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Member Spotlight

Ashanti Rankin: Helping Students to Understand Themselves

Ashanti Rankin, a middle school paraprofessional in New Jersey, feels a public-school setting is where he can make the biggest difference, for his students and his community.
Ashanti Rankin is a middle school paraprofessional in New Jersey
Published: 06/18/2020

I always wanted to be in education, but I didn’t think I could do the great work of the people who had taught me.

I’m in an intervention program called RISE which supports students who struggle with behavioral challenges.

I tell my students: ‘I’m not the ideal example, I’m the real example.’ I was that one student who asked a lot of questions and was a little rebellious. Or, I needed more time to figure out what the teacher was talking about.

What I do in the classroom is to allow my students to become themselves. We work on a lot of goal setting and restorative practices to help them understand themselves better. I’m thankful they have this class because if they didn’t, they may not be in school.

This is why this work is important to me. When I first started as a paraprofessional, I didn’t know it was called the school-to-prison pipeline, but I knew the results.

In the public-school setting is where I feel I can make a difference—and not just because I’m a black male for black students. I make a difference for all the students in my school. Many students who are not of color may not experience a black male other than what they see on TV. I am always very cognizant.

When I was growing up, I was always asked about sports. No one ever asked how I was doing academically. We must be intentional and strategic with how we engage students.

When I first got involved with my union, I was hungry to see what was possible. And one of the things I quickly learned is how the union supports education support professionals, like me. NEA’s ESP Growth Continuum, for example, creates a pathway for growth where I’m able to master my profession—and remain in it.

I learned a lot from my mom, she worked hard and talked about giving back to the community. I remember my mom would come home tired from work, but she always went to work happy—and that’s one of the things I like about my job: I may come home tired, but I always enjoy going back the next day.

Mom and daughter reading

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The National Education Association (NEA), the nation's largest professional employee organization, is committed to advancing the cause of public education. NEA's 3 million members work at every level of education—from pre-school to university graduate programs. NEA has affiliate organizations in every state and in more than 14,000 communities across the United States.