Black Boys in Crisis: Teachers, the Good and the Appalling
In this series, appropriately titled “Black Boys in Crisis,” I highlight the problems facing black boys in education today, as well as provide clear steps that will lead us out of the crisis.
One of the most influential teachers I had was my high school biology teacher, Mrs. Minor. She was the wife of my former elementary school principal, and mother to one of my classmates. Mrs. Minor approached her job as a teacher from the standpoint of love and caring. She recognized that, for many of us, her smile was the only one we would see each day. She wanted to be a beacon of hope, letting us know that our situations were only temporary.
Mrs. Minor did not care who your parents were or what you looked like; everyone had a fair shake with her. Because of this, many of us tried our best in her class. She had a deep and abiding love for the subject of biology, and her excitement was infectious. Even those of us who hated science loved biology after taking her class. She related the subject to our everyday lives and let us know why we needed to learn it.
Unfortunately, not every teacher was as caring, diligent, and capable as Mrs. Minor. My high school physics teacher, for example, did not know anything about physics. For an entire year, we would simply show up for class and do nothing. When it was time for him to be evaluated, he would have us go around the room and read aloud from our physics textbook. To my chagrin, he received a great evaluation.
But that was not even my worst experience. As a sophomore, I was slated to take chemistry. For the first month of the year, we had a fairly capable teacher, though he lacked pedagogical and classroom management skills. By the end of the first month, he had quit. For the rest of the semester, we had substitute teachers who knew nothing about teaching.
At the beginning of the second semester, we got a new teacher. She had a master’s degree in chemistry but was not a licensed teacher. For the entire semester, she simply let us do as we pleased and did not teach a single lesson. When it was time for her to be evaluated, she did what my physics teacher had done: she made us go around the room and read from our chemistry textbook. That was the only time we opened our book the entire year. She too received a great evaluation.
When I received my report card that summer, I was shocked to find out that I had received an F in chemistry. I was so upset! We had only completed a couple of assignments all year, and those were during the first month of school. I told my father, and he explained that I could take it again the next year. I tried to get him to go to the school to advocate for me, but he did not feel comfortable doing so.
He asked my cousin’s wife, who was an elementary school teacher in the school district, to accompany me to the school. Together we explained the situation to an administrator, and they agreed to change my grade to a B. I was thankful that I did not have to repeat the class; however, I’m embarrassed to have a B in chemistry on my high school transcript, though I know nothing about the subject!
Though I didn’t decide to become a teacher until several years later, I remember thinking during these disastrous high school experiences that something had to change. The students were getting cheated of an education, and thus a livelihood.