While at Cohen High School Willie Muhammad learned of Mrs. Jeff’s reputation for academic rigor and her low tolerance for behavior issues, but the “war stories” passed down from other students didn’t deter him from enrolling in her history course. It was in that class that he became aware of the inhumane treatment and atrocities committed against Native Americans, African people, and people of color as a whole across the globe. It was because of Mrs. Jeff’s infamous History class that Willie Muhammad began his journey as a student of history.
As he began to think about college and making a living he knew he wanted to share his passion for history with others. At the time, Xavier University had a program for recruiting more black teachers, particularly black men. He graduated from the program and began his teaching career at John F. Kennedy High School where he taught world history and geography. He quickly became known as the teacher who made history come alive for students. He recalls a professional development meeting where older teachers discussed feeling defeated and lacking ideas to reach the youth; when suddenly, with eagerness, he popped out of his seat in a Jerry Maguire moment proclaiming, “What we have to do is make the subject matter interesting and relevant to students— and I know how!”
“Knowledge of self has to be included in the curriculum and teaching approach in order for education to become relevant to our students. When you teach children history and that their ancestors have made meaningful contributions to civilization in areas like math, art, science and history, this helps them not have a disdain for the subject matter,” said Muhammad. New Orleans youth live in a state of trauma that stems from the stress of post-Katrina living conditions, poverty, and crime— where it’s easier to access guns, drugs, and hopelessness than quality schools. As we approach the next 10 years of education reform in NOLA, an important component will be using pedagogical strategies to undo the conditioning students are indoctrinated into by using history, science, math, and art to help them realize their lives do indeed matter.
Mr. Muhammad said that if you ask a young person to name their top priorities— education would likely not be at the top. Reason being— “Many youth do not see education as a real means for changing their immediate circumstances.” He explained that the real life examples they have learned from don’t come from doctors, engineers and professionals but rather from the tales and experiences of local rappers like Kevin Gates and Boosie Badazz. The #Next10 is about an education that includes knowledge of self. Education that addresses their skills gaps, lack of interest for the content and negative self-worth. Education for children who live in a state of trauma and a city that has yet to heal from the psychological and economic wounds of Hurricane Katrina. Education in New Orleans can’t look the same as education in other cities, our context matters.
He now is a 15 year veteran teacher at McMain High School, remains active in the community, and leads Mosque 46 in New Orleans. The passion that came alive for him in Mrs. Jeff’s classroom still leads him to ignite the interest for history in young people. This real New Orleans hero came out of a teaching program that recruited black males much like Brothers Empowered to Teach (BE2T) and calls for curriculum and teaching approaches similar to those of Dr. Jawanza Kunjufu, author of Understanding Black Male Learning Styles.
With tears in her eyes, Rhonda Jordan expressed fear and uncertainty concerning her son who will be an incoming 9th grader in the fall. They are hoping the OneApp late enrollment process yields a positive result and are holding out hope to land a spot at one of the top schools in the city.
Her youngest and only son just finished at Langston Hughes. Although he has had behavioral issues in the past, he was in a supportive environment where he was being coached beyond academics. All of her school choices were “C” grade schools away from their community. Because she knows what her son needs in a school—her top priority is getting her son into a school that encourages his academic, behavioral and emotional growth. “I want my child to go to school to get an education, not to be in fear of constant confrontation.” Rhonda believes confrontation comes from children not knowing each other and coming from different wards in the city.
For students who need positive behavioral support, attending a “C” grade school while beholden to can result in parent voices like Rhonda saying, “I fear for my son’s life in this city and this shouldn’t be the case at a school.” Children land in schools in unfamiliar neighborhoods, turfs, and wards, yet are expected to co-exist and perform. As educators, reformers, and community stakeholders, what can we do to build community on school campuses that allows students to bring in their positive identities and values to perform as their true authentic selves? With the concern of turfs and sets rising in New Orleans, how can schools and a decentralized school system create a strengths-based strategy for building a sustainable school community where children thrive and parents don’t fear for their safety?
Summer can be a very unsafe and vulnerable time for our children. Temperatures reach 90+, the last second line of the season has passed and unless your child is in a summer program, chances are they are bored. Playing outside can be dangerous as crime rates go up in the city. The FBI reports that on average, crime increases nearly 10 percent between the months of June and August. As a city we have already reached 91 murders compared to 70 last year at this same time. Our children also experience an equally dangerous summer learning loss— an average of 2 months is loss over the summer according to National Summer Learning Association.
But it doesn’t have to be this way. We can help to prevent our teachers from spending the first month of school reviewing old information, skills and content to get students caught up. Summer 2015 is not over and our students can come back stronger than before they went on summer break. Here is how:
Here are some of my friend Dooda’s favorite summer reads:
–Shark vs. Train
–Dragon’s Love Tacos
–The Diary of a Worm (book we received at the National Charter School Conference through Scholastics Summer Reading Take-Home Program that includes very affordable Fiction/Non-Fiction books, think sheets and a journal.
2. #NOLAKIDS go to summer camp
-Check NORDC or call (504) 658-3000 for summer camps that still have open slots.
