For this last week of the YS.com celebration month, I will be featuring my very first features on from And So She Writes / YS.com’s Phenomenal You series. The PY series was the very first series I had ever put together for a blog. It’s geared to sharing the beauty of self-love and the process of obtaining it, maintaining it, and simply owning ones flaws and imperfections.
Our first feature is Ms. Tiye Cort. Check out Tiye’s first feature from 2012 here!
Describe your self-esteem level. Are you a Beyonce- Flawless? Are you struggling with your sense of worth? Or are you a little in-between?
I have pretty high self-esteem. I have come to realize that it takes a lot to put me down, and I can accredit that to my faith in God and my upbringing. I know that I am capable of achieving all that I desire, because I know that I am beautiful, resourceful, intelligent, and extremely driven. I wouldn’t say that I am so confident that it is cockiness, but I know my potential, and I know that I can always achieve more. Right now, much of that revolves around academia. I remember the feeling of failure that I felt when I dropped out of my first grad school program (Master of Arts in Economics), and I learned to turn that feeling of defeat into motivation to do better, do more, and to do something that I loved, enjoyed, and could use for the rest of my life. I found my niche in education, and it has been a real confidence booster to find that what comes as almost second-nature to me is seen as a real talent- being able to influence and lead in my field.
Do you have any insecurities you have yet to come to terms with?
As confident as I am, I often struggle with the idea that I am prepared and ready to really take on the next steps in life- particularly in my career and relationships. I’m thankful to have the wisdom of my parents, older sisters, and close friends to keep things in perspective. I have had so much fun over the past few years making a lot of silly decisions and really not taking myself too seriously, and it is so weird to slowly move into this stage of “settling down” and “adulthood”. I was in two weddings this past summer, some of my best friends have kids, and I just started paying some of my own bills. I am 25 and currently single, and although I have never felt pressured to be in a serious relationship, I know that my relationship goals can be viewed as a challenge in conjunction with my career goals. I am currently an English teacher at a small town New England boarding school, which takes a major toll on my free time and social life. I know that this position is essential to my goals of pursuing a Ph.D., and moving back to a city and building a life for myself through my writing and teaching once my education is complete. I also know that with the current trajectory that I am on, I may be the “late bloomer” in my group of friends, since I may hop on the marriage boat a few years later than they, but I’m totally OK with that.
If there is one thing I have learned to be secure with, it is in taking care of myself first. I have goals and relatively high expectations, and as a single person, I can be a bit selfish and consider my own benefit before those of others because I have no unconditional commitment or responsibility to anyone else right now. I know that sounds a bit cold, but focusing on my own education and career now will make me better in the long run. I will be able to move on to whatever the next phase of my life is with no regrets, questions of “what if”, or “shoulda, coulda, woulda”s. I have learned that with a lot of things in life you won’t necessarily feel ready or prepared, but I have also learned to live with no regrets, to take advantage of awesome opportunities, learn from my mistakes, and use all of that in my story to help others.
As a teacher, how do you try to instill self-confidence into your students? Do you find this task to be a duty for you, or the duty for the parents?
I try to instill self-confidence into my students by helping them see their own potential, and this is usually more effective when they are learning from their own mistakes. I think this is definitely a primary duty of parents, but in the boarding school environment, I AM a parent. Being a teacher in this environment goes far above and beyond building students’ confidence in their academic skills. Yes, once a kid fails a quiz or does horribly on an essay, I can show them everything they did wrong, but those types of lessons rarely go past the classroom. Even as a lacrosse coach, I can encourage and support my girls during practice and on the field, but sometimes it is hard to make that connection between competition and teamwork and individual self-confidence. I’ve had to discuss issues around sex, drugs, and even rock and roll, and we are only halfway through the school year! My freshmen girls, especially, come to me with all of their questions and problems regarding boys, friends, and handling tough situations. It is my job to be their role model while they are on campus, and it is something that I can NEVER forget while I’m here.
I remember during my second week of work here, I had to address a sexual situation that took place between one of my female students and a boy. I had NO idea how to approach the situation. I felt like I was having a conversation with my own teenage daughter, and I was so nervous and unsure of her thoughts and how I should respond to her. I heard her side of the story, and instead of doing what I wanted to do (yell, and let her know how deeply disappointed I was in her), I had to remind her of her worth. I had to remind her of the fact that she was only 15, and that she had plenty of time ahead of her to get to know, and first become friends with, other boys. I had to remind her that she jeopardized her scholarship and enrollment at a great school by being caught in a compromising position. I had to also remind her of the circle of resources that she had- her mother, tons of concerned relatives, and myself- who were willing to talk to her about anything that she had questions or concerns about.
