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Saying it because someone needs to: Words from a Black Male Educator in New Orleans

By Juan Serrano

To be black and have a chance at a quality education in America is a fight, rather than a privilege, no matter who is sitting in the White House. As a Black male educator, it is my duty and my calling through the love of my people to make a difference in the lives of the children who need us most.

I do that by teaching a social justice course entitled “Seminar in Innovation and Change” at the Abramson Science Academy in New Orleans. I teach this course because I want to challenge our students to think deeply about how they can work to make their communities better. With the freedom to deliver a more kinesthetic teaching approach, I can reach our students in ways that other educators cannot.

There are patterns of inequality and bias that permeate our society today. Whether in a red state or a blue state, the inequity is real. I see Black and brown children in New Orleans and across this country suffering every day at the hands of inequality and racism. Teaching is the way I fight back. For my students, the opportunity to learn from an educator who looks like them is vitally important. I want them to know that the world needs them. No matter what challenges they face, the world needs them. I’m here to show them a different path by helping to change the trajectory of their lives.

And we know that having just one black teacher can change the trajectory of a student’s life. So here I am.

According to the Seattle Times,

In a working paper released this year, a team of researchers — from American University, Johns Hopkins University and the University of California, Davis — found that low-income, male students who are black were 39 percent less likely to drop out of high school if they had at least one black teacher in grades 3-5.

Teaching is my way of working for the liberation of our children.

The biggest challenge for me has been to fill gaps in knowledge that linger in my students from their previous learning environments, while also preparing them for the most rigorous, post-secondary opportunity available to them. It is forever a balancing act.

As a person of color, I understand we often create versions of ourselves based on what the world is giving us.  My job as a teacher is therefore to link my students’ broader understanding of power, oppression, and community vision to tangible actions. I know too well how often our teachers do not reflect those they serve. Our students have grown up in educational systems that have failed to serve them well.  

It pains me to state the obvious fact that representation matters for our students. The need for Black male educators is as urgent in New Orleans as it is anywhere, especially if we consider the roles race and education play in our criminal justice system. Creating teacher pipelines for people of color to staff our K-12 schools is critical.

I don’t know what my colleagues will think about my words but as we continue to live in a world that is forever being plagued by “distractors” instead of what’s really important, I felt like I had to say something. As we continue these global conversations about issues that directly affect our children, I ask myself, and you, where are our Black and brown children in these conversations?

How are they being protected? And Uplifted?

As a teacher, I want to be known as someone who is unwavering in my expectations for what is possible with hard work. I want my students to know that I love and accept them completely without reservation.

Teaching is my craft. Being a voice for our children is my purpose.

 

Juan is a teacher and leader at Abramson Sci Academy, a high performing High School Charter operating in New Orleans East

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