Posted in education, new teachers, parenting

Education and the Black Man Part 1

Why don’t black men teach? Is it possible that they don’t consider education as a career because it has never been presented to them? Think about job fairs. How many teachers come to recruit? Is it possible that they don’t consider education as a career because they have never seen it done before? When you were in school, how many black male teachers did you have? I mean, when I googled black male teachers, I had roughly 5 pictures to choose from. I’m sure it’s because of the extremely low numbers of men in education to date, but if men truly understood their importance in education, would they come? Let me give it a try.

When I graduated from college with a degree in Chemistry everyone assumed that I would be okay. I frequently would get responses like, “Aw Chemistry, You won’t have any problems finding a job doing that!” They couldn’t have been more wrong. Me being a black Chemist was trumped by my lack of experience.

I now understand that like in my any major, experience reigns supreme. Think about it, there are thousands maybe even millions of students graduating college in the same major. There has to be something to differentiate them by. For me I was engulfed in the track and field program summer, fall, winter, and spring, so internships were never on my radar. They were going to be virtually impossible to take on travelling so much with track. Thus I wasn’t given my fair shake in the field. Although there were other reasons that chemistry didn’t work for me, experience played a  major role.


In education things were a bit different. Where student teaching qualified me to be able teach, there was a totally different category within experience that further qualified me. It was the black male experience that no book, teacher, or video could articulate enough to provide understanding. There are countless books that school you on black boys, and countless Save our Sons initiatives out there that tell of the struggle of being black males in this era, but the reality is no one can reach me like I can. Just as we give each other a nod when we notice another black individual in a crowd signifying we are not alone, our young male learners long to identify with someone in their classrooms that they know has a little more understanding about who they are to let them know they are not alone.

In the inner city homes in America at least 70% of the homes are single family homes. In 2012, the city of East St Louis, where I teach was ranked #1 for single mother households at 78%. In the inner city school districts much like East St. Louis, a large majority of them are run by women taking up almost 100% of the elementary school vacancies. This means that typically children will not experience having a black male teacher for the first time till secondary school of their educational journey. A few weeks ago I did a quick poll with one of my classes (11th grade) asking for the number of black male teachers they have seen. We concluded that out of roughly 60 teachers they have had since kindergarten, 10 of the were black male.  Men throughout all of education are outnumbered by women which is why our presence is need, it’s wanted, and positions are readily available to those qualified.

While the process of finding employment is extremely trying in every profession because of the economy, it is even more difficult for college grads. However, in the field of education, there is a vacancy customized just for Us, Black Men. This vacancy is in inner city schools, suburban schools, private schools, charter schools, and all other institutions of education. A few years ago while going through the interview process at a predominately white high school, the principal told me that I would beneficial to the staff and student population especially the black males whom no one on the teacher staff could relate to. Everywhere learning takes place, the black male perspective is needed. He is needed to be a positive example to other black boys. he is needed to show young black girls without father figures, what a respectable black man looks like. He is needed to answer the curiosities and provide counter stereotypes to what others have seen on television, have heard from their families, and have read in books, and on social media. Educational setting is coming to realize that the demographic of teachers must make a better attempt to match the varied demographic of students that walk their halls. In that they are looking for our applications to come across the desks of the Human Resources Department.

Just as the man completes the household, his presence and interactions complete the operations of the school system. Far too long have we been out of reach in the schools holding positions as either the principal, that kids only see when they are in trouble or during assemblies, the elective teacher, they see for one-quarter or once a week, or as custodians they see in the halls or lunchroom. Our presence in the more personal setting of the classroom has countless benefits to not only the students we service, but the school environment itself.

Chew on that for a moment, and I will talk about the Pay, the Bond teachers have, and the Effect teachers have on their student’s future, in part 2.


  1. Art work by Theoplis Smith: “Father Forward.”
Posted in education, new teachers, parenting, teaching

Do You Have What It Takes?

