Meet Dr. Farima Pour-Khorshid

Dr. Farima Pour-Khorshid joined the School of Education’s Teacher Education Department in fall 2018. We recently talked with Dr. Pour-Khorshid about what brought her to the field of education. Check out our conversation below.

Where did you grow up?

I was born and raised in Hayward, California. My K-12 schooling unfolded in the Hayward Unified School District and I graduated from Tennyson High School in 2002. I then went on to graduate from community college at Chabot College in Hayward and transferred to Cal State East Bay in Hayward where I graduated with my Bachelors degree, CA teaching credential and Masters of Science in Liberal Arts. I committed to staying and serving in my own community for over a decade so I’ve actually grown up as a child and as an adult in Hayward.

What inspired you to become an educator?

I accidentally fell into the teaching profession since I initially wanted to apply to be in the ROP program for cosmetology because I knew I was talented in that area. I also knew my academic grades were terrible so I didn’t believe college was even an option for me. However, my mom forced me to apply to the PUENTE Ethnic Studies program when I started high school since my sister and cousin were in it, too. I was accepted, but I rebelled and struggled a lot throughout my first three years of high school because I was cutting school, getting into fights, failing classes and at one point I didn’t think I would even graduate. I had a lot of long-term substitutes who had no idea how to teach the subject they were assigned and who I knew were really only there for crowd control purposes. While I did have a few great teachers, I knew something was wrong with my high school experience. Too many of my friends were eventually kicked out or had dropped out which led to an array of heartbreaking outcomes for them, and I held a lot of resentment towards the school, district and education system.

However, ethnic studies, in many ways, ended up being my saving grace. It was through the PUENTE Program that I met Dr. Lettie Ramirez from CSUEB because she was recruiting high school seniors to apply to a university partnership program. At the time, there was a severe shortage of bilingual teachers in California and that grant could support students like me through a teacher pipeline model. She assured me that my high school grades didn’t matter and that I had a chance to start over in community college.

Meeting her changed my life. Somehow, she convinced me that I was not only capable of becoming a bilingual teacher but that I was also desperately needed in the profession. Just like that, my multicultural and bilingual background, which for most of my life had triggered deep identity struggles throughout my schooling experience, were suddenly assets that would help me garner funding and support for college.

Through this program I began volunteering in schools within my neighborhood. I started to understand how critical it was to serve in my own community by becoming an advocate for students like me; I was determined to become the kind of teacher I always wished I could’ve had, unapologetically utilizing all of my complex multicultural and Bay Area swag that I embody.

Becoming an educator became my life’s purpose and the belief that I could become an agent of change and potentially impact the lives of students and families in my community made me feel a sense of empowerment I had never felt before.

In essence, I became a teacher to heal my inner child and student by striving to embody the love, patience and compassion for my most challenging students that I needed so badly when I was growing up.

What is one thing you are currently working on that excites you?

One of the many roles I play within Teachers 4 Social Justice (T4SJ) is that I serve as a co-facilitator and co-founder of the first racial affinity group within the organization named H.E.L.L.A. Educators of Color. The group’s title came out of a conversation regarding how the term hella proclaims an identity and sense of belonging to the Bay Area and yet, in professional spaces the word can simultaneously be perceived as unprofessional. I felt that it would be fitting to center our linguistic capital and Bay Area cultural ties by reclaiming the word for our group.

H.E.L.L.A. is the acronym for the group’s ideological and pedagogical commitments to the following learning tenets: Healing, Empowerment, Love, Liberation and Action. Considering that only 17 percent of the teaching profession identify as teachers of Color, these stats make the name of our group ironic, at times depressing but inspiring all at the same time. There are not “hella” teachers of Color in the quantifiable sense but there absolutely are H.E.L.L.A. teachers of Color when it comes to the political stances that we take in and out of the classroom. H.E.L.L.A. educators of Color was conceptualized to represent people of Color in the field of education who do not ascribe to the dominant culture and who actively resist colonial, neoliberal and White supremacist ideologies that are embedded in the policies, pedagogies and practices paraded as commonsensical approaches to improving education. The educators of Color who believe that true education should aim toward self-actualization, determination and world change. The ones who believe that their own learning and development should not be sanitized, standardized or corporatized professional development but instead, a kind of humanizing development centered in Healing, Empowerment, Love, Liberation, and Action.

