Educator spotlight: Nafeesah Muhammad

Photo by Taylor Tidwell-Bennett

Photo by Taylor Tidwell-Bennett

By Frank Blount North High

Nafeesah Muhammad is a Language Arts teacher at North High School. Muhammad has been teaching for five years now. She is a serious person. She wants to see her students be successful, and she make sure each of her student know the curriculum, and she knows that not all students learn the same way. 

Muhammad's students say she is a very caring person who puts everyone before herself. She reads your body language all the time. She has a psychology degree and she knows what you're thinking before you have to say it. She has high expectations for her students and it helps. 

What is it like being a teacher at North High School? I am very grateful for the opportunity to learn and grow as a teacher at North High School. The students’ brilliant righteous indignation has made me the teacher that I am today. They are very honest and vocal about their wants and needs, whether it’s educational, social or emotional. Listening to them has been the greatest asset to my teaching career because it helps me understand how young people learn best.  

How did you get into teaching? I majored in psychology and minored in Afro-Studies while in college. That is when I gained a better understanding of how illiteracy perpetuates slavery and traumatic poverty. I also had a professor that lectured on how children of color who attend urban schools need teachers who are psychologists as well. So, I decided to become an English teacher with a psychology degree.

Nafeesah Muhammad sits at her desk at North High on May 15. She has been a teacher at the high school for five years. Photo by Frank Blount

Nafeesah Muhammad sits at her desk at North High on May 15. She has been a teacher at the high school for five years. Photo by Frank Blount

What is your favorite memory as a teacher? This is my fifth year teaching at North High School and every day, every month, every year brings so much joy and laughter. There are way too many beautiful memories to pick just one. 

What do you love about North Minneapolis? I moved to Minneapolis from California 8 years ago and feel completely welcomed by the community. I love that North Minneapolis feels like a small town within a big city. It has its own history and culture and continues to promote excellence among it’s community members. 

Do you have an educator that you look up to? Yes! I look up to my former teacher peers Courtney Bell and Edairra McCalister. We taught at North High School together for three years and watching them teach was nothing short of amazing. They pushed students to be and do their best, by any means necessary. I watched them fight for social justice within and outside of the classroom, which I believe every teacher should do. Although they no longer teach here, they continue to carry North High School students in their teaching spirits.  

What make you passionate about this work? Malcolm X once stated, "Because we are forced to live in the poorest sections of the city, we attend inferior schools. We have inferior teachers and we get an inferior education. The white power structure downtown makes certain that by the time our people do graduate, we won't be equipped or qualified for anything but the dirtiest, heaviest, poorest-paying jobs. Jobs that no one else wants." He said this in 1963, and in 2019 it remains to be true. This fact makes me passionate about providing all young people with an adequate education, regardless of who they are or what neighborhood they come from. I try my best to make all students aware that the public school system was set up to fail them so that they know how powerful getting an education can be. They have to know that studying and thinking critically about the world they live in is a revolutionary act. 

What is your teaching style? Culturally responsive, period. Whenever people ask me what subject I teach, I tell them I teach everything. I teach whatever it is my students need and/or want to know academically, historically, culturally, socially, and emotionally. I am a history teacher, an English teacher, a reading teacher, a psychology teacher, and a science teacher. I am motivational speaker teacher. I also try my best to set supportive high academic and behavior expectations. Young people need rules and boundaries, but they also need to be heard, loved and understood. So, I try to create a sense of balance within our classroom community. 

How does teaching affect your life at home? Being a mother and a teacher is a gift and a curse. Since I was a mother before I was a teacher, my own children have taught me how to be considerate and compassionate toward the needs of young people. In this way, it has been a gift. It is curse because I must share my love with a hundred or more young people every day. Giving love takes time and energy, and there are times where I feel as if I have nothing left for my home. I, therefore, try to include my children in my teaching life as much as possible.  When my son was really young he would call me "Ms. Muhammad" instead of mommy. I am very grateful for my children's support and understanding.

North News launched this column to highlight the work of Northside educators doing innovative and socially just work in our North Minneapolis classrooms. If you have a recommendation for our upcoming spotlights, email ciriens@pillsburyunited.org. Please include contact information for the person you are recommending. 

Kenzie O'Keefe