New Teacher Spotlight: Jamal Ahamad

Jamal Ahamad is a new middle school ELA teacher at Mount Greylock. The Echo sat down with Ahamad to talk about his experience at Greylock and his identity within and outside of the classroom. 

Echo: How has Greylock been so far?

Jamal Ahamad: Greylock has been awesome. Greylock has been a great reset from the pandemic, and it’s great to finally be back in person. I have enjoyed working with the 7th and 8th graders at Greylock, and it’s also been great to be able to work with a bright and passionate faculty and staff.

E: What do you teach at Greylock?

JA: I am a co-teacher for 7th and 8th grade, specifically for English Language Arts (ELA). With this position, I have my own room on the 3rd floor, and I work with students on communication in a variety of ways, typically with different types of games. This helps students learn about academic discourse and respecting conversations as well as reflective writing. In other classes, I help with proofreading and editing, which I love to do.

E: Why do you teach English?

JA: There is a very specific reason I enjoy teaching English. When I was growing up, I disliked reading for two reasons. One, there was no representation for me in the books that I read. Two, books were big, they had lots of words, and reading in school had even more pressure. If you have to read out loud in class, and you mess up, you would get made fun of and I did not want to deal with that. Eventually, when I got older, I found a passion for comic books. I started to love reading stories, and then I got into watching movies, and I got attached to learning stories. Throughout my life, I have learned so much from engaging with stories and reflecting on them through writing and public speaking. I wanted to start doing this for other people and share the ways I learned, so I started teaching.  

E: What schools did you teach at before this new position at Greylock and what did you teach?

JA: Before Greylock, I was teaching at the Pittsfield Public Virtual Academy for two years. I was displaced from Taconic High School due to the COVID pandemic, and since my wife is immunocompromised, we were trying to smartly avoid COVID while maintaining our jobs and staying healthy. Before the Virtual Academy, I was at the Taconic High School where I helped re-launch the Black studies program, which taught students about Black history and Black literature. I did this alongside the Greylock superintendent, Jake McCandless.

E: How long have you been teaching?

JA: If I include my first year teaching GED, and my time at Bart Charter, this is my seventh year teaching. It still doesn’t feel like my seventh year of teaching because I am still learning lots of new things. When you are a teacher you have to learn the art of teaching, not just the content, so you have to learn multiple things at once. At this point in my career I do feel more experienced, but coming back to teach middle school in a new school feels brand new.

E: What college did you attend?

JA: I am a first-generation college student, which means I am the first person who attended college in my family. I went to the Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts (MCLA) and at first, I studied creative writing and arts management for a while. I thought I was going to be a grant writer for a dance company or gallery, but when I had the chance to do those things, it was extremely boring. I really wanted to try my hand at teaching, and even though I didn’t go to MCLA for teaching, the skills I learned in curation for the arts are the same as lesson planning. So when I decided to switch to teaching, I went back to MCLA to get my second degree in teaching. 

E: What other hobbies do you have apart from teaching?

JA: When I am not teaching academics, I still teach. I teach hip-hop dance and choreography at Berkshire Dance Theatre, and I have been teaching there for more than 10 years because my wife runs the program. When I am not dancing, I do professional videography, which ranges from doing weddings to doing interviews of people of interest or making montage videos for the studio I am at just to capture the best moments of dancers at the dance studio. This gives dancers something to look back on once they leave the program and graduate from high school. For me, it’s really easy to teach academics, dance, and do videography because the base for all three of them is telling a story. When I am filming, I am capturing videos to tell a story which helps me understand different literary texts or things of that nature. Apart from filming, I also like playing video games, working out, and reading.

E: You are also the new advisor for the Greylock Multicultural Student Union, how do you feel about that?

JA: I am just honored that I was given the opportunity to guide and assist students. I know that the club has been around for a while and there have been tumultuous issues in our local community. I think it’s amazing that they are willing to try something new, and give me a new opportunity. I am extremely excited to start working with the GMSU as soon as possible.

E: As a person of color, has your life been different? Have you faced racism?

JA: It has been and I have faced racism before. When it comes down to it, I may not face racism that is direct or violent, but the thing is, typically with the way I carry myself in the school environment, every decision I make is made politically. If I choose to teach a certain topic, it’s political. If I choose not to teach a certain topic, it’s political. If I eject a student from class, it’s political. Being under that microscope that no one talks about it’s something that is implicit. That is the thing I personally face from a professional standpoint. Other than that, I am usually the only person of color in many rooms in the county, but no one has gone out of their way to be racist toward me. 

E: Do you think you will be a person students can relate to?

JA: Yeah, I hope I will be, and I will try to be someone students can relate to. What I learned the hard way is that if I try to be the person looking to relate to other people, it makes me feel fake. For me, my race and ethnicity exist on a spectrum, and the idea that what I represent comes in many shapes and sizes, many degrees and levels of intensity. When we think of the population at Greylock, there are so few forms of reflection for people of color. We can either reflect on what we read in a book, what we see on TV, or what’s in front of us, which is not much. But I will just be who I am, and I will just accept all my identities. I hope through that confidence and love for myself, I will relate to others. 

E: Well, that’s all I have, if you want to add anything you can.

JA: I have always wanted to do a movie club, not necessarily starting a movie club, but just being able to talk about the film and talk about good stories. I would love to talk about those things because I think media is inherently political, even when it tries to not be political, and I love having conversations about that. If anyone ever wants to talk about what you have been noticing in movies, such as Top Gun: Maverick, Everything Everywhere All At Once, or the new Predator movie, come see me in room D310.