Alum Shay James has made a career out of giving back to Portland schools
Story by Celene Carillo. Photos by Erin Berzel. | 2 comments
Shay James’ life changed when her grandmother told her about the Portland Teachers Program at PCC.
“When my grandmother was talking about the program and the scholarship that goes with it, I immediately thought ‘I could do that.’ I could be a teacher,” said James.
The Portland Teachers Program is a partnership between Portland Community College, Portland Public Schools, Portland State University and Beaverton School District. Located at PCC on the Cascade Campus, the PTP prepares teachers to be culturally competent in the classroom, and focuses on historically underrepresented groups.
For James, the motivation to teach rose from memories of her childhood experiences as one of the few black students in Tigard-Tualatin schools.
“Certain educators said things that were racially insensitive,” James recalled. “And in history class, when the conversation turned to the slave trade or different aspects that dealt with race, the entire class would look at me or I’d be called on.”
But James’ motivation also came from her positive experiences with the teachers who mentored her.
“I was pretty shy,” James said. “I still am. Teachers who got to know me learned that I was reserved because of shyness, and by learning who I was they figured out how to engage me.”
Shy or not, James has made a career of engaging students, and creating inclusive and equitable classrooms. Through the Portland Teachers Program, Shay completed her bachelor’s degree in history as well as her master’s in education at Portland State University. After earning her teaching license, she taught eighth grade language arts and social studies at Tubman Middle School before becoming an assistant principal at Sellwood Middle School, and then vice principal and finally principal at Franklin High.
Since 2014, she’s been the senior director of College and Career Readiness at Portland Public Schools. In this role, she helps students prepare for their next steps after high school—whether it’s heading to college or technical education, or into a career.
“I want to have a system that works for all kids,” James said. “I want them to have solid plans to be ready for college and a career. I went into administration so I could have a wider opportunity to have an impact on all students.”
The Portland Teachers Program was a critical step along the way for James. It placed her with a cohort of students with similar experiences, and gave her the tools she needed to succeed.
“The program felt like home,” she said. “It was a place where people were like me and conversations could be real. Most importantly, what PCC and the program taught me was how to navigate a system I had never learned before. I’m not sure if I could have gotten where I am today without that.”