When Black Teachers Matter: Features from Teachers Like Me

Three educators from Black educator support network, Teachers Like Me, share their experiences in having a group that allows them to reach their goals. The post When Black Teachers Matter: Features from Teachers Like Me appeared first on Kansas City Defender.

When Black Teachers Matter: Features from Teachers Like Me
A group of educators from Teachers Like Me is sitting in a classroom for their September professional development session. Their curriculum coordinator, Demicco Witherspoon, is seen leading this session. Photo Credits: Jorge Fuller

What Do We Need From Education?

A student’s uncle walked into Jorge Fuller’s classroom, he then became a part of Jorge’s most prized lesson. The uncle and trained fireman, joined his niece’s classroom that day because of Jorge’s commitment to an open-door policy. Mr. Fuller’s invitation to “stop by anytime you want,” was welcomed with reassurance when the student’s uncle was encouraged to take a seat. He sat down in a math lesson and ended up borrowing a pencil to take notes himself. 

During this lesson Mr. Fuller explained predatory lending through math, by discussing debt and how to calculate accrued interest on a loan. By teaching this lesson, Jorge hoped to protect his students from the financial attacks that he saw some of his family members encounter.  

A lesson on predatory lending wasn’t a part of the standard state math curriculum–instead, it was a cautionary lesson on how racism can look in action. Jorge delivered this lesson with care for his students, an understanding of what they may face, and knowledge from the lived experiences of Black Americans.

Our Black teachers were students first. They were students who later chose to return to the same educational system that nationally graduates 81% of Black public high school students in a four-year time period, but even then graduation is only success defined by state standards. This number does not represent the number of Black students who get what they need from a K-12 education system. 

So how many students are getting what they need from our education system? With statewide book bans creating barriers for the voices of LGBTQ+ people and people of color to enter the classroom, where can these students learn that their stories and truths deserve to be known?

Black students who return to classrooms as teachers can make a difference in educational outcomes through their presence and knowledge of navigating systemic racism. A Johns Hopkins study found that Black students who had one Black teacher by the 3rd grade were 13% more likely to enroll in college, and the likelihood increases to 32% if they had two Black teachers. Furthermore, higher expectations exhibited by Black teachers about college potential raised the chances for both white and Black students to finish college. However, this encouragement is less likely to reach Black students due to factors such as teacher placement and the ratio of Black teachers to students. 

Teachers Like Me

A nonprofit organization named Teachers Like Me is just one of the Black Kansas City educator networks that aims to support the experiences of Black teachers. Through its mission of recruiting, developing, and retaining Black teachers, Teachers Like Me addresses the needs of Black teachers and supports their capacity to grow. By investing in Black teachers and recognizing the critical role teachers play in student outcomes, Teachers Like Me is investing in an education that rethinks how to invest in both students and teachers.

The three featured educators from Teachers Like Me spoke to their experiences of community in education, the impact of having a supportive network of Black educators, and the values that they carry into the classroom.

Community: More Than Students and Teachers

Lesa Montgomery (she/her/hers) is a middle school teacher in the Kansas City Public School District who has over 12 years of experience in both administrative and teaching roles. She is currently completing her Master’s Degree in Education. 

Lesa Montgomery is one of the three educators who told me about the various ways she showed up as more than a teacher in her classroom. When asked how she would describe her role as a teacher she responded, “I am every woman […] I’m a mom to some of them, I’m a big sister to some of them, I’m a counselor, […] and I’m a minister to some of them.”

In this statement, Lesa illustrates what it’s like to bring all of her experiences and knowledge into the classroom for her students. The roles that she lists are sometimes unfulfilled in her students’ lives, and sometimes they are fulfilled by multiple people. For Lesa, in order to be the best teacher possible she shares her life-learnd skills with her class. This caring approach to education makes space for creating a positive impact on her students and their well-being.

From hearing a grown voice call out “Ms. Montgomery” in the grocery store to graduates ushering and documenting the moment Mr. And Mrs. Fuller said their “I do’s,” these stories show that when care is prioritized in education, a community can be built and strengthened.

Jorge shares his delight in inviting former students to have roles in his wedding as he expresses, “You build a larger family because you were just building relationships.” In building these relationships, Jorge left space to acknowledge both the hardship and the beauty of this process as it comes with both the trauma of losing students and the joys of seeing them grow.

Agency: Own Your Education

Jorge Fuller (he/him/his) is the retention and recruitment coordinator and a mentor at Teachers Like Me. Photographed by: Pasavia Janiese

“I don’t want you to be proficient and advanced like you’re meeting the standards that someone else gave you, I want you to own your education.” -Jorge Fuller

Jorge’s statement can prompt reflective questions such as: Are you meeting your own standards? Are your standards truly your standards? And are your standards influenced by what others expect?

Teachers can be visionaries who see unrecognized gifts in their students, they can reinforce messages of what is expected of their students or create messages. As Black teachers who care about their students, these teachers discuss the ways that they are reimagining what is expected of their students. By making a commitment to encourage student ownership over their education while supporting their students’ personal development these teachers are constructing a learning environment that works.

“Education is Life Itself”

Tay Neal (he/him/his) is an elementary school teacher in the Kansas City Public School District who has a background in behavioral intervention. He is continuing his professional development in elementary education. 

While reading the teaching philosophy he created at the start of 2023, Tay Neal spoke to the importance of bringing freedom, critical thinking, and personal responsibility into education to spark meaningful and positive change in the world. Nestled in his philosophy was a quote from John Dewey stating, “Education is not preparation for life, education is life itself.”

Education is one of the ways we learn how to make sense of the world. Education happens both in the classroom and throughout our daily lives. As we continue to absorb the complexity of our surroundings, knowing that there are educators who have our best interest in mind, when contributing to our learning is vitally important.

Teachers Like Me is impacting communities through their investment in Black teachers. Now on their third cohort of teachers, their network is continuing to expand. The educators of Teachers Like Me show us that when we have networks of people to lean on and learn from we can create spaces that hold our aspirations, our concerns, and visions for the future. 

More information on the Teachers Like Me housing program and applications for the 2024 cohort can be found at their website: https://www.teacherslikeme.org.

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