Meet Our Teachers: Fatima Cheffen

How long have you taught with Reach for Excellence? I LOVE the Reach for Excellence Program so much; it seems like I’ve taught with Reach forever!  If I’m not mistaken, I joined the staff in 2017, so I’ve been with Reach for three years.

What do you teach? I teach “life” via English-Language Arts and Writing here at Reach for Excellence, on Saturdays, and as a Summer Instructor.  Our teaching and learning strategies surpass the realm of academics. I am an educator for the Magnet and Gifted Program at Chamblee Middle School, in Dekalb County.  I am also the Lead Mentoring Coordinator for our girls’ mentoring group at Chamblee Middle called “The Social Butterflies”.  I have been mentoring youth for 9 years.

Where did you go to school? I was born and raised in Little Rock, Arkansas where I had the opportunity to attend and graduate from the “historic” Little Rock Central High School, home of the Little Rock Nine!  I studied Early Childhood Education at the University of Central Arkansas, I attended Philander Smith College where I studied Computer Science, and I also attended Clayton State University here in Georgia.

How would you describe yourself in middle school?  In Junior High (this is what it was called back then), I was quite reserved and didn’t talk much.  I was the only African American, young lady in all my classes, which was a very uncomfortable experience during my adolescent years seeing there was no one I could relate to in middle school.  Middle School years are an integral part of a child’s development and growth, so I think this period in our lives helps to shape who we can become as adults.

What was your favorite book, music, or movie when you were in middle school?  Being the daughter of a musician (my daddy), I had the opportunity to experience all genres of music.  I recall growing up, listening to and LOVING the soulful sounds and creative dance moves of Michael Jackson!  R&B and Pop music were my absolute favorite types of music during my middle school years!

Why did you choose to teach with Reach for Excellence? It’s funny because I don’t feel like I chose Reach, but rather Reach chose me.  I owe my tenure and success with Reach for Excellence to fellow friend and colleague, Sheronda Hardy.  She spoke so highly of the program year after year as we always discussed our different plans each summer. By the time the school year ended in 2017, I already felt like I was a part of the Reach for Excellence family.  Mrs. Hardy encouraged me and referred me to Mrs. Dessables, and the rest is history!  I am so grateful for the confidence Mrs. Hardy had in me and in my ability to join this wonderful team of educators!

Tells us about your teaching philosophy… My philosophy is to ensure teachers listen to their students and the world listens to our youth.  It is imperative that we teach students the power of their VOICES.  Whether it’s while sitting in a classroom, writing to communicate, or volunteering in their communities…my main goal is to show my students how to effectively use their voices beyond the classroom.  In order to achieve this, we must accept kids exactly for who they are and meet them where they are.

What is your favorite aspect of teaching Middle School students?  Middle Schoolers are so complex, yet simple.  I truly enjoy teaching this group since they keep me youthful!  Being intuitive, carefree, moody, and full of life all at the same time are qualities that I recall when I was their age, but I found it difficult to express myself to others which is why this group is dear to my heart.  I want them to value self-expression and to be proud of who they are.

What is your favorite Reach for Excellence memory?  Wow!  This is an extremely hard question to answer!  There are so many fond memories here at Reach for Excellence, but my favorite would have to be the summer I had “Boardgames” for a recreation class.  The game of UNO was unbelievably a hit!  Everyone wanted to participate and play…we were all competitive, driven, and focused, but still able to bask in the fun and togetherness!

What’s your claim to fame?  I believe having the heart of a servant is a major strength that I possess.  I care tremendously about our communities and I try to model for my students this passion and drive for people, so they too will understand the importance of volunteering, community service, and caring about their fellow neighbor. I have led, developed, and coordinated several projects and initiatives during my teaching career that have allowed students to participate in service-learning, modeling, and exhibiting. Focusing on selflessness rather than selfishness are core principles I live by and hope to influence the students I encounter daily.