OXON HILL — Shaneequa Castle may be in just her second year of teaching at Potomac High School, but she has already made an impact on the school.
Castle is a 10th grade English teacher who claims she is involved in “too much” at the school. She is the chair of the Positive Behavioral Intervention Support (PBIS), which comes with a long list of duties including planning honor roll celebrations, and also helps with the modeling team.
PBIS is a special program at Potomac that focuses on the empowerment of students through supportsand activities.
“Its an opportunity to help students better themselves,” she said. “So in addition to working with students who are on honor roll, my responsibility also includes finding ways to encourage and inspire other students.”
The point is to give students a positive mindset and to help them become “limitless” by unlocking the power within them. The program takes on special meaning for Castle who sees a little of herself in the students before her.
Castle, herself, is a graduate of the Prince George’s County Public Schools system as an alumna of Frederick Douglass High School. When she graduated from St. Lawrence University and later Florida International University, she knew she wanted to bring her talents back home, to start making a difference for the community.
Although she studies sociology and performance and communications arts as an undergraduate and African and African diaspora studies in graduate school, she now teaches high school English. Her own high school English teacher must have had visions, and she jokes because she predicted Castle would one day teach the subject.
“My English teacher, strangely, said that I should consider teaching English and I was like ‘what? I hate English. I’m not doing that,’ but it came full circle,” she said.
But Castle finds English opens up opportunities to bring other subjects and real-world learning into the classroom. English can lend itself to science and history as well as social action – something Castle is incredibly interested in.
The goal of her teaching method, she said, is to create relationships with her students and to keep the energy up. She wants them to see the value of their free education and open their eyes to the bigger motivations in the world.
“I try to find a way to let them be in charge of their learning,” she said.
That includes letting them pick a topic to delve deeper into, having group presentations, bringing music and film into the lesson plans or making games to help study. A recent example of this, she said, is using lyrics from a J. Cole song titled “Free” to talk about rhetorical devices and an author’s purpose. That led into a discussion about the song in comparison to speeches by César Chavez and former President Barack Obama.
“My main goal in my classroom is to make it creative and fun and engaging, and all of that comes from having a relationship with my students,” Castle said.
And her methods yield results. Her students, most days, stay engaged in what they are learning and even ask for assessments because they enjoy the process of using “clickers” to take their test and see their results right away on the prompter. They have transitioned from students who do their work because they are told to, to students who want to do the work because they see the value behind it.
However, she readily admits she is still learning and wants to grow, calling herself “a student more than teacher.” She thinks her ability to learn and reflect on her lessons helps create a co-instructive space.
“I still continue to reflect and when I make mistakes, be honest with those mistakes and sometimes letting the kids know that was a mistake and talking openly and honestly about how to work on it,” Castle said.