When first sitting down with Toronzo McInnis, it’s immediately evident that the small collaborative learning room we’re meeting in won’t be large enough to contain his passionate personality. While presently attending the University of Oklahoma, this fall he is bound for a classroom to teach the next generation of students in Oklahoma. Here, he can do what he’s most passionate about: give back.
“I have never seen him without a smile, and that smile is contagious,” said Sherry Cox, assistant dean for undergraduate advising in the Jeannine Rainbolt College of Education. “His smile, laughter and upbeat demeanor have a positive impact on the mood level of everyone he interacts with – strangers, students, faculty and staff.”
As an America Reads / America Counts counselor at a Tulsa elementary school in 2015, Toronzo was inspired to become a teacher. He isn’t reticent to sharing his experiences, which shape the way he approaches teaching.
“I feel like I can give something to my community – to these students – that they may be missing in terms of representation or how I can relay information to them,” Toronzo said.
Toronzo’s journey to this moment of conviction was a winding one. He grew up in Gulfport, Mississippi, as the third of four siblings. He reflects on his childhood positively and is mindful of the fact that not everyone is as fortunate. After attending Jones County Community College in Mississippi, his family moved to Tulsa, where he continued his education.
“I told myself I can only go to the best school, because you know, you only graduate once,” Toronzo said, explaining how he decided where to pursue his bachelor’s degree. “So, I decided to come to OU.”
At OU, Toronzo is set to graduate in August 2020 with a degree in mathematics education from the Jeannine Rainbolt College of Education. He was recently named the college’s Outstanding Senior and participates in a number of programs and student organizations, each reflective of his desire to give back and make better for others.
This diverse set of experiences outside of coursework serves to enhance his training as an educator.
“As a mathematics education major, Toronzo has developed his abilities and knowledge to be an outstanding teacher who will have a transformative impact on the students in his future classroom,” said Stacy Reeder, interim dean and mathematics education professor.
Toronzo’s educational experience at OU not only has equipped him to teach at a high level; he has learned that contextual sensitivity in the classroom is just as important for his students. For instance, he noted that avoiding the use of food or money in mathematic examples is a way for him to be sensitive of potential insecurities among students.
“I feel like I’m prepared. I feel like I went to the best education college in the United States,” Toronzo said.
One experience that greatly affected him was a month-long study abroad trip to Uganda in June 2019.
“In Uganda, I was able to see how the access, quality and equity in education really differed from my own privileged background here in the United States,” Toronzo said. “I was able to see the nearly heartbreaking yet incredible way that women and children were able to persevere in spite of seemingly insurmountable odds. I heard children talk about their love of school and taught women mathematics for help with their businesses.”
He learned how to thoughtfully engage new cultures and communities as an educator, along with the importance of context in understanding someone’s current learning experience. He now hopes to apply these skills in Oklahoma City classrooms after graduation, where his students may come from diverse cultural backgrounds and upbringings.
“When I speak with my students, I don’t speak in ‘I’ or ‘you.’ I use ‘we,'” he said, noting that his communal upbringing inspires his approach. “I feel like we need more community in our country.”
Beyond his immediate goals of becoming a teacher, Toronzo hopes to eventually earn his law degree and integrate his experiences as an educator with legal expertise.
He aims to do this to further his impact while continuing to do what he loves: give back.