It was a typical Monday in Leigha Bishop’s Pre-K class.
“I was rocking a messy bun, and [my student] came to school with the cutest updo that I HAD to try,” Leigha tells Babble. “I told her, ‘Your hair is sooooo cute! Don’t be mad at me when I come to school tomorrow with my hair JUST like that!’”
Leigha said the student didn’t believe her. But Leigha, a teacher of seven years at Lakeview Elementary in Fort Bend county, Texas, decided to keep her promise. So that evening, she went home and did her hair just like her young student’s.
“With my student’s hair being similar to mine, I thought what better way to show her how she inspired me to feel beautiful with that same braided updo hairstyle?”
Her student’s reaction? Well, let’s just say a picture truly is worth a thousand words.
Leigha’s gesture was such a simple act, yet the impact can be far-reaching.
“I am a teacher who sees my students for whole people and not just another body sitting in my classroom,” Leigha remarked. “I am a woman of color pouring positive light into young girls of all races and ethnicities.”
For Leigha, teaching also goes beyond just being a positive role model and helping children learn in order to move on to the next grade.
“Whether 1st grade, 4th grade or Pre-K, being taught to love yourself and being taught you are whole is VITAL!” she said. “When mental health is a priority within our schools, all other things will fall in place. For example, a student knows that Ms. Bishop genuinely cares, so when they feel as if they are failing in something, they are more willing to open up and seek help from Ms. Bishop … [so] while I am teaching them content needed to grow and move on to the next grade level, I am also teaching them to love themselves.”
As a mother of four black children, Leigha’s words resonate with me. There have been many times when my children have been “othered” or treated as less-than. There were overt acts of racism, such as when a woman called my toddler son a “cute little thug,” or when a young white male hurled the n-word at my two oldest daughters. But there were also more subtle messages. For example, there is a lack of dolls, action figures, books, and movies that feature brown-haired, brown-eyed children with black, curly hair. This alone conveys to children like mine that they aren’t good enough to be represented. There are also micro-aggressions, such as the elective teacher who mispronounced my daughter’s name even though my daughter corrected the teacher multiple times and had been in the teacher’s class for three years.
Any act of affirmation, of uplifting my children, can be a “make-or-break” difference in their lives. They want, just as all children do, to feel worthy, appreciated, respected, wanted, and represented.
Leigha’s decision to go into her classroom with a hairstyle that matched her student’s sent a powerful message — that the student mattered, that she is beautiful, and that she is worthy of recognition.
Leigha told Babble that little black girls need to know that they are important, too.
“They have a voice to be heard. They have a say that can be told. They have a heart that can be loved and respected.”
We couldn’t agree more.