During my junior year of college, I couldn’t figure out what was so special about the history class I was taking. Finally it hit me: I loved that class because for the first time in my life, my teacher was an African American male. And when I looked at him, I could picture myself at the front of a classroom. I had already decided to major in education, but that’s when I recognized how powerful it would be – for my future students and for myself – to be visible, as an African American male, in the position of leadership a teacher holds.
I think about that moment of recognition often. When I became a teacher in the same school district where I had been a student, I saw it as an opportunity to be a role model students could relate to.
One day, I was teaching my class about the civil rights movement of the 1950s and ’60s, and I made the simple statement, ‘During that time period, it would not have been possible for me to be your teacher.’ I asked them, ‘For how many of you am I your first African American teacher?’ The majority of their hands went up. Then I asked, ‘For how many of you am I your first African American male teacher?’ and almost every hand went up.
It’s powerful for my students – not just African American students, or students of color, but all my students – to form a relationship with me as an educator in their school community. And I consider it a privilege and an honor to serve in that role. I believe that a major component of overcoming bias and working toward equity in education is building relationships with the kids we teach – and modeling what is possible for their futures, too.