Instructor, mental health specialist, coach, dietician, father, brother: these are a handful of hats secondary school teacher Muneer Khalid (M.A. ’15) wears each day at Scarlett Middle School in Ann Arbor. Being from a family of teachers inspired Khalid to pursue a career in education. After double-majoring in English and psychology at the University of Michigan, he completed a teaching certificate and master’s degree at the School of Education. Khalid attributes his passion for the subjects he teaches to his undergraduate literature courses and his research experience in social psychology.
As a graduate student, Khalid remembers starting his days at 6 a.m., arriving at his placement school, spending a full day in the classroom, and then heading back to Ann Arbor for classes and homework. The arduous pace of U-M’s highly ranked program allows students to earn their teaching certificate and master’s in one year. For many, the short time to completion is attractive, but it also makes the program extremely challenging, since graduate students are simultaneously teaching and taking a full course load. Khalid is grateful for his Rackham Merit Fellowship, which allowed him to complete the rigorous program without having to work a part-time job.
What stuck out to Khalid about U-M’s program was its emphasis on fostering student-teacher relationships, even more so than curriculum development.
“There was a focus on concepts, but there was also a focus on the development of the students in the class,” Khalid explains. “That helps you understand that you are a part of something larger.”
Khalid has carried this mindset into his classroom at Scarlett Middle School, where he instructs an English literature course and a social-emotional course titled Strategies for Success. In his classes, he helps students navigate culturally difficult subject matter and build an understanding of social and emotional intelligence. Since junior high school can be a nebulous period of identity formation for many students, Khalid stresses the importance of teaching them about concepts like growth mindset and what it means to have empathy.
There and Back Again
Before coming to Scarlett Middle School, Khalid spent some time teaching overseas in Dubai. This experience significantly shaped his teaching practice.
“It was a very awesome, but also eye-opening experience,” Khalid says. “What you think is education may be something completely different in another country.”
Learning new cultural and societal norms heightened Khalid’s patience in the classroom, a skill he still exercises frequently with his junior high students.
While Khalid enjoyed teaching in Dubai, he eventually returned to Michigan to have greater impact on his home communities.
“I’m all about learning about different cultures,” Khalid explains. “But I knew that the group of students I wanted to work with was a group that has historically been the minority and has historically been in cycles of poverty in America.”
Bringing the Lessons Home
An African American native of Detroit, Khalid remembers feeling like a “party of one” as an undergraduate at the University of Michigan. He hopes to inspire students of color and students of low socioeconomic status to pursue a college career.
“I’m not saying that college is the only way to lift yourself out of historical cycles of poverty, but I think it can be a very important one,” he says.
Too often, Khalid regrets, students of color dismiss education because they fail to see themselves reflected in the system. Khalid hopes that his presence will change that stigma.
Because of Scarlett Middle School’s status as a Title I school—over half of its students qualify for free or reduced lunch—and its notable diversity, with somewhere near 100 home languages throughout the student population, the school seems like the perfect place for Khalid to pursue his goals.
“I embrace the diversity; I love it,” Khalid states. “As someone who came from a more traditional high school, as a minority, it’s great to see all these different cultures, all these different peoples with different ethnicities and backgrounds. That’s something I wish I had had a little bit more of.”
In the long term, Khalid hopes to enter the mental health field to continue helping young people develop their identities and sense of self-worth. He feels that teaching junior high school has given him important insight into the adolescent population, and he has considered pursing a joint doctorate in psychology and social work. For now, however, Khalid considers teaching at Scarlett Middle School to be an incredibly rewarding experience.
“Sometimes,” Khalid reflects, “you learn a lot more from your students than your students will learn from you.”