This story was originally published in May 2022.
Jahsha Tabron’s passion for English and literature exploded after reading Shakespeare’s “Hamlet” and “Macbeth” in her 11th grade honors English class in the Bronx.
Thirty years later, Tabron – who is Delaware’s Teacher of the Year for 2022 – leads her own English class at Brandywine High School.
Tabron, whose lively and passionate attitude explodes off the screen in a Zoom call, has a dual certification. She primarily teaches special education students, hoping to create an environment of inclusivity, comfort and authenticness, she said.
Her classroom trademark is honesty without belittling, and she says one of her favorite things she’s noticed in her 22 years in the classroom is students stepping up to take leadership roles.
“I remember my 11th grade English teacher, Carmen Mason, introduced us to literature,” said Tabron, who teaches ninth grade English. “I remember reading those two plays and thinking to myself, ‘This is amazing,’ and I think that’s what sparked my love for English.”
Tabron graduated with a degree in elementary and special education from Delaware State University in 2000 and a master’s degree in school leadership and instruction from Wilmington University in 2004.
She’s taught at Brandywine High for all 22 years of her career thus far.
Being chosen as Delaware’s Teacher of the Year by the Department of Education in October has raised her profile, even in the halls of Brandywine High.
“My mom was on Facebook and she screamed, ‘Is this your teacher?’ She was even more excited than me,” said Emmi Quercetti, a student of Tabron. “I thought it was amazing that I was getting taught by someone who is the best teacher in our state. That’s pretty awesome.”
Anthony Drummond, another Tabron student, said that the award brought her closer to a lot of her students, specifically those who might not have been as outgoing in class, like himself.
“I didn’t really talk to anyone at the beginning of the year, and I barely even remembered her name,” he said. “I had English with her the day she won and I congratulated her, and after that is when I really got to know Ms. Tabron.”
Drummond said his favorite thing about her is “she keeps it absolutely straightforward with her students.”
“She won’t lie to you if you need help, and if you have bad grades, she’ll tell you exactly what you need to do to improve them,” he said. “ She’s not a mean teacher at all, and she’s one of the teachers that makes us feel empowered because she is so direct and holds us to high standards.”
Quercetti also loves her no-nonsense teaching style.
“If you’re acting like a clown, she’ll tell you straight up to cut it out,” she said. “I love how when I have questions, she asks me questions to create a dialogue to help me reach an answer, rather than just telling us the answer.”
I teach by discovery,” is how Tabron describes her teaching style and classroom atmosphere.
“I’m never going to tell you the answer, but I might ask you a couple questions to see what piece is missing, and see if I can help you figure that out,” she said. “We underestimate the power in taking kids through a thinking process. We give up too quickly, but if I asked you a series of questions, and then I can compare it to something I know you’re familiar with, I see how kids discover answers.”
Quercetti and her peers, she said, have more to relate to when they’re learning because her classroom provokes discussion, a style of learning that Quercetti says helps Tabron’s students flourish.
“English has been my forte in every stage of my academic life,” said Quercetti, “but this English class is different. It’s much more open.”
Although she has a reading disability, Quercetti said Tabron’s class has helped her reading skills improve immensely.
Tabron’s favorite part about teaching is that every day is different, which keeps her on her toes.
“That’s the nice way of saying it’s a crazy job, but I keep coming back,” she joked.
A youth literature junkie, some of Tabron’s favorite pieces to teach and read herself include Lois Lowry’s “The Giver” and Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet” and “Macbeth.”
“My love for Macbeth hasn’t wavered since I was a kid reading it,” she said, “I absolutely need to see Denzel in the new Macbeth movie.”
Macbeth is relatable on all levels, she said. When she read it in 11th grade, her class explored ambition versus power and what it feels like to be forced into roles that people expect us to assume.
She enjoys how the piece provokes her and her students to analyze their “assumed self” in comparison to who they truly are.
Langston Hughes, a Black author and social activist known for his jazz poetry, tops her list of favorite writers, although her appreciation for his work didn’t come until later in life.
“I started reading him probably in third grade, but it’s not until you’re an adult and you reread it with students that you’re like, ‘I totally missed this,’” she said. “I didn’t even realize exactly what some writing was about, and that’s why I love literature. Every time you read it, you recognize something else.”
Tabron has been married to her husband, Hector, for 17 years. They have daughters in seventh and 10th grade and a son in kindergarten. Their rescue dog, Arrow, a small hound, rounds out the family.
With her youngest child just learning to read and write, Tabron said she fully supports the science of reading and literacy legislation that has flown through the General Assembly.
The bills are crucial, she said, especially at the lower schools. If kids aren’t reading by fifth grade, learning to read gets more and more difficult over time, and reading is the one thing that impacts every area of success in your life, she said.
“Any attention that we can pay to improving access to help with reading, especially at the elementary level is going to have a positive impact when students get to me in high school,” she said.
Tabron loves to read and run in her free time, but she said, “Taking phone calls about my kindergartner’s behavior is my primary hobby right now.”
Dwayne Caldwell, a former colleague, described the keys to Tabron’s success in a letter recommending her as Teacher of the Year to the Department of Education.
He said she lives by a three-step guide in all that she does: “1) Be truthful about what is actually happening; 2) Determine the steps that need to be taken to change; and 3) Hold yourself accountable for taking the steps.”
“This approach has guided all of her work – as a building leader, as a mentor to new teachers, with special needs students, and with me.”
Referring to the first two steps, Tabron said that she’s constantly looking for areas that her classroom, and education in Delaware, can improve.
One of the biggest challenges, she said, is the early identification and need for support because by the time educators and parents figure out that there is an extensive need, schools have already promoted students well into third and fourth grade without intervention.
“As a ninth grade teacher, I’m still catching kids who have significant needs that no one else has noticed,” she said. “If we could streamline that process, and then apply those interventions early on, we really could make some improvements. Sometimes by the time we’re getting into it, it’s too late and it makes it a lot more challenging.”
Tabron said the challenges of virtual learning during the pandemic was one of the roughest times in her career, in terms of being able to connect with her students.
“A lot of students were not comfortable with cameras on so it was really difficult to make connections with students,” she said. “Even though someone might have been in the chat or responded, it wasn’t until we actually met them in person that we were able to connect with the kids.”
However, she said the students definitely saved her a few times by helping her navigate the technology of Zoom and other virtual learning platforms.
Throughout her two decades teaching, Tabron said she’s noticed less community involvement in schools.
“When I first started here, we had really strong community involvement and the landscape of that has changed because, as our economy reflects, there is a need for people to work more,” she said, “so I know that we don’t have as much community involvement as we used to have.”
While that’s frustrating, she’s also noticed that students have taken on more of a leadership role in recent years, something that inspires her and excites her about upcoming classes.
“I am very interested to see how students become leaders again, and how they step up and help the students who I have in here now,” she said. “I think that’ll make all the difference in education moving forward.”
As an example, she pointed to students who started a care closet where they donated and organized goods for other students. The pandemic, Tabron said, made the number of transient families rise and her students saw a need to help.
In the wake of social unrest, her students also helped bring back the Black Student Union.
“We always hear the negative stories,” she said, “but the desire to lead through empathy and compassion is growing among our students.”
Raised in Doylestown, Pennsylvania, Jarek earned a B.A. in journalism and a B.A. in political science from Temple University in 2021. After running CNN’s Michael Smerconish’s YouTube channel, Jarek became a reporter for the Bucks County Herald before joining Delaware LIVE News.
Jarek can be reached by email at [email protected] or by phone at (215) 450-9982. Follow him on Twitter @jarekrutz
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