, to confront global issues and dig deep. Through this, they learn to love themselves and love others.
We often go out in the community and perform. I was surprised to learn that they were convinced that the community did not care for them. But when they’d go out and engage, they saw how much support existed. It created a bridge between them and the community and it got community stakeholders to listen to what they have to say.
As Miami-Dade teacher of the year, you’re at the top of your game. What’s next for you and your students?
I will continue doing what I am doing. I love what I do. I am also working on a non-profit to spread this teaching methodology throughout the district and ultimately the state. I believe a lot of kids can benefit from how how I teach in my classroom. The world is so full of negativity and they react to it because they aren’t taught to know and love themselves. Once they take the step to learn self love, then they can love their fellow man. This is how they can change the world.