October 13, 2020
Tekiah Brabham '05
“I thought about being a bank teller - something in the financial world – because I loved math. I also entertained being an anchorwoman, but I said, ‘No, can’t happen. I’m too shy!’ And when I was younger, much younger, I used to entertain being a preacher,” says Tekiah Brabham ’05, of her early aspirations.
Life, however, called Brabham in a different direction. Today, she is a kindergarten teacher at West Elementary School in Washington, D.C.
Her chosen path is proving to be both challenging and rewarding. As it turns out, she can play the part of a bank teller, an anchorwoman, a preacher, or sometimes all three, on any given day in the classroom. Brabham says she wouldn’t have it any other way.
Growing up in north Philadelphia surrounded by a family of nurturing and influential female educators, Brabham grew passionate about teaching and the power to make a positive difference in a child’s life.
“My mom was a special education teacher for about 30 years. My aunt was a history teacher, another aunt was a librarian, and my godmother was the director of two child care centers,” says Brabham.
She credits the pull to early childhood education to her godmother, who involved her in the day-to-day operations of the child care center when Brabham was a teenager.
“At age 14, I was already caring for children as young as two, and I worked with my godmother until I was 19, in between semesters and during the summer,” Brabham says.
A Whole New World, Close to Home
In high school, Brabham was part of an emerging scholars program that presented her with many opportunities like campus visits to other schools. She chose Kutztown University because the institution was quick to offer her placement and enough financial aid to help her family see her through school.
“After coming to the campus and touring, I knew Kutztown was going to be home,” says Brabham. “It was a whole new world, without being too far from Philadelphia.” Brabham enjoyed living on campus and meeting people from all walks of life, all while having plenty of opportunities to explore her personal interests.
“There was always something to do, whether it was live events like a speaker, a magician, or a comedian,” says Brabham. “I also connected with like-minded people through intramural sports and the Black Student Union.”
Becoming an Educator
Brabham’s academics put her in touch with the teacher she wanted to be. She recalls the impact of her child psychology class.
“I was given so much information about how students develop, and the many stages to which students transition during their early and intermediate years in school. The class was always informative, engaging and relevant.”
Her absolute heart’s desire was to return to her native Philadelphia as a teacher in an urban classroom, and her field experiences and student teaching in Reading and Allentown left her feeling both fulfilled and prepared.
“I told myself, ‘I’m going to be able to take these urban experiences with me to my next community.’” says Brabham.
“That last year of student teaching just made it all so real.” A career in teaching is not without challenges. In Brabham’s experience with urban districts, frequent changes to curriculum and leadership can cause uncertainty, but she remains centered and focused within her calling.
“This is what I was called to do. My job is to educate and inspire,” says Brabham. When it comes to aspiring teachers, she says she’d tell them, “Some days you’re going to look at the paycheck and say this isn’t worth it. But you can’t do it for the money, nor the summers off.”
For Brabham, there is also celebration in the challenges. She recalls a kindergarten class that was struggling at the onset, only to have 90% them reading fluently by the close of the year.
“In my 15 years of teaching, that has to be one of my greatest joys,” says Brabham.
Her passion and dedication do not go unnoticed. Over the past four years, D.C. Public Schools honored Brabham with a Highly Effective Teacher Recognition.
Beyond the Classroom
Brabham’s commitment to fostering young minds involves her beyond the classroom as a girls’ basketball coach.
“When I went to teach in D.C., they said they had a basketball team and they needed a coach. I said, ‘Oh, well, I know a little something about basketball!’”
That was in 2014. Thankfully, Brabham was somewhat seasoned due to her father encouraging her to play on club teams at her neighborhood recreation center.
To date, her coaching tenure has focused mostly on fourth- and fifth-grade girls, and it includes winning an elementary championship in 2016.
“They’re learning how to play. A lot of them don’t have the skills yet, so it is definitely just a rewarding experience to be able to teach them how to dribble,” Brabham says. “They’re also old enough to understand sarcasm – you can actually have full conversations about anything and everything.”
What it Means to Give Back
As an established and accomplished educator, Brabham recalls the investments in her success and is moved by gratitude.
Last year, she joined KU’s Tower Society and generously established the “Tekiah Brabham ’05 Scholarship” for students attending KU coming from Reading, Allentown or Philadelphia school districts. “
After I received a scholarship through a generous donor at Kutztown, I knew that one way I would give back was through my own scholarship,” says Brabham. KU helped inspire Brabham’s giving spirit, and today she’s paying it forward to make a meaningful difference for Golden Bears coming from urban districts as she did.
“It doesn’t matter how small or big the amount. It could be the money that will help somebody reenroll, or even help somebody graduate. Maybe it’s the last $1,000 they need to actually walk down the aisle and get their diploma,” says Brabham. “For me, it was something I always knew I would do, and it’s the right thing. If you have it, you should give it.”
By Megan Sciarrino for the Summer 2020 Tower magazine.