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CICELY BINGENER SERVES as the advisor for the FITE Club that meets weekly at Inglewood Continuation School. The club’s 12 members don’t put on boxing gloves and throw punches. Instead, they are fighting for a second chance and better future — while pondering careers in education. The letters stand for Future Inglewood Transformative Educators.

Bingener believes that FITE Club members have the potential to become excellent teachers because of the challenges they face, not in spite of them.

“Some of the best solutions to our pressing problems in society rest with those who are ‘closest to the pain,’” says the Inglewood Teachers Association member. “Some of the most marginalized students have the most to tell us about what successful and impactful teaching looks like.”

While being polled in the game Kahoot!, students shared that relationships are key to student success and that it matters if a teacher is caring and kind. They also said that consistency is important. Many have had numerous substitute teachers and high teacher turnover at their schools.

“One of the ways we can make things better is by reaching out to students from non-traditional backgrounds. We can learn as much from them as they can learn from us.” Cicely Bingener

Bingener was surprised that club members hold teachers in such high respect, despite their academic struggles. She learned that there are many reasons students enroll in alternative education programs including experiencing homelessness or foster care, working to support their family, and being bullied because they’re gay, transgender or non-binary.

“FITE Club members are very intelligent and have a unique perspective that doesn’t get solicited often,” she adds. “We need to mine that expertise rather than dismiss it. Instead of pushing students to the margins, we should pull them in — with caring, inclusive and restorative practices.”

Innov Bingener Students

Club members, encouraged to consider teaching careers, create and present lessons to kindergartners at a nearby school.

She believes that at-risk students can help to solve the teaching shortage and increase the numbers of minority teachers in schools.

“This club is about racial justice and equity. Through outreach, we can cultivate and inspire pathways to careers in teaching among Latinx and African American students in Inglewood.”

Bingener is a transitional kindergarten teacher at Beulah Payne STEAM Academy in Inglewood, and job-shares with another teacher while enrolled in UCLA’s Ph.D. Urban Schooling Division program. She remembers being “deeply moved” when she visited the continuation school for her graduate studies. When she noticed the school did not have any clubs, she asked if she could start one.

Permission was granted in October 2021. A $5,000grant from CTA’s Institute for Learning funded materials and field trips to elementary schools, colleges and theater performances.

(The club is not a project for her doctorate program; she wanted to keep it as a separate volunteer project so she could help students without using them as case studies.)

The first meeting drew students who heard there were snacks. Many were curious, but doubtful they had teacher potential.

“I explained that everybody knows a lot about something, and we can all teach the things we know, whether it’s how to shoot a TikTok video, play the latest online game or kick a football. I told them that their voice is important and that we are building a partnership together.”

The students create hands-on English and art lessons and present them to kindergartners at a nearby school. Last year’s presentation was a confidence booster for the club members, who were thrilled to be mistaken for college students by adults on campus.

“It was a very powerful and joyful experience,” Bingener says. “Students showed great promise — even brilliance.”

Some FITE Club members think seriously about a teaching career. For others, it’s an important step toward planning for the future, even if they choose a different path. A few graduates appeared with Bingener at CTA’s 2022 Human Rights Conference to share their experiences.

“I never thought of myself as an educator,” says Angel Stormborn, who graduated last June and is enrolled in El Camino College in Torrance. He plans on becoming a teacher.

“Cicely immersed us in the world of education and gave us opportunities and experiences we’d never had. I’ve never meta teacher who cared more about her students and listened to what they had to say. She would make us feel normal, when a lot of us felt alienated and disconnected from the world. She made us feel loved.”

Presenting at the CTA Human Rights Conference was a great experience, says Stormborn, who believes the confidence he gained from public speaking will be helpful as a teacher.

Bingener has taught in Inglewood for 25 years. She became a teacher because she was dissatisfied with her own educational experience and felt students like herself deserved better. She became the teacher she wished she’d had.

Bingener, center with FITE Club members on a visit to UCLA.

“I have always thought if you are not part of the solution, you are part of the problem. And one of the ways we can make things better is by reaching out to students from non-traditional backgrounds. I have discovered that we can learn as much from our students as they can learn from us.”

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