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An Interview with Douglas Butler Jr

New Orleans native, Douglas Butler Jr., has spent the last 8+ years working tirelessly to give back to all students and families with whom he comes into contact.  Serving as both a math instructor and dance coach at L.B. Landry- O.P. Walker College and Career Preparatory High School, Butler believes strongly in the strength and power of community and has been focused on ways to empower himself to continue to transform lives through education.  One way Butler looks to himself to do this is by furthering his own education as he teaches, thus demonstrating what discipline, hard work and consistency really look like.  Butler anticipates receiving his Ph.D in 2020.

Why are you so passionate about the work you do?

I’ve always loved school. I loved school as a child and I love it even more now. When I was in primary school, I acted as if I were the teacher, helping others in my class and ensuring that all my classmates were able to work we were given. Throughout my high school summer breaks, I would run my family’s daycare. My passion for teaching permeated throughout my summer experience when I would teach my younger relatives daily. My passion for learning and exposing young people to enriched experiences has now manifested into a career that I find both rewarding and relational. Fostering positive relationships has allowed me to grow young people both academically and socially, a responsibility that I don’t take lightly.  

Are you concerned about the shortage of Black male educators our community? If so, what action steps do you think need to happen to increase their presence?

It’s no secret that there’s a shortage of African American male teachers in our schools.  My greatest concern is not that we don’t have adequate teachers; it’s the fact that African American males aren’t being seen as relevant in all of our communities. One thing to note is that African American male teachers serve as role models for all students across diverse lines. When there is an African American teacher in place, it shows that the African American male can hold a place of power within our ever evolving society. I believe that this is important for all races and classes of people because the lack of African American male teacher challenges us to recognize forms of oppression and systemic issues that prevent, restrict, and annex African American teachers to be relevant additions to our education system.

Do you find that there’s pressure with being a black male educator?  If so, how do you address this?

Pressure as a black male in general is a problem. I notice that black educators in general are always under scrutiny. The challenge to be great is the challenge to function within a flawed system that views black educators as inadequate; inadequate through the lens of academics, but adequate through the lens of discipline. It seems as if the “powers” that are in control of our educational system view us as a disciplinarian versus a scholar. The two are equally important, however, when folks view us as “keepers” of African American students, it diminishes our role. Sometimes pressure for me means making those folks aware of their unconscious expectations around my role. Pressure from an academic role is to adhere to the many changes that occur within state mandates. Pressure from a community standpoint comes for the need to replace a sometimes absent male role model, which presents all types of challenges. One challenge is ensuring that my students understand that while I can also be Uncle Doug, my job title is Mr. Butler.

Do you feel supported within your role as a black male educator?

It’s hard to answer this question because I feel that the system should provide another degree of support in general. From my role solely as a black male educator, I think that there could be more support around finding a mental balance of the issues that we are plagued with daily. Sometimes I wonder how many more times will I have to bear the news of one of my students being killed or murdered or incarcerated. When I first started this work my expectations were much like a banking model; I expected to get back what I put in. But I learned quickly that that is  not always the case. That mindset has changed drastically, and now I recognize that the work of education, especially in an urban setting is much like a stock market. There are some losses, and mostly there are  some gains, but you go into the situation knowing there’s a level of inherent risk. Conversely, I’m not sure if the analogy is always represented in the context of what happens daily as when things seems to not be going well one can remove their investment and cut their losses; that’s not true with students. There’s no cutting your losses and there’s no reinvesting. I guess my expectation around support is that support is provided in a holistic way that embodies not just instructional growth but the capacity of building teachers to accept both the losses and gains.

What are some of the challenges you see our youth and their families up against?

One main challenge I see is education from a systemic perspective. The hardest challenge is to educate parents about their children’s education when they don’t have a point of reference to compare the experiences that I’m trying to provide as a teacher.  

Despite the challenges that may come along with educating our NOLA youth, what keeps you going?

The belief in change. While it’s a slow process, change is happening, and mostly for the better. I think we are all going into education with the ideal that our youth are more than capable to rise to the occasion. The progress of this keeps me going .

Years from now, as both educator and coach, what do you want your legacy to be?

I want children to remember a teacher who was both compassionate and stern. I want children to remember a teacher who both believed and cared. I want children to remember that anything is possible, and the challenge that many of them face is themselves. Once that realization is made, young people can navigate through other barriers that prevent them from excelling.

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