Quanisha Shawanibin grew up on the Eastside of Detroit. “I was born to a teenage mother and oftentimes, it feels as if we grew up together,” she says. “I am the oldest of five girls who are all women now and have given me a host of nieces and nephews to love and spoil.”
The family moved often, which means she attended several schools before she received her high school diploma from Southfield High School. As a first-generation college student, she says she became a lifelong caretaker and provider for her family and community in any way she can.
During her freshman year at Eastern Michigan University, she met her future husband, William, and 15 years later, they live in Ypsilanti with their 10-month-old son, Jackson, and an “extremely temperamental” dog, Brody.
When she’s not working or doing community service, Shawanibin enjoys eating her husband’s “amazing” cooking, reading to and playing with their son and dog, and playing tabletop games with friends. She’s a passionate reader who finds escape and reprieve in a good book, especially a mystery or thriller.
“Every day I tell my students that books take you places,” she says, “so I travel a lot, all from the comfort of my couch.”
Principal Eddie Latour nominated Shawanibin because of the way she is able to connect with students and families, and create a safe environment at school.
“Students and families—even extended family members—will reach out to her for some kind of consultation whether it’s for them personally or for their children,” says Latour. “Not only is she instructional sound, but relationally, she’s amazing. And that’s exactly what our students need. Kids all feel safe in that room.”
When you recall your first year of teaching, what memories stand out?
I will always remember that I had a girl in my class and I couldn’t get her to talk to me. She refused to introduce herself and as far as I know, she didn’t speak much to the other students either. I had been told by a previous teacher that she was shy and took time to warm up to new people. I remember going the whole day trying to win her trust and get her to open up. I was determined! Dismissal was approaching and I was feeling pretty disappointed that I didn’t crack her shell. On her way out, she handed me a sticky note that said “best first day ever”. I still have the sticky note! It was weeks before she actually spoke to me in more than one word at a time.
What advice would you give to a first-year teacher?
Building strong relationships with your students is the only way you will survive the year and look back on it fondly. Relationships are the best classroom management strategy and teaching tool you will ever get for free!
What inspired you to become a teacher?
I always knew I would be a teacher for as long as I could remember. My sisters and I reminisce on how I would force them to play “school” with me against their will. I’ve always loved school because of the routine and predictability it provided that my young life sometimes lacked. I wanted to help make school that safe space for kids like me.
In your three years with AAPS, what’s the most important thing you’ve learned about teaching? About learning?
I think one of the most important things I’ve learned is how imperative it is to invest in your relationships with your peers and coworkers as well. Our jobs are so hard and almost impossible if you feel alone doing it. I’ve learned that having a supportive and loving team can make all the difference at the end of a difficult day.
What was always written on your report card in grade school?
“Quanisha is quite bossy.”
Describe an average workday.
My coworker and teammate and I always joke that “there are no normal days.” I feel as if every single day is so unique. On average, our days are filled with laughter, tough conversations, multiple reset moments, and learning from each other.
What’s the happiest part of your day?
The best and happiest part of my school day is always reading groups. I love to surprise them with the books I chose for them and I always look forward to their hilarious book reviews.
What’s the best career decision you’ve made?
The best career decision that I ever made was sticking it out after the pandemic. Virtual teaching was difficult and sometimes discouraging, but I am so happy I stuck it out.
What’s one of your hidden talents?
One of my hidden talents is sewing. I always say I was a seamstress or fashion designer in a past life.
If you could spend the day with anyone on the planet, who would it be?
Beyonce! She is so inspiring and works so hard. I would love to hang out with her.
What makes teaching at Mitchell unique?
Being an IB school definitely sets us apart from any school I’ve been a part of. But more than that, our diverse community and how I’ve met students and families that are all so different from each other.
How do you keep students engaged?
I keep my students engaged by having fun with them on our learning journey. In third grade, we sometimes have to do hard things. Doing hard things is so much easier when you feel safe and like the learning community is fun! We make jokes with each other, we play games together, and the IB program is cool in a way that it leaves so much space for students to choose what and how they learn.
How do you show school spirit?
I show school spirit by being active in our school community. Getting to know my coworkers, the families, and the students of the school. I try to show up to all of our social and learning events and be a supporting member of the school community.
What is the most rewarding part of teaching?
The most rewarding part is the drawings, the letters, and the artwork! My students are so expressive in their love and joy to be a part of our classroom family. I love being rewarded with their individual acts of love and appreciation. Being nominated for this award is also a very rewarding experience.
What do you wish everyone realized about the work of a teacher?
I wish everyone realized how amazing it is even through its difficulty. I wish they realized the kinds of connections you can make and the lifelong bonds that can come from teaching.
Describe your perfect meal. Who would be at the table, where would you be, and what would you be eating?
My perfect meal would be a nice steak and mashed potato dinner on a rooftop with my husband. Maybe in New York or Paris!
Apps you can’t live without:
The Amazon shopping app and Kindle reading app.
If you could know the definitive answer to any one question, what would that question be?
How can we make the education system an equitable and more positive experience for all people, especially those disenfranchised?
What’s most exciting about your professional life right now? Your personal life?
I think this nomination is easily the most exciting thing about my professional life right now. Personally, watching my son grow into a toddler is the most exciting thing!
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