Before I became a full time teacher, I “subbed”. Being a substitute teacher was the best thing that could have ever happened to me as an educator. Honestly I feel that everyone that intends on going into education should first substitute. I say this because as a substitute you will be placed in the absolute worst teaching conditions ever. Yes that sounds horrible, but the reality is, if you can handle those conditions, you just might have what it takes to have your own class.
Substitute teaching you have 1 DAY to learn names because learning them brings with it a large amount of respect, 1 DAY to try and make the teacher’s absence seem futile if you can prove to them that you are there to help, classroom disruptions are minimal and students are more likely to get their assignment completed, and 1 DAY to gain control and respect from strangers that could care less who you are because ,”You ain’t no real teacher!” Respect is earned not given and kids these days live by that code. Now not every substitute teaching assignment is hell on wheels, but the probability you get one of those cases is pretty high.
Substitute teaching shows a person how well of a leader they can be. One of the best books I’ve read as an adult is “The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership”, by John Maxwell. In his book he talks about taking over a new position that has already been established. He explains that as a leader you cannot come into a new position and just belt out demands and expectations thinking that people are going to be on board. You have to find the person that is most respected because they have the influence; win them over; and slowly step into your place as the leader. The same applies to teaching new classes especially when it is not the beginning of the school year. It also applies to entering a new school that you have no reputation in. You have to identify that student that seems to demand the respect or attention of the class and win them over. Because with their approval, comes the approval of the classroom.
Successful teachers realize that their success is directly connected to their humility. That is our secret weapon. If you possess it, you are more likely to endure that stresses, disappointments, and moments of euphoria that come throughout the year. Like T.D. Jakes said in one of his sermons, “don’t let your highs be to high and don’t let your lows be too low.” Keeping a level head is the key to successfully navigating through the year.
Teaching is a high impact, demanding, fast moving, quick thinking, and emotional job. Let me tell you why.
#1) Teaching is High Empact- Almost daily I feel like I’ve just finished my leg of the 4×400 meter relay by 7th hour and need a Gatorade and massage. We have to be engaging whether it is in the classroom when teaching a challenging lesson or after a class returns from lunch and everyone’s lethargic. Between hours you must be upbeat, give high fives, dap up your favorite students and the students you wouldn’t mind punching (in another lifetime) lol. Stand at your door and greet students complement haircuts, new hair dues, check for notebooks, give out pencils, engage them early so they will be engaging later. These are all positive yet exhausting reinforcements that setup the classroom dynamic for the day and oftentimes the year. All of this plays into the coveted word “Classroom Management.”
#2) Teaching is demanding – Remember this, you work for the students. The sooner you accept this the better. I know every day I’m trying to sell them information. I have to get them to buy into whatever topic we are covering for the day. Every class is different so my delivery has to change hourly. I’ll never forget in my second year of teaching my class came in from lunch and a student says to me, “can you make class not boring today?” Offended I stepped back and paused for a minute preventing myself from putting this disrespectful kid in their place and said to myself, “give the students what they want.” So I refocused, loosened my tie, and went for it. I inflected my words, walked up and down the aisles, talked directly to students and indirectly to students until they said, “okay Mr. Nelson that’s too much!” But everyday afterwards I gave them extra, I even ate lunch with them on occasion. At that point I had them, they hung on to my every word, watched my every move, and even would bring fruit to class because they knew how I valued healthy diets. They became one of my highest performing classes.
#3) Teaching is Fast Paced – Things never go as planned, so make plans but always  have a plan B in mind. Instruction is not really about you standing in front of the class, but rather allowing the students taking ownership of learning through inquiry. I’m never too hung up on the script not to go left if the student’s question is well within reason. It is those moments when a student asks, “WHY?” that real learning happens. First hour’s lesson might be a train wreck, so in transition to the next class starting in 5 minutes, I’m processing and changing those items that may have caused the crash. I’m always anticipating, anticipating the best and worst that could happen. Often times when teaching lessons, the Scope may expect for 3 skills to be taught. Within a class period, dependent on the lesson, that won’t happen, so I ask my students what do they want to do next, practice the skill covered thus far or learn the last topic first? They decide my next move.
#4 Teaching requires Quick Wit – Kids are cleaver. Their daily mission I feel is to see just how cleaver you are as well. Everything we do in the class is to prove to them, You can trust what I am saying. If you gain their trust, you gain a learner. As you learn your students, you can anticipate how some may process the information delivered. In that, stay open to their thought pattern and their methods. With mathematics, its all about the Vocabulary, the Rules, and following the Steps to get to the solution. Getting to the solution is more important than the correct answer. Because of this, I must remember that we all think differently. So after showing multiple methods to factoring polynomials, for instance, I may have a student that figures out the solution differently. If their method is totally random, I always give them this response, “That’s fine as long as that method works every time, once you get it wrong, you have to do it my way.” Sometimes a student’s method may be a method I may have forgotten or it may be a totally new approach, in that case I’ll allow the student to present their method as long as it doesn’t provide more confusion.
#5) Teaching is emotional – It’s emotional for you, its emotional for them, its emotional for everyone! If the class gets the lesson, we are all happy. If the class doesn’t get, I get frustrated with myself and the students are frustrated and hate math. If a fight breaks out and I know any of the fighters, they are embarrassed and I am disappointed. Everything that goes on will have a direct tie to one of your emotional strings. That’s unavoidable, but what we must have in place are coping mechanisms. Those are paramount to your life as a teacher and your personal well-being.

When you take all these components into consideration in your classroom, the element of surprise in minimized. You can make tough decisions, respond to conflict, and change up the lesson plan without second thought if you are mentally prepared to react! I’m a track athlete, and in track many races are won by the person that reacts the fastest and most efficiently to the starter pistol. These points help me to be able to react in that manner.
I don’t know why but over time I have grown very sympathetic. Ironically it has been quite beneficial. It helps me remain naïve as a teacher when dealing with my students. Remaining naïve to some degree can be beneficial to teaching as it prevents one from prejudging students. Education deals with people and in dealing with people we must remember that you are forming relationships. Successful relationship are about give and take. I take my students for face value as to show them that I trust them. Their trust is either lost or maintained based on what is done in my class. Everyone is innocent until proven guilty. My trust is theirs to loose.
Education is one of few professions that gives you instant feedback. I love it because it gives me something different hourly. Teaching evolves you as an individual and pushes you to be the best you can be. I cannot call myself a successful teacher but what I can say is that I get better every day, and the points I gave above, help me continue to become a better educator.
Tell me what makes you a better employee(er) or just person?