On Thursday, February 17, I was named the 2022 Prudential North Carolina NCCAT Junior Teacher of the Year.
The chances of me gaining this recognition were incredibly low – not because there is a deficit in my work ethic, my teaching skills or my character, but because there are several societal factors that have inhibited and discouraged many black men to become educators. In reality, less than 2% of educators in the United States are black men. If you applied to Harvard University last year, you would have a higher odds (3.4%) to be admitted to university than to have a black man as a professor during your stay. The sad reality is that black men are just one identity among many – as teachers with disabilities – who are underrepresented in the identity of educators in the United States.
At the end of my acceptance speech, I made the following statement: “I have learned that being a good teacher means having high expectations of your students, so Orange High School students, I expect this may some of you be here one day.”
I issued this challenge to all students at Orange High School: students of all races, students of all economic backgrounds, students of all countries of origin, students of all sexual orientations and gender identities, students of all learning abilities and physical, students from all religious traditions and students from all political backgrounds. But, due to societal structures, some students will be statistically less equipped or less encouraged to achieve this goal.
Within the education system, we have failed to adequately cultivate the gifts of students of color by having lower expectations success for them. For queer students, we haven’t always created learning environments that welcome and cherish their identities. In return, we increased their risk of having a lower quality of Mental Healthwhich can reduce their neurological ability to learn new information. Outside of the immediate control of our classrooms, there are factors like COVID-19 that have exacerbated the need for additional educational resources in rural communities. There is also a need for the federal government to empower educators to better hold English learners. When a student leaves the sphere of K-12 education, people from low-income backgrounds have less incentive to become public educators because the the salary is less likely to lift them and their families out of poverty, which is compounded by factors such as student debt. And, in the rare moments when a black man enters education, there is a sense of loneliness and racial discrimination. The statistical odds of some students becoming future entry-level teachers of the year says nothing about them as students, but it says everything about how our society is structured.
In other words, as I accept the title of Beginning Teacher of the Year, I accept stories that describe me as excellent, but I reject representations of me as an exceptional black man: the notion of a talented 10th does not ask enough of ourselves and of society.
For North Carolina educators to better reflect the student body we teach, “we must cultivate the genius of all North Carolina students” — as 2021 North Carolina Teacher of the Year Eugenia Floyd put it. North. To do this, educators and politicians must examine and address the issues of student failure in our schools. As I write this article, I get the optics: I am a young, enthusiastic, and well-meaning educator who has linked a few social justice-related articles to call on our state for better educational practices, but I apparently have the lack of experience for I understand that people have been advocating and working for change for years, but have encountered active resistance in the work they are doing, or I am completely wrong in my belief that the education system does not serve all students well . After all, I’m just the rookie teacher of the year.
Yet I am deeply convinced that both of these groups are wrong.
In my class, I have structured my class’s approach to history to be in sync with the Method of thought “Sankofa”: we analyze the victories and failures of our world’s history to work to make society a better place for all. As I turn to the history of my own people, I am literally left with the option of hoping that public education improves. By hope, I don’t mean the willfully ignorant, baseless sense of optimism that some people burn quickly. I speak rather of hope in the sense that Cornel West understands it when he speaks of to be a hope.
My ancestors who were enslaved Africans in this country had little outward reason to believe that they would become free, but through their ordinary singing practices, seeking freedom in Canada or Mexico and self -education, they become and created the hope they needed for their emancipation. The same goes for my Mexican ancestors who fought against the powers of Spanish colonialism to finally declare independence in 1821.
As the NC Year Beginner Teacher, I define my role in this position as being dedicated to the cause of listening to and acting on the needs of all my students at Orange High School while beginning the process. to understand the needs of students from different parts of the state. I invite everyone in North Carolina – community members, parents, teachers, board members, superintendents, politicians and others – to join me in this process of love, justice, truth and hope.