By GARY LEE
Showing Up v. – (1) Creating value for our shared communities. (2) Rewarding created value with our patronage.
The Oklahoma Eagle is excited to publish a new edition of its 918 Series, a brief Q&A with Tulsans who share their passions and invest in our shared communities. As the title suggests, the series will feature the responses to a mix of nine entertaining and thoughtful questions and one highly person/serious question, all within eight minutes. This week we feature a conversation between The Oklahoma Eagle Editor, Gary Lee, and Tulsa Public Schools (TPS) educator Cortni McGilbra. She is a 2010 Booker T. Washington High School graduate, a former pre-K teacher, current Program Director for Early Childhood Education at TPS, co-founder of Facebook Page Tulsa Black Educators, and a single mom.
1. Who inspired you to go into education?
My son, Courtland. He was diagnosed with a sensory processing disorder at two or three, so I knew that school would be difficult for him. I also knew that I wanted him to have a specific type of teacher, so I figured if I wanted this for my son, there could other moms struggling with the same kind of issue. I concluded that it was a good idea to become the kind of teacher kids like him needed.
2. What Tulsa personality did you look up to as a mentor growing up?
Three people come to mind. First, my fourth and fifth-grade teachers, Ms. L. Sutton and Ms. Tasha Johnson. I struggled in school, and I always remember both of them pushing me to my fullest potential.
When I started teaching, Ms. Karesha Solomon was the one who gave me the motivation and confidence that I could be successful in education. They were all at Hawthorne Elementary.
3. What role should parents play in their kids’ education?
They should play a 50/50 role, if not more.
I believe learning starts at home, and that creates a foundation. It’s harder for students to be successful when they don’t have that parent engagement
4. Do you believe it takes a village to raise a child, and if so, what village is helping raise your son?
I have a huge village, and I would not be successful as a parent or a professional without it. When my son was little, I was still in school, so my family took him to daycare and picked him up. Even now, if my son gets sick, I know I can call on my grandparents. With my son being in the special education department, she can help me find resources. My boss has been helpful to me just in giving me mom tips. And his teachers have been amazing, too! I definitely could not do it by myself, at all.
5. Why did you start the Tulsa Black Educators’ Facebook Page, and what purpose does it serve?
I didn’t know a lot of Black teachers when I became a teacher. I knew that teaching could be a very stressful job, and there is so much to accomplish
within the community and classroom. So, a fellow teacher and I decided to create the page as a safe and relaxing place for teachers who look like us to come together. We also want the group to give back to the community and do things outside our classrooms.
6. What’s your favorite hangout when you’re not working?
My mom’s house. I know I can go there and get a meal, a free babysitter, relax, or nap. So that’s where I go if I have a little extra time.
7. As an educator, do you think social media is helpful to school kids or a distraction?
It goes back to the subject of parent engagement. If parents are aware of what their kids are doing, I don’t see anything wrong with it. But you have those other kids on the Internet unsupervised and so on. So, it could be a good or a bad thing. But my son doesn’t have it, and he won’t for a while.
8. What advice would you give to your 12-year-old self?
Just be true to yourself. Love yourself for who you are and put yourself first. I dealt with a lot of bullying and not feeling accepted in middle school so just remember that those people’s opinions don’t matter at the end of the day.
9. What one book should every North Tulsa school kid should read?
Elaine Welteroth’s “I Am Enough.” It’s especially great for Pre-K kids.
The message it instills — that you are enough, that you are worthy at a young age is something I think is important.
What’s your broader life journey, and how does being an educator fit into that?
I enjoy giving back and making people happy, so whatever I am doing, I always ask myself, is this helping someone else or making someone better? Education plays a role in that because, as a teacher, I could give back to the kids and the community and help the parents.
With my current role, I am starting to get more into family engagement. It aligns with my overall goal. I would like to have an early childhood education center because I don’t feel like parents know the importance of early childhood education and how to set up their kids for success later in life. I think I’m on the road to get there. I am headed in the right direction, and I’m happy about where I am.