Required for Registration:
1. Proof of Orleans Parish Residency (copy of driver’s license or utility bill)
2. Proof of Income for one full month with a 2015 date (pay stubs, SSI or food stamp award letters). If no income, a notarized statement to that effect. (Proof of income and proof of residency may be the same document – pay stubs and award letters.)
3. Copy of a 2014-2015 report card
4. Registration fee (cash or money order only; no checks will be accepted)
3. #NOLAKIDS are learners and explorers
-Explore your child’s talents in sports, science, the arts etc.
-Team up with others in your family and/or neighborhood to teach each other’s children your own talents (instrument, drawing, sports, cultural heritage, cooking etc.)
-Build your family tree and teach your child about their family heritage and stories of their ancestors
-Take trips to historical sites, museums, art galleries, and visit college campuses
-Practice a new language(s)— Learn 5 basic words/phrases per week
-Contact previous teacher to find out what areas of development to focus on
-Contact new teachers to find our which areas of develop to prepare for the new school year
Can you imagine if Pittsburgh Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin taught 4th grade English or if Shawn Carter (Jay-Z) was a professor of business administration? We need this kind of talent in schools to overcome institutional racism.
In his latest column, It’s Easier to Remove a Confederate Flag, than a Racist Teacher, Andre Perry sees the recent call to remove the confederate flag following the death of nine black citizens in South Carolina as a limited first step.
Racism has no place in public education considering the profound impact schooling has on a student’s trajectory. Removing racist teachers is obvious. But what’s the next step? Are there viable barometers that can detect personal biases such as racism, sexism, and non-commitment? People get jobs everyday out of necessity as opposed to a genuine commitment to a profession, justice or to noble democratic aims. Why would teaching be any different?
So how do we detect negative characteristics of teachers given the shortage of viable candidates in relation to the demand?
We may not be able to see what motivates one to teach, but we can get a closer look at candidates when they train. Also, we must recruit more candidates from the communities that need justice.
A teacher’s preparation and ability to connect with students is paramount to a student’s success. Before and after Katrina, there was a clear need for teachers. Many of our current teacher recruitment programs are focused on recruiting talented prospects. But because of the feverish demand for good teachers in New Orleans, particularly men of color, recruitment often trumps thorough preparation.
I don’t believe our teacher preparation programs intentionally set out to create such a dynamic. But a focus on filling teaching jobs can deprioritize the training that maximizes the student-teacher relationship. When we rush people in, they will more than likely rush out. The push to fill positions create turnstile relationships between students and their teachers as well as teachers and their schools. The rush also places inexperienced teachers in high-stake environments.
In addition, teacher recruitment starts with students in the schools. Students won’t want to become teachers if they don’t bond with them. We need to make sure teachers see students as being future teachers and not as troublemakers. Moreover, if we want more students to value their own education, they need to see themselves in their teachers.
In New Orleans nearly 50% of young black men will drop out as early as the 8th grade. There are 14,000 young people between the ages of 16 and 24 who are neither in school or working. There’s an obvious lack of attachment in the classroom, and I contend we can find opportunities in black boys who can fill teacher voids. We can design and deliver teacher programs that not only create stellar teachers but also increase diversity in the classroom.
Everybody deserves the opportunity to see someone who looks like them lead a classroom. Brothers Empowered to Teach (BE2T) is a response to that right.
Brothers Empowered to Teach’s (BE2T) mission is to generate a pipeline of incredible teachers who mirror success for their students by recruiting men of color into classroom-based careers.
BE2T takes a longer-term approach to developing stellar teachers with a focus on black men. Starting sophomore year BE2T fellows will be placed with a local school partner to engage in tutoring and mentoring for one year as an introduction to working in education and with kids. Junior year fellows will participate in a lab component, which facilitates a supported teaching experience in secondary schools. It also builds a myriad of capacities including administrative leadership. Finally, fellows’ senior year will continue to focus on pedagogy and professional development. They will also be paired with a veteran educator for personal mentorship and tutelage. BE2T also offers support to recent graduates and career-changers interested in teaching.
How does our model impact the learning and growing of students in classrooms? BE2T aims to place a firm emphasis on social and cultural responsiveness to counter the ‘deficit perspective’ that has plagued some of our classrooms. BE2T wants their teachers to focus on the strengths of their student and not weakness. This approach alone can combat the negative feelings many students develop over time in classrooms with teachers with clear biases.
We need more male teachers of color to combat institutional racism. We have a solution.
For more info on BE2T visit: www.be2t.org
Facebook: Brothers Empowered to Teach
Contact us: 504-708-8990
OneApp late enrollment cycle will be held at Dillard University from July 8 – July 17.
Professional Schools and Services Building
2601 Gentilly Blvd., 70122
7:30 AM – 5:00 PM, Monday – Friday
Free parking available | Accessible by RTA bus #94 Broad Street
Students will be served by grade groups. Additional information for late enrollment after July 17 will be available on EnrollNOLA.org. For more information or if you have questions please visit http://enrollnola.org or call 1-877-343-4773.
In order to receive a new placement, families will need:
• Guardian Identification
• Proof of residency
• Final report card
Grades 9-12 ONLY
July 8th – July 10th
only students in grades 9-12 will be served at this time
Grades PK-8 ONLY
July 13th – 15th
only students in grades PK-8 will be served at this time
July 16th – 17th
students in all grades will be served at this time
information obtained from ULGNO and EnrollNOLA.org
We can’t go any further without addressing intersectionality in education reform.
Over the past few years, images of violence against black people have dominated twitter feeds, air waves, and news segments across the country. Young people are increasingly becoming witness to real life public examples that they are not valued and that they do not matter. Just in the past month, we have mourned the nine lives whose last moments in a Charleston sanctuary were spent praying and pleading for mercy; conversations about being black in white spaces have resurfaced following the viral dissemination of a video that captured 14-year old Dejerria Becton and her peers being terrorized by police outside a pool party in McKinney, Texas; and we learned about the tragic plight of Kalief Browder who took his life to escape the traumatic horrors endured as a result of spending 3 years of his childhood on Rikers Island. In view of these facts, structural violence against black people highlight the need for the education reform movement to become intersectional.
Structural violence, like physical violence, is debilitating whereby people are impacted on physical, psychological, mental and emotional level. Unlike physical violence though, structural violence is wielded by institutions and has long-term impacts on the health and well-being of those without the power or access to become decision makers within those institutions. Structural violence shapes the experiences our children have in education starting in preschool, throughout K-12, college, and into their professional careers. Kids Count Data Center 2012 reported 41% of children in New Orleans live in high-poverty opposed to 29% in the state. This economic violence comes out of the growing wealth inequality and the shrinking middle class in America. Structural violence and economic violence compounded with the actual violence of the justice system (police brutality, over incarceration of black people, sentencing laws) and healthcare access and disparities are prevalent and have tangible effects on education outcomes. Education reform must then include structural violence as a core component of its movement. Since education and learning do not happen in a vacuum and therefore aren’t disconnected or isolated from all the other variables happening in black communities, if we are even remotely serious about improving educational outcomes, we must do so with structural violence as the frame moving forward.
Howard Fuller was a speaker on a race and education panel last week at The Education Research Alliance Conference, and he shared that black people came out of slavery understanding that education was to be used for liberation. To become more intersectional we must acknowledge the multiple systems of oppression black and brown people exist within. We are having difficulties seeing real movement in education reform because of all these other variables impacting education and our learners. In order for us to move the needle on education reform we have to address these other issues as well. If we want to see the impact of the resources that have been invested and the work that has been done on the ground in these different communities we need to move in the interest of becoming more intersectional.
White allies: we need you. In fact we need you to step up in ways you have not. Having an intersectional movement may be challenging in ways that may cause you to rethink your ideology around this work. We need a new way to look at education reform so that it is not just about teacher effectiveness, common core and other policies but moves beyond to include these other structural inequalities that impact black and brown lives. We need you to learn and understand these issues more deeply. We need you support those of us who understand structural violence on a personal level to lead the movement. We need you to believe in our vision for our community and work with us to leverage the resources that you have amassed with our help over the past couple of decades in the education reform movement. We can’t go on without our movement being intersectional; not if we say we really care about student achievement and not if say we care about people of color.
Students and families in New Orleans have done the hard work of rebuilding and reforming education post Hurricane Katrina and this makes them the real heroes of education reform. They have done the work day in and day out to create student achievement and here are some of their voices. Join the second line and share your #RealHeroesNOLA story.
“When parents register I make sure there are documents in their native language and help them find services in and outside of school. If they’re Hispanic families and are newcomers I ask if they need clothing or school supply assistance. I direct them to our school social worker and translate for them. Once our kids are here I form relationships with them and their families. I help make it more comfortable for them to have open communication if case they have issues becoming acclimated to the school. If they need resources I visit churches on their behalf and do home visits. If the children need tutoring I tutor them afterschool or on my free time. I basically take the kids and their parents and make them my own family. Our relationship is such that if they need something they come to me.”
Sparkle Fuentez – Dwight D. Eisenhower Academy of Global Studies
“Molding successful students isn’t a career, it’s a commitment and a collaboration. Education and its intricate policies are an “adult” problem of sorts that warrants the utmost attention of teachers and parents alike. We (teachers and parents) must remain committed to holding our students to the highest expectations because we are working for them. That alone commands nothing less than ALL that we have to offer.”
Sade Jackson – 5th grade math teacher and Teach NOLA
“As a parent, you are your child’s best advocate. It’s vital to establish positive relationships with your child’s educators and stay as visible as possible in all aspects of your child’s educational experiences. These things must be done to ensure a successful outcome.”
Angelle Cresswell – mother of three
“As their grandmother I help their mother establish structure and routine for the boys to be able to be productive at school. They do homework as soon as they come home and have a set bedtime at 8pm. They know their place as learners and children in their house, we have expectations of them.”
Troy Simms – grandmother of three