James Joyner has always been a teacher.
When he was in middle school, he would “torture” his two younger siblings by convening “summer school” in the off-months, teaching them material he had learned the previous year. It was over their heads, but his sister and brother ate it up. As a first grader, Joyner raced through his math and reading curriculum so quickly that his teacher deputized him to walk around the classroom and help others with their worksheets. And as a high school senior, he took a full-year Tomorrow’s Teachers course designed by Ryder University, learning curriculum design and teaching poetry and mythology to middle and high school students. He was hooked.
“Teaching is my passion. I just love helping others and watching them get that “ah-ha” moment,” said Joyner.
When Joyner arrived at Rutgers University–Newark in 2017, he majored in English with a concentration in Creative Writing, minored in Political Science. He eventually obtained his teacher certification license through the Urban Teacher Education Program (UTEP) as well. During his four years at RU-N, he also spent a lot of time taking sociology and education courses and logging office hours with his professors, focusing on discrepancies in educational curriculums, resources and outcomes.
That's not a surprise.
Joyner, who grew up in New Brunswick and South Plainfield, NJ, has a unique perspective on education, having been schooled in both urban and suburban contexts. The former district was more diverse, classes had few windows, history lessons included black and Hispanic culture, and many parents worked night shifts and couldn’t attend school functions, whereas the latter was mostly white, had TVs and lots of windows in the classrooms, offered more clubs and sports, focused more on traditional military history, and there was much more parental involvement.
This bifurcated experience shaped Joyner’s research focus during his four years at RU-N and will continue to do so into the future.
“The differences in curriculum, resources, teacher training and other issues was dramatic between New Brunswick and South Plainfield,” said Joyner. “I want to continue to do research on educational curriculum and policy differences and how they impact students.”
I want to continue to do research on educational curriculum and policy differences and how they impact students.
Joyner’s love of writing, teaching and social justice issues guided not only his coursework but also his outside activities at RU-N. For three years he tutored at the Writing Center and worked as Peer Coordinator for the Office of Academic Services’ Peer Advising Program, which together required 40 hours per week before the pandemic. He put in another 10 hours per week as Head of Creative Media for his congregation, Mt. Zion Ministries Church, in New Brunswick, where he still volunteers.
Joyner also founded and served as President of The Educators student club, which put on events, including a daylong symposium with a host of professional speakers and breakout sessions that covered topics such as math education, Black girls and schools, racial and socioeconomic disparities in education, and self-identification among students. He was one of two keynote speakers at the event.
As part of a United Nations course he took through the Sociology & Anthropology department during his junior year, Joyner also participated in the Collegiate Model United Nations, in New York City, which drew some 3,000 students from across the U.S and globe. There he and his head delegate partner, representing the country of Colombia, beat out 200 students to win the Outstanding Delegate award in the UN Environment Assembly.
For all his work at RU-N, Joyner received SASN’s Conrad Hipkins Endowed Scholarship, given to a student who shows exemplary academic merit, leadership and community service, as well as an Emerging Leader Award from RU-N's Office of Student Life & Leadership.
Joyner is excited about his future. In the fall, he’ll start teaching Language Arts at Hillside Innovation Academy, a magnet middle-school in Hillside, NJ. His plan is to gain teaching experience before becoming a curriculum specialist and supervisor, then return to school to obtain a Ph.D. in Education, Culture, and Society and become a professor. He hopes to one day serve as the New Jersey Commissioner of Education and/or U.S. Secretary of Education.
As he looks back at his time at RU-N, Joyner is grateful for the many professors, staff and peers who made his experience here so special.
“The community at Rutgers-Newark was strong from my first visit, and I immediately felt comfortable here,” said Joyner. “I studied with top professors and had the opportunity to do research, take classes in other departments, and meet people from so many cultures. That diversity really helped me grow as a person and understand more about the world. RU-N is a phenomenal campus with such a great support system. I recommend it to everyone.”