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Member Spotlight

Fakhra Shah: Justice From Within

Fakhra Shah, a high school teacher in San Francisco, California, works with NEA and her community to fight for justice.
Fakhra Shah is a high school teacher in San Francisco, California
Published: 06/17/2020

I grew up in the East Bay, in a neighborhood called Bay Point. I was the youngest of five and the first in my family to go to college. My parents are first-generation immigrants from Pakistan.

At SF State, I was living with my parents. So, I thought why not substitute teach in the neighborhood where I grew up. It was amazing at first. I wasn’t in a position of power, but I could actually impact things that were happening—working with youth like me, being in the community I’m from.

It was a very healing and empowering experience, but also very eye-opening. I got to experience first-hand the perspective of some white educators about students of color through things they said — directly to me.

I had this really beautiful moment when I was in a 1st-grade class. I remember kneeling down to help a student. I thought “I think this is where my knowledge is going to be the most helpful.” I just felt, at that moment, I was where I belonged. And that changed my path. I challenge myself and hold myself accountable. I have had some really triumphant moments with some of my students with special needs. I have created really warm and empowering spaces for them.

We have a pretty incredible union here. And I am grateful for that because we fight for a lot. I am benefitting from all the hard work.

The pandemic sheds light on all the inequities we have. There was already a clear difference in the experience of students who come from poorer homes. That’s not news. How do you live in this country if you are poor already, and without health care, and now we have this public health crisis?

I believe justice comes from being in the community. Seeing each other, being together, struggling together. And it can’t be on just one person, one teacher. It’s all of us.

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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.