I believe that we, and educators like us, are the unicorns of the profession. We engage in a politic of radical teacher learning because like Dr. Angela Davis, we understand that “radical simply means grasping things at the root.” These roots, both literally and symbolically, are important to consider: the actual origin and cause of a particular struggle, as well as the symbolic part of a seed’s development that functions to anchor and support growth and life. In H.E.L.L.A. we center our stories- our beautiful, painful, complex testimonios, dreams, lessons and action plans. We center our struggles, across the intersections of oppression, in order to collectively and critically examine what these roots are and in turn, become rooted by one another. So in essence, my research has been and continues to be “me-search.” My research is not objective, I believe that it is my responsibility to use my knowledge about, and experience with, navigating structural violence through schooling and the larger society, to inform my purpose as an educator, community engaged researcher, emerging scholar and grassroots organizer committed to healing justice.

What’s something you know now that you wish you had known before you started teaching?

I wish I knew that there was a social justice movement in education that was rooted in anticolonial, anticapitalist and antiracist education. I also wish I would’ve known that within these movements and networks of like-minded educators, I could find support to help me navigate my mental health struggles and trauma through healing justice organizing. This is important because back then and even now, there was rarely time or space created for people of Color to feel human within education institutions. Teaching can feel so isolating when you’re working in schools that don’t center your humanity or the humanity of your students and community. The moment that kids who look like you are being referred to more often as red “far below basic” bars in standardized data graphs, or as “little assholes” in the school lunchroom, for example, you start to feel like you’ve entered into the wrong profession and suddenly the heart that you came into the classroom with feels heavier on a daily basis. This pain gets compounded when you build close relationships with your students and begin to realize all that they’re carrying with them to school and how it is both invisibilized and disregarded within those data graphs and lunchrooms.

As a teacher of Color I often felt like I was expected to be “professional,” to produce outcomes and to operate through what Ginwright refers to as “transactional relationships” based on our professional title(s) rather than through my humanity. I was expected to conform, to be desensitized to the ways in which the education system inequitably supports, measures, sorts and pathologizes marginalized students and educators of all ages. I was expected to not only know how to navigate students’ trauma, as well as my own, with no resources or support to do so, but to just meet deadlines. I felt like emotional intelligence was not considered as “rigorous” as traditional cognitive forms of intelligence and these notions are colonial in nature. What I have learned from those experiences is that you may be just one teacher committed to humanizing pedagogies at your school but you are actually part of a larger liberatory struggle that began before you were even born. I wish I would have known about grassroots teacher organizations committed to education for liberation like the Teachers 4 Social Justice, the People’s Education Movement and the Education for Liberation Network, to name a few that I am now part of.

Ultimately, my own struggle(s) led me to seek out alternative spaces to support me intellectually, pedagogically and spiritually but I hope to show other teachers that they have access to this kind of support too.

What is one of your favorite teaching moments?

There are so many moments that come to mind so this is a difficult question! One of the many favorite teaching moments I can think of was about three years ago when one of my kindergarten students surprised me with his writing, talent, leadership skills and swag. To give some context, this student was brilliant but often reprimanded on the playground and had a hard time staying focused on tasks because he had so much energy and he loved having fun with his friends. One day as all of the students were writing in their journals, he asked if he could use blank paper instead of lined paper and if he could sit by himself at my table so that he could “write out loud”. I said yes and I later noticed him bobbing his head and singing as he sat writing. About ten minutes later, he had a group of students surrounding him as he was teaching them the lyrics to a popular song he really liked on the radio. When I came closer, I noticed the blank page filled with phonetically spelled words written in beautiful kindergarten handwriting. The students wanted to learn the song and began trying to read it as they danced and sang along with him. Here is a snippet of that day which easily shows why it was one of my favorite moments.