I’m quiet about my profession. Outside of this here blog. I rarely volunteer that I teach. Or that I’m a special education teacher. Or that I teach students in Brooklyn. Or that my students are all Black and Latino. Or that they’ve had a few academic failures in that pathway to my high school’s door. Or that they can be… rambunctious to the untrained eye.
That media, they sure is good at what they do! Every single time someone finds out I am a teacher, the first thing they comment on is my patience to work with those crazy kids, or the fact that they could never work with bad ass kids. Everytime. It always makes for an awkward introduction. I’m normally compelled to contextualize black-adolescent behavior in historical context for my new comrade real quick. It always seems to bring the other person to a hard stop when I completely reframe the conversation about how bountiful my students are in every which way and how I wish everyone could teach so they could enjoy the same feeling.
I mean, when I tell yall that there NOTHING better than teaching a classroom of my kids I mean it. They are such amazing vessels to be surrounded by. My kids burn off energy and brilliance like its been out of style since style was style. I love working with young wo/men that are developing into our nation’s newest and brightest minds. Everyday my mind is blown from their ability to spontaneously combust into catastrophic clashings sometimes of joy and other times out of terror. Everyday I learn something new from my kids. Each day I’m humbled with their knowledge and understanding of the world. Each day, their resilience reminds me of how easy I’ve had it in my life so far. Each day they push me to come with my A-game to even share the same space with them. Honestly, and I could drop the fuckin mic right here. These kids have me on my fucking A-game. Everything I wasn’t in track and field, I am for them. Nothing in my life has made me want to succeed as bad as these kids.
Everyday they suckle on every last piece of energy and knowledge that I have to bestow upon them. And each day I feel like I gotta reup and find some new shit to feed them. If I’m not nourished, in the traditions and the virtues and spectacle of my own being, then how can they be? They show me more respect than I feel like I’ve earned and deserve. Each day, they welcome me into their midst when they don’t know how raunchy and pathetic I may have been the night before. They accept me, and expect me! Even when I come home and struggle to accept and expect myself!
These kids fight-fight everyday against a society that has already fucked them so over-over-over that they great grandkids’ futures are probably already on some statisticians desktop being plotted and pointed for gross profit-propagandalization. And the real shame is n****s prolly great-great-great-great-quadruple-great grandkids have already literally been accounted for. We’re livin in a world where we’re all statistics. Period. And even still my hittas hustle for opportunity and perspective that the layman takes for granted. Everyday I see my kids cast out into the depths – hungry for knowledge and a success that even I struggle to envision and create for my damn self.
I know I can’t pay it justice. But… there’s absolutely nothing like walking into a room of people 9 years younger than me – and trying to give them every piece of me that I have so they can do great things in this fucked up world. These kids feed my soul. Oh my god. Its so insane. Knowing my seats are filled with stardust, blazing bright and high in the sky.
I don’t need no fucking book to say it. No fucking body to say what I know I can say.
I love teaching my little Black kids! And don’t nothin feed me more than being in a class with these Black kids! They the real ones with soul.
So I’m at a point where I feel extremely confident in my abilities. There’s many reasons for that. I do hope to write about some of these things in a future post. However, in this post I want to speak to my… young social activitists… to the agents of community development and social justice. I don’t know what to call us. But collectively this is for yall.
I’ve always wanted to remain humble and remain hungry in this work. My taste has grown, but my hustle is very much still there. Hustle has gotten me everywhere. I don’t think I was always this person. But I’m starting to figure out what it means to make things happen for myself. To be in control of my own life. To be a leader. I’m writing this to those of you looking to step into yourself, and step into your leadership. These are just suggestions. I send them humbly and hope they serve you in some way whether you’re starting a business, writing a manuscript, pursuing a graduate degree or new career, or even trying to push yourself to the next level in your current career these are for you.
Write – Get a journal or notebook and write. Physically with a utensil. No, not on your ipad or laptop. Our brains can process and create information in many different formats. (computers, vocally, on our phones, mentally in our minds, etc…) However, writing is one of the oldest methods we’ve used to create and preserve our ideas in a memorable and maneuverable form. Writing helps us re-process information, and recommits our most important and valuable ideas to our memories. Keeping a journal will help you keep track of all of your ideas, all of your questions, all of your drawings, product names, to do lists, goals, short stories… Get a journal, and develop your own system of scribing.
