Black Male Educators of New Orleans: An Interview with Will Horton Jr.
Exhibit the likeness. Provoke imagination. Instill into minds. Establish perception.
The seeds of change are planted with intention. They are nurtured, watered, and cultivated with love. Then the results are set free to flourish and plant seeds of their own.
But of course there are still black males who choose to teach in New Orleans. With this series I hope to shine a light on some of these local heroes—to examine their motivations and explore their experiences in the classroom.
Will Horton grew up in the Uptown neighborhood of Hollygrove, attending parish public schools. One of five siblings and the son of a businessman and the first woman superintendent of the Jefferson Parish Department of Parkways, Horton graduated from John F. Kennedy High School and went on to earn a BA and a master’s at the University of New Orleans. He has taught at Dillard University and the University of New Orleans and has also mentored teens at government-sponsored summer camps and as a member of the 100 Black Men of Metro New Orleans.
In the early 90s Horton directed and produced music videos for local rap artists, and he still works occasionally on documentaries and PSAs.
We spoke recently about his decision to become a teacher and his role as an educator in his hometown.
Why did you decide to become an educator?
Horton: If you look at the educational landscape of New Orleans post-Katrina and the absence of black male teachers in the school system, that within itself is a call to action. A need to reach out, volunteer, be in the classrooms, be somewhere to get a hold of this education thing before it gets out of hand.
I always felt that I was mentoring somebody at different points in my career, and why stop? At some point I needed help along the way.
Parents are sending their kids to me every day, and whatever I say or do is going to directly affect them. We’re shaping minds in this classroom and when you’re charged with that responsibility, that’s a heavy responsibility.
We always hear how we need to meet kids on their level. I believe in meeting them at just above their level and bringing them up, and giving them expectations to model, achieve, and overcome.
What’s the best part of your job?
Horton:The best part of my job? “Good morning, Mr. Horton. What are we learning today?” That sticks out in my mind. That kid’s face. I can see his face right now, I can picture it clear as day. When one of my kids can take what we learn in the classroom and apply it to everyday life: “Hey, you know what Mr. Horton? We were driving down the lake, and we saw a levee, and I explained to my mom how levees work, how levees fail, and this is what happened during Hurricane Katrina.”
They are your kids speaking like an engineer, analyzing levees, and they weren’t born yet (when levees broke after Katrina).
What’s the hardest part of your job?
Horton:The hardest part of my job? It’s when l have to give a test that’s Common Core-rigorous to a kid that’s not on the reading level and not prepared for that test. I have a kid that’s reading two levels below and it’s not their fault.
If I just taught what kids may think is an awesome lesson, those kids are walking out of the classroom thinking about that, connecting that and they may not be standing like a soldier. They may be counting it out on their fingers, talking about it with their hands, being creative and thinking forward with it, and I would hate to tell them, “OK, stop,” and stifle their creativity at that moment. It’s crucial that the moment after a child learns something for them to reflect immediately on that instead of going away and trying to come back later. If they could start making those connections right then and there, I think it really affects their achievement.
When you’re a teenager you don’t place value on your parents’ preaching and teaching to you, but once you grow up and realize what the world is all about, start to reflect you see the tenets of wisdom that would prepare you for life in this world.
My dad always said, “Son, never let a fool destroy you. Especially one who has nothing to lose.” Being a black male in New Orleans, there are so many forces against you that you have no control of. I think it’s my duty, not just my right as a black man, but my duty to reach back and do something. I think being in the classroom I can be the most effective.