Mrs. Radcliff selected among 87 educators worldwide
“Every day brings its own sets of challenges and joys. If I had to name the best part of this job, though, it would be seeing students not just ‘get it,’ but connecting everything they do to real life. When I see evidence of them connecting to something in the real world to something they have learned in class—that’s what I love the most. I get to be a guide on the side of knowledge. The fact they keep me young doesn’t hurt.”
These are the words of DeKalb County School District (DCSD) English teacher Kendra Radcliff—one of 87 worldwide recipients of the 2018 Yale Educator Award. Radcliff, who has worked at Druid Hills High School for more than a decade, was chosen by the prestigious college out of 371 nominees representing 42 states and 12 countries.
Radcliff was nominated by Yale freshman and Druid Hills High Class of ‘18 grad Zakaria Gedi. As part of a tradition at Yale, educators from around the world are recognized for supporting, inspiring, and pushing students toward academic excellence.
“The Yale Admissions Office attributes the exceptional quality of the Yale student body to educators like these recipients of the 2018 Yale Educator Award, who shape their students long before they attend Yale,” reads a letter from the Ivy League, New Haven, Connecticut college.
Radcliff’s reaction to the award continues to border on disbelief.
“It’s great. It’s an honor. It’s a surprise. It didn’t really hit me until they told me how they decided, how many people were nominated and how many people were chosen,” Radcliff said. “[Gedi] was very vague with why he nominated me. He just said I deserved it.”
A closer look at Radcliff’s history as an educator or philosophy toward teaching should leave no questions about her nomination. Education, after all, runs in her family.
“My great grandfather, though born into slavery, started a school in Memphis during a time when black children could not attend school formally. The legend is they called him ‘Professor Strong,’ or just ‘Professor.’ He educated during a time when you had to do it under cover,” Radcliff said. “Between that and my grandparents emphasizing education, having English teachers in my family, having it be something my mom would always say I would be great at—I decided, maybe this would work.”
Radcliff segued into teaching from working as a research technician at Georgia State University. At the time, she was managing grants—primarily on the monetary end—and really missed her time dealing with people. She took the Myers-Briggs Indicator test, and at least 20 test results hinted at teaching – yet another sign she was destined for a career of influencing, inspiring, and molding young minds.
It was motherhood, however, that gave her the final push.
“When I was pregnant, I really started seriously considering [teaching] and taking post-bachelor classes,” Radcliff said. “When I was becoming a mother, I was motivated to get it together to be able to teach a child anything.”
Radcliff’s passion for English literature and creative writing stems from her passion for words.
“I’ve always loved English even though I majored in science. I’m a words person, big time. When I think about my love for words, the teaching of the meaning of words, the nuances, the wordcraft aspect—I enjoy all of it,” Radcliff said. “As a writer, I lean toward the creative side. I write poetry, and I write with my students, alongside them. I always assure them that I wouldn’t assign them anything I wouldn’t be willing to do myself.”
Radcliff doesn’t have a favorite author, but cites dystopian literature as her favorite genre and Toni Morrison as a major influence. She instead seeks out “cleverness” in writing, and the ability to convey complex topics.
Radcliff does everything she can to impart such skills to her students.
“When students learn how to analyze literature, they are actually learning how to analyze life,” she said. “I want them to constantly be making connections, whether it’s in my class or across the curriculum. I like to think I’m good at that, and that’s what students later tell me they appreciate.”