At The New Century School, farewells usually also mean hellos! That’s why, when former TNCS middle school homeroom teacher Daphnée Hope went on maternity leave unexpectedly early, Jalynn Harris was ready to step in. “Ms. Lynn” as she prefers to be called, began acclimating to TNCS in October, learning the ropes alongside Mrs. Hope to ensure a smooth transition for students. But, as you’ll see, her joining the TNCS community seems almost destined.
Before becoming the 6th- through 8th-grade homeroom teacher and English Language Arts (ELA) and Global Studies teacher for the 5th through 8th grades, this west Baltimore native was immersing herself in her craft—writing. She studied Linguistics as an undergraduate at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. After her years as a Tar Heel, though, she felt called back home and pursued a Master’s of Fine Art at the University of Baltimore in poetry and book design. “I really learned a lot and enjoyed my studies,” she said. She also began teaching Writing Composition to undergraduates during her time at UB and graduated in the spring of this year. “I’m finally out of school,” she joked.
But she never really left the classroom. Earlier this fall, she taught a book-making class for the Baltimore Youth Film Arts Program, an affiliate program of the Krieger School of Arts and Sciences at Johns Hopkins University. They wrote, took photos, and designed their own books. “It’s a really great program that starts at age 16 through high school,” explained Ms. Lynn. “I encourage kids to enroll. They even give you a stipend for your work.”
The Story Begins
And now here she is! She says that she saw the listing on Indeed for a daily substitute, and something clicked:
I was thinking I felt ready to teach but hadn’t been applying for teaching positions yet. When I saw that listing, I knew it was time to do what I knew I wanted to do. Prior, I was feeling kind of shy about it, and then, of course the pandemic made me question whether this was the right time. But I really knew I want to be in the classroom. So I applied and spoke with Señora Duncan. When I learned that Mrs. Hope taught ELA and Global Studies, it was like serendipity—my major was Linguistics, and my minor was Geography. I was like, wow, my two favorite subjects—it was obvious alignment!
Although hybrid teaching (simultaneously virtual and in-person) might seem especially daunting to any new teacher, Ms. Lynn has adapted beautifully, probably largely due to her approach that will sound familiar to anyone among the TNCS community. “This is totally new, so I’m making mistakes and learning as I go,” she said. Being willing to try something new and challenging is just the resilience that we need right now, and it’s a great attitude to model for TNCS students. On top of the special demands placed on educators this crazy year, this is also her first experience teaching this age group. Nevertheless, she is particularly well suited for this new role she has adopted:
I’m very passionate about certain aspects of ELA. I’ve had two incredible writing teachers in my life who basically inspired me to write and to teach. The model is one of toughness combined with nurturing. They were always pushing me to pursue my curiosities and my work. That’s the kind of teacher I am—I really am very excited about student work. I encourage them to do their best and find their voice because I really believe writing is so powerful and potentially life-saving. Reading and writing saved my life, and I want kids to be able to engage with that and express themselves. Being able to express yourself is the most important thing. I also really hope to reach students who aren’t super excited about ELA as a subject. I hope to figure out what is interesting and see if I can pull that out.
Ms. Lynn credits Mrs. Hope for setting expectations. ELA requires rigor, but it pays off in so many ways. She describes her students as very independent. “I’m very impressed with how independent they are at such a young age. They are a mix of types of learners, so I’m still learning how to get to everyone, but I’ve encouraged them to explore EdTech tools, little add-ons, to try to engage them differently.”
Although her writing has had to take a bit of a back seat currently as she’s teaching full time, she is still writing. As a creative writer, she writes poetry: “I self-published my thesis, which was my poetry debut,” she said, “and I had a few poems published this year.” Of late, she says her writing has taken more of an editorial, journalistic turn. As these pieces published in BmoreArt show, Ms. Lynn is a fan of the late Lucille Clifton, who lived in Baltimore for many years and was the Poet Laureate of Maryland. In fact, Ms. Lynn says Clifton is her inspiration.
This update just published earlier this month.
And she also recently published a piece in the archival journal Black Archives.
This dovetails nicely with what her students are working on—personal narratives followed by expository writing. For the reading component, the theme this semester is historical nonfiction:
- A Long Walk to Water, by Linda Sue Park: 5th grade
- Path to the Stars, by Sylvia Acevedo: 6th grade
- Every Falling Star, by Sungju Lee: 7th grade
- Night, by Eli Wiesel: 8th grade
In class, they hold literature circles, do peer review workshops on each other’s writing, and enjoy the occasional pep talk from Ms. Lynn about doing their best on quizzes and tests. She has students write about their writing strengths and weaknesses as well as make a plan for improvement. She also meets one-on-one with each student to get to know them better.
“I am very excited to be a part of this community and learn from the students,” said Ms. Lynn. “Teaching has taught me so much, and I’ve learned something from my students every class. I don’t know if they realize how much I’ve learned from them.” Another important thing she wants the TNCS community to know is how much she wants to get to know everyone:
I’m excited to meet everyone’s parents. I’m disappointed that with this coronavirus year there will be some people I won’t ever meet in person or won’t for a long time. I wish I could have more of a relationship with both students and parent, but it’s just not what’s going to happen. I’m very much still open to talk, though! If parents want to reach out and just say hello, I would love that. Parent communication is very important here, so I’ll make sure I keep everyone in the loop and don’t exclude anyone.
Jalynn Harris at the beach in Cape Town earlier this year, a favorite spot of hers. She studied abroad there during her undergraduate friends and made a lot of friends. “I go back almost every year to soak up the sun and chill with my friends,” she said.
“This community is so awesome, I love how small the school is, the greenhouse . . . there are so many aspects of the school that are unique. I felt really invited and welcomed,” said Ms. Lynn.
We are so glad you are here, Ms. Lynn, and are excited to see how you help our children find their voices, as you have so wonderfully found yours!