Credit: Contributed

Lately, I have been thinking about all of the amazing teachers in our classrooms. I am in awe of the individuals who wake up at 5 a.m. and spend hours with our young people as they provide not only intellectual foundations but also emotional support for struggling students. It goes without saying that we do not compensate or show the proper deference and respect to individuals who have chosen the teaching profession. It is truly a flaw in American democracy that the people who spend the greatest amount of time with our young people (sometimes more time than the students’ own families) are the very same people who often have to go into their own pockets to provide the very service for which they should be fully compensated. Teachers across America have been diligently trying to build a foundation for our students, and we must keep their hard work in the forefront of our minds and policy fights at all times.

I was inspired by the hard work of some local New York City teachers who have gone above and beyond for their students. I recently read about the Ember Charter School in Brooklyn taking their students on a six-week study abroad trip to South Africa. Principal Rafiq Kalam Id-Din describes the program as the “Ember Globalpreneurs Program,” in which the youth’s study abroad experience is focused on developing next-generation social entrepreneurs from communities where they are least expected and recruited. The program took 70 middle school students and 20 teachers, social workers and support staff on the six-week journey beginning Sept. 17. Kalam Id-Din described the program as “the first of its kind for Title I [low income] students, one where they will focus on working together with local youth, organizers, social entrepreneurs and business leaders in a design thinking process to engage and iterate solutions to persistent problems confronting communities from Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn to Soweto, South Africa ensnared in cycles of generational poverty, violence and trauma.”

The Ember Charter School Program is a clear example of teachers and staff seeing the greatness in their students and opening up the world for them, not only in books but also in travel. Not all teachers are able to take 70 students almost 8,000 miles away from their home, but so many teachers do what they can to open the world to their students each day, even while sitting at their desks. We should all be grateful for their hard work and diligence. Let’s be sure to tell our teachers how much we appreciate their efforts.

If you are inspired by the work of Principal Kalam Id-Din, you can donate to help the Ember Charter School pay for this unique opportunity for our students at

Christina Greer, Ph.D., is an associate professor at Fordham University, the author of “Black Ethnics: Race, Immigration, and the Pursuit of the American Dream,” the co-host of the new podcast FAQ-NYC and the host of The Aftermath on