I am not shy or secretive about my past. I remember being just as vulnerable, innocent, and foolish as my current high schoolers are. It took me a while to realize that the world was, indeed, my oyster, but I had to actually think things through and work hard to achieve any and everything I wanted in life. A huge part of my role in their self-confidence is not coming across as judgmental. I have my own biases and opinions, but I want my students to gain knowledge and form their own beliefs around things.
Self-confidence is everything. No matter how you were raised, what you have experienced, or who told you different, if you don’t believe in yourself and the power you have to make things happen, you will never reach your pinnacle. My students think that I am an English expert at this point, and although I just started teaching the subject this year, I am not very fond of reading, and I have realized that I really hate grading essays, I have taught them that one of the keys to confidence is believing in yourself. Don’t settle for the “B” because you can get an “A”. Believe that the bare minimum is not enough, so that being a “C-student” becomes a reputation that you work to refute. I encourage my students to go above and beyond because I remember when I was only willing to do what was necessary to get by, and although I turned out alright, it took way more work in the long run than would have been necessary had I come to my senses earlier!
Do you see society influencing your female student’s sense of self-worth?
I definitely see society influencing my female students’ sense of self-worth. I see it in the short skirts/dresses they wear to class. I see it in the music they choose to listen to. I see it in the way they interact with male students. I know that many of my girls have very strong opinions about society, but they definitely take some cues from mass media. The influence that society has on my male students influences the girls as well. Many of the boys express their interest in these “bombshell” girls, and of course, many of the high school girls are far from that ideal look/build/mentality. A recent school event reminded me of the mainstreaming of “twerking”, and with the frequency that Nick Minaj’s “Anaconda” was played, I know for a fact that the size of butts, the fit of clothes, and current trends and styles have a major effect on how my female students view themselves.
Body image is everything in high school. You don’t want to be too fat or too skinny, and even though adults are telling you to be comfortable in our own skin and embrace our differences, it is a constant personal battle. As the one and only black female faculty member on campus, I feel that the way I present myself, particularly to my black female students, is essential. How I dress, talk, react, and present myself overall is constantly watched. I am influenced by society- it’s why I wear skinny pants and pencil skirts to work, why I feel comfortable rocking some of the more work-appropriate latest trends in the classroom, and why I can sing along to the latest Drake album. My influencers are reflected to my students, so they are indirectly influenced by society through me. Woo!
My female students notice everything about me from when I change my hairstyles, colors that look good against my dark skin, the cut of a dress, and little jokes I make in class. They have their own definitions of what’s cool and I have mine. Both are influenced by society, but the greatest connections are made when the two come together and we see eye-to-eye. Size, skin color, height, and weight don’t really matter as much as health, confidence, and happiness.
What words of advice would you share with your 16-year-old self, or even your students, about self-esteem, self-worth, and of course, surviving these transformational years?
- I would tell my 16-year old self to be prepared for the unthinkable. I never imagined that I would go to grad school (twice), that I would become a teacher, that I would be getting ready to relocate to the south, or that I would ever have decided to loc my hair. I listen to my students’ aspirations for their futures, and I remember feeling so confident that I wanted to make tons of money and live extremely comfortably, but not really having a clear vision of the journey to get there. I see that immaturity in many of my students, so I would give them the same advice.
- Your mind will change, you’ll date people you never thought you would, you’ll work jobs that you didn’t even know existed, and you may end up in a few sticky situations, but life is an awesome adventure if you’re smart about navigating through it. Find a focus, a passion, a hobby, and make it profitable. Find role models and mentors who will support you every step of the way with encouragement, a shoulder to cry on, a wakeup call, and letters of recommendation when necessary.
- This one is for my students: Keep your focus. If there are goals you plan to achieve, never allow other irrelevant things or people to get in the way. Boys will come and go, friends will come and go, but to allow those people to hinder you from achieving your dreams is something you will always regret.
- Rely on faith when there is no way that anything can go wrong, and when there is no way that anything can go right. I believe calling on God in times of trouble are most purposeful when you have called on him to give thanks. Things can always be worse. Sure, maybe I did not get into the school I wanted, get the dream job I applied for, or get the guy, but I’m alive and I still have the ability and sanity to move on to something bigger and better for myself.
- Don’t ever take yourself too seriously. There is always someone who is doing bigger and better things than you. Instead of hating on them, work to make yourself the best in your own right.
- Basically, I would tell my 16-year-old self to chill. There were times when I stressed so much about the little uncontrollable things instead of appreciating the bigger picture. It took me longer than necessary to realize my blessings, and to make them into blessings for others.