Learn – Put yourself in situations where you’re forced to learn something new as often as possible. Everyday is not an exaggeration. It will be uncomfortable at first experiencing something… foreign. But as humans, our natural capacity is to adapt as best as we can to new situations. It is at this beginning point that we begin to decipher new behaviors and knowledge to navigate our lives. This is the number one development hack I could ever suggest.
Read – The brain is a muscle that should be regularly exercised and trained. One of the best ways is by reading. I know reading for many seems difficult. I wasn’t a reader until recently, maybe within the last 5 years or so. I used to be self conscious about the quirks I saw i my learning. Now, reading is the easiest and quickest method we can all use to uncover new and foreign material and concepts. With these, we’re better able to prime ourselves for new projects and experiences. If books aren’t where you’re at, start with professional magazines, scholarly articles, blogs. The more you read the more you’ll train yourself to be a super learner in your everyday life.
Find the history/Develop the future – Stop and reflect on the enormity that is the Earth, our Solar System, our galaxy and out beyond to our universe. Think about the depths of our ocean, and the secrets they still hold dear. Then, think about the many many people that have walked this Earth and managed to somehow create a space in time allowing you to exist. Connecting with those before me makes it very easy to act in the interests of those after me. Developing my most bountiful future is easy when I move with generations of mine along through time.
Create space for yourself – Be the change – Be the first – Decide that you’re on this journey for a reason. Know that there is space for your point of view. Appreciate what it takes to be the one to push your journey to the forefront of your life. People need to see your words, and witness your journey to see it lying within themselves. Be comfortable in your difference and allow it to pull you forward Be accepting of how just being the full you is a revolutionary act within itself. Allow it to alter your perspective, and opens infinite new doors and possibilities. All of this is yours, if you remember that you must take that first step to put yourself out there.
Be impressive – This one is something I’ve internalized for a really long time. For a multitude of reasons. LoL I feel like I say that with all of these points. But its true. My mentor once said he didn’t get down with Exceptional Negro syndrome. Being impressive is different, but very much a distant cousin of this same idea. In a nutshell, trust yourself by always pushing to deliver your best self. Begin internalizing that by always leaving it all on the court, you’ll move like a champion and person of value. For me, there is no greater competition than constantly pushing to out due myself. I’ve gotten to a point where I’m my biggest competition. And that pushes me even more because I know that even on my worst day, I can still muster up an even better performance than my last. Consistently push for your highest level of quality.
Produce – Create. Materialize. Make. Manufacture. I’m eternally grateful for my teaching skills. Because of them, I’ve learned my own ability to manufacture products that materialize in my mind, and out onto paper and into action and being. I re-conceptualized myself as an assembly line fine-tuned to create ever-exceptionalized product. That doesn’t look just one way. But find your way. Find your niche and actively seek to add value and material to that craft. Build something for yourself and for those coming. You can define what that means for yourself.
Work Ethic – Learn how to work even when you don’t want to. This doesn’t always have to be work work. It could be time you set aside to review your goals, reenergize your spirit, relieve your stress, whatever. Put in the hours and the time. Sometimes its as easy as setting a timer and only focusing on one specific thing until the buzzer rings. I’ve learned to listen to the voice in my head that tells me “Not right now, that can wait.” I’ve trained myself to recognize that voice as an immediate call to do the opposite. Anytime I actively decide not to use my time to improve my condition is time that I’m allowing myself to self-sabotage my success. With some mental reconfiguring I’ve started to take advantage of these opportunities about 7/10 times. Assess how well you push yourself to do the things you don’t want to do. Do even more of it.
Why not me – View your life as a masterful alignment of perfect situations (preparation) for the life you’re looking to lead. Every single thing that makes me quirky and different contributes in some way, shape, and form to my successful vision of myself within this very world I am given. This goes for the situations that bring me joy, and those that bring me strife. Having the resilience to utilize and overcome strife is… priceless. Understand that you are the perfect person, as you are, to bring about the change(s) you see in your mind. I pull true strength from realizing that certain situations can only be accomplished by me. And that by battling through them I’m getting even closer to completing some or even all of my goals.
