Celebrating Black History Month with Tymmony Keegan

Tymmony Keegan, 10th Grade Humanities and Black Studies Teacher,
Cleveland High School

What is your current position?

I am a teacher at Cleveland STEM High School in Seattle Public Schools. Previously I was a teacher at Dimmitt Middle School in the Renton School District – which had been great and I wanted new challenges. I am currently piloting a Black Studies class, which I jumped at the opportunity to teach. I also teach 10th grade Humanities.

I’m a member of Cleveland’s racial equity team, building leadership team and am the social studies department chair.

I started working with Sound Discipline when I was at Dimmitt. Dimmitt was carrying forward the Sound Discipline-facilitated work of elementary schools in Renton, particularly on the West Hill which is a lot of Black, Brown and low-income folks.

During my time at Dimmitt, I was exposed to working with Sound Discipline and got engaged in the Designing Our Own Learning (DOOL) program, which I participated in the first year and then led for the next two years.

How does SEL inform your work? Why is SEL important right now?

SEL is a critical piece of my pedagogy. When I think about SEL, I think about Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. It reminds me that we’re human beings first and we must have our needs met to put our brains in a space of actual learning and retaining of that learning.

If I don’t see my students and colleagues as human beings first, I don’t even know what I can do, what your full potential is, or how I can help you achieve. SEL work is really rooted in identity work and understanding who you are, where you come from – good, bad, ugly, and beautiful. That’s the crux of my personal pedagogy.

And it’s also a core of ethnic studies, which I firmly believe in. Ethnic studies as content, but more so as a framework of teaching. There is a cycle of knowing yourself, knowing your surroundings, reading, absorbing information, and then reflecting on it. You repeat that cycle and take action for the better based on what you’ve learned.

SEL is critically important right now for a variety of reasons – my students have absorbed and lived through so much trauma during the COVID-19 pandemic.

They’ve come of age during a time of racial injustice being highlighted in ways that it has never been before. Even though a lot of my students have experienced racial injustice, it hasn’t had light shed on it the way it has in recent years.  It is of critical importance that we’re giving them the tools they need to look at who they are and the world around them. Then they can understand context and make decisions to propel them and their communities toward better futures.

At my school and in this region, there’s a lot of mixed-race people, immigrants, and people coming from varied backgrounds. Their parents and grandparents have a lot of trauma based on the history of this country and countries that have been victims of US imperialism. There is a lot to unpack in terms of helping communities and families heal. So, this work is the most important work in my opinion, and in my classroom it takes priority.

We see SEL work as liberation work. What are your thoughts?

We’re so caught up in a hamster wheel. Somebody told us to run so we’re going to run. We’re gonna change up how we run based on what somebody who’s not even on the wheel is telling us.

SEL is a way for us to realize that we’re on the wheel, we have control over whether and how the wheel moves, and if I want to get off the wheel. SEL allows me to take a step back and look at what’s really best for me. It’s the key to us figuring out how to connect with each other. If you don’t know yourself, you’re not gonna connect with others in an authentic way.

We live in a society where the individual is prioritized, and what we need is to be rooted in Indigenous practices that are based on community and collectivism. We can be of service to everyone, including the most vulnerable members of our community.

Which Black leaders or historical figures have influenced your work and life?

Marcus Garvey. Certainly, a controversial figure. He was a pioneer in Black Radicalism and folks may not agree with everything he said and did. His mission was around returning to where you came from and understanding your ancestors’ ways. Then you could manifest self-determination and things that are good for you according to you, not according to a system that was never intended to see your humanity. In terms of claiming who you are, Marcus Garvey is great.

bell hooks. The epitome of amazing – as a feminist and a queer person. She sat at all of these intersections of oppression. She turned the academic world on its head and made theory really accessible to the average brain. She called for everyone to be very critical, but from a place of love and knowing who you are and your significance in our history.


Tymmony was interviewed by Sound Discipline Facilitator Sylvia Hadnot.