Hamline News

A Teaching Star Shines for Equity


Minnesota’s Teacher of the Year for 2019 is Jessica Davis MAT ‘06, a math teacher at South Saint Paul Secondary School. With that honor, Davis joins School of Education graduates Abdul Wright MAEd ’16 and Amy Hewett-Olatunde MAEd ’02, EdD ’15 and many other Hamline alumni who have been finalists for Minnesota Teacher of the Year.

In three of the last five years, the Teacher of the Year award, which is presented by Education Minnesota, has gone to a Hamline graduate.

Davis had planned to pursue a career in medicine but changed her mind after working in an academic institution. That experience awakened a desire to teach.

She decided to attend the Master of Arts in Teaching (MAT) program at Hamline University because it offered a path toward her career goal that fit her schedule as a working professional.

“I could continue working during the day and pursue my education in the evening,” she said.

Beyond the helpful schedule, Hamline’s program provided practical advice for a career in teaching and moved Davis toward her career goal. She was especially impacted by professors who encouraged the teachers in training to investigate their own perspectives and how their views would affect the students in their classrooms.

Davis took that learning to heart and applies it daily as she works to increase equity and inclusion in her school. In addition to teaching, Davis advises students of color and LGBTQIA+ students to develop affinity groups and advocate for themselves. The groups she works with recently won the right to wear identifying stoles during the graduation ceremony.

Davis believes an affinity group is an important tool for advancing equity in schools.

She said, “It is a space for students to feel comfortable, and when they are comfortable they can communicate more effectively and learn from one another.”

Additionally, affinity groups empower students. Davis attributed the positive changes in her own school to the work of the students.

“I can express myself and make some progress here and there, but when students show up and put themselves out there, the community pays attention,” she said.

As the Minnesota Teacher of the Year, Davis now has a larger platform for her equity and diversity inclusion work and she intends to use it.

“I feel strongly that advancing equity is a responsibility that falls on everyone who recognizes the issue,” she said.

She looks forward to speaking to groups and collaborating with schools to increase the visibility of students.

“I am very much looking forward to partnering with other organizations, mentors, and educators in how we can best address racial issues, stereotypes and biases and increase the visibility of our students in leadership roles.”

Closer to home, Davis hopes to build an infrastructure that supports equity and inclusion in the form of an intercultural learning center. She believes such a center would fuel a proactive approach to inclusion and would embed the equity conversation in all of the work the school does.

“Without infrastructure, our efforts are only as strong as the specific individuals who are performing them,” Davis said. “I want to help build a legacy of equity work in South St. Paul that is there long after I’m gone.”

When asked what advice she’d give future teachers, Davis offered encouragement.

“What we do as teachers matters – even in the days when it feels like we are less than effective,” she said.

She also reminded educators to remain centered on students.

“We never know how we impact each other’s lives. As teachers, we have the ability to impact not only our students’ lives and those influences ripple through time in the lives of everyone that our students engage with. That’s a pretty heavy responsibility, but incredibly satisfying. I know that I have found my purpose in life and am so honored to be recognized in this noble profession.”

Written by staff