Step into the hard decision – A long time ago I remember my pops telling me that one of the best ways to advance in life is to volunteer for the things that other people don’t want to do. We all value and rely on our comforts. But comfort is the easiest default in opposition to our growth. The two are adversarial in nature. Like microaggressions we experience small opportunities to figure out the hard stuff everyday. When you train yourself to step into that space(s)… you are undeniably providing yourself with the training and experience to adapt into a more capable you.
I know I’ve for real for real been MIA. But I was partially nervous about writing. Partially-fully in the game just trying to survive and string my life together in a way that makes sense and keeps me here to be able to even share with you all. Sometimes I don’t think even I take into account how much energy that takes. I mean for all of us. But for me, I know that sometimes I just don’t even know how my life stays afloat.
Anyways… life is hard. Everyone’s life is hard. I’m just thankful that I’m here to be able to share with you guys again. Molding the life I want for myself is a struggle, but I’m immensely blessed and there’s never a second that goes by that I’m not aware and benefiting from that.
As I said though, at some point I had gotten… nervous to share which sometimes manifested as writers block. Its been about a year since I was sharing with you all consistently. A lot has happened, but overall, I feel like II had achieved my goal of documenting my journey of becoming a NYC teacher. It was a crazy time period. I transitioned into a different person. Not my final stage, but definitely evolved. That’s kind of striking. I mean, here I am turning 30 in 6 months. And looking back I’m really just appreciative of my time here. And all that I’ve been able to experience and accomplish in its totality.
At times I’ve felt like I’ve stumbled out of the blocks with this new phase that I’m pushing. Or maybe… not that way actually. I think I just couldn’t share with you all. Things were too fresh. I was still building foundations for some of my new goals and objectives and couldn’t really speak to my new ambitions. Not just yet. I tried and tried and tried to… And up until maybe two months ago I have some pretty decent records that I may tidy up and share. But, somewhere I just kept doubting my voice as valuable. At least without including valuable and vulnerable information about… my currently developing aspirations. I’m hoping to be past that now with opening a new well of… information and perspective. I want to play with format… Something more flexible. But stay tuned. I mean one thing is for sure I’ve definitely still been in the lab, trying to create my ass off! That has never and will never stop! I’ve been hustling and the learnings have been so amazing.
When I started this I wanted to create a roadmap for the homies coming after me. I used to be embarrassed to say that and proclaim that. Especially when we live in a world that is so dangerously otherly–absorbed. I don’t know that’s not the correct term. But giving isn’t the hotness. I’ll put it that way. Giving back, nurturing each other, supporting community and neighborly development isn’t what bringing in likes, yet. Its crazy getting to the point where I even feel like I can give advice on that subject. I mean I always ask the question who am I to open my mouth on this issue. Sometimes staying quiet seems like a gift that nobody but me wants. I can get away with that in most situations. Sitting in the back quietly trying not to be seen or noticed too much, you can’t hide too long when you’re working your ass off in practice, the game, and everything in between. I’ve always been a leader like that. I think I may have always gotten slack for that too. My energies are telling me that I need to change that. That that’s not my place anymore. I’m still working to acknowledge what that means for my journey and practice. But confidence is blossoming and I’m definitely taking hold.
I’m rambling. So I’ll close with Hello. I hope all is well. Whatever it is you’re trying to do, understand and believe that you can do it! Whole-heartedly. Allow your journey to guide you and let yourself become who you see yourself being.
I haven’t posted in a awhile – A few folks I know have been contemplating joining the NYC Teaching Fellows. I did some rummaging through my email and found my application from three years ago. I shocked at how much I knew back then. I definitely think my application speaks true to who I am as a person and an educator.
I wonder if the person that wrote this application would be happy with the teacher I am today…
Provide Academic Details:
Why do you feel that your GPA is not indicative of your future performance in a rigorous Master’s program? (278)
My GPA is in no way a true measure of my academic prowess. I have always been a good student. My cumulative GPA reflects an aberrant shift in priorities and an untimely bought with academic immaturity. In Spring 2005 I pursued joining a social organization, as a result my GPA dropped to a 2.9. During my remaining years at Indiana State University I unsuccessfully tried to retake the classes I previously failed, yet my drive to raise my grades in the classes wasn’t there. In other words I tried to retake them before I was ready. This was truly a juvenile move on my part. However, it is because of my regrettable performance in those classes that I learned the importance of pushing myself in all academic situations.
I am currently enrolled as a part-time MPA student at Northeastern University. I am proud to say that I enjoy the challenge of learning foreign subject matter in an effort to make myself a better person and professional. Currently I have received stellar grades on all assignments in my Functions and Techniques of Public Management course, and would be more than happy to share a proof of my transcript and/or assignments with the review board upon completion of my semester in December.
Now, years removed from undergraduate distraction and malaise I am confident in my motivation to be a successful educator. I hope that review board will view my GPA for what it was, blind immaturity from a young adult that prevented me from seeing how my inaction could affect my future. Please feel free to contact me if you would like a more in-depth explanation of my academic history.
Please provide an essay of between 400 and 600 words that addresses both of the following questions:
Nearly all Fellows are hired to teach in ‘high-need’ schools that are located in low-income communities. Why do you want to teach specifically in a high-need school in New York City? Why do you believe you will be an effective teacher in a high-need school? (451)
I have had the pleasure to work for an amazing alternative education and job training nonprofit for the past two and a half years. During my time with YouthBuild USA, I have gained heartbreaking knowledge about why many low-income youth and young adults leave or get kicked out of school. Some of the reasons can be attributed to not getting the academic support necessary to learn new material, problems stemming from the student’s home life, criminal behavior, and pregnancy to name a few.
None the less, many of the young leaders I work with have expressed that a caring and thoughtful adult/teacher can make a world of difference in a student’s life. It is my mission to develop youth into young leaders. Personal experience has shown me that many youth, specifically young males of color, benefit from having someone that looks like them mentor and support their personal, academic, social, and professional development.
Working with low-income youth in NYC will give me the opportunity to move from a reactive and corporate role in fighting education disparity to a more front-lines spot in this war. I love the work that I get to engage in as the Graduate Education and Policy Coordinator for YouthBuild USA, but I yearn deeply for the opportunity to take action in a classroom setting every day to help make the lives’ of my students more bountiful.
To me, NYC is the personification of diversity, eccentricity, resilience, and strength. The war on education inequality can’t be fought on a more important battleground than the streets, homes, and youth that inhabit NYC. I want to learn and be a part of the solution, and I believe that solution will be uncovered there.
There are many reasons why I feel I will be an effective member of the Teaching Fellows team. Number one is passion! I have an intense desire to help youth, specifically low-income, realize their potential that lies within, so they can have an easier transition into the professional and scholastic world. I believe the combination of my passion and professional experiences will help push me to become an effective NYC special education teacher.
In addition to my passion, being an African American male in the classroom will help me connect with my students. It will also show them another example of a positive role model that they may not get the opportunity to see often. I aim to be a supportive teacher that values the opinions of my students. I am also patient, a problem solver, and a good communicator. Overall, I am looking to be fully engaged in the learning cycle – as a contributor to my students’ development and as a beneficiary of the teaching experience.
What is the greatest challenge you expect to encounter in raising student achievement in a high need school (400-600)? What do you believe would be your role, as a teacher, in addressing this challenge? (573)
Academics will always be a challenge. However, the biggest challenge will be changing the long standing beliefs and pre-conceived notions that affect low-income communities, particularly their students. I want to create a culture of student achievement, and great possibilities. However, having that permeate my students is not enough. It has to penetrate other classrooms, teachers, faculty and staff. The students have to believe in it enough to take it home and trust in it when they have to face their challenges alone, or when staff is not available to help walk them through. Students have to buy into it so much that it affects their parents, siblings, families, peers, neighbors, and communities of support. If I can’t get my students to believe in themselves, then raising their achievement levels will be extremely difficult. It seems like an impossible task, but it has to start somewhere. I believe I can be an affective agent of change through my own classroom work.
As a teacher, I will have to set high expectations in my classroom for myself and my students. I would like to incorporate past and present accomplishments of the students’ peers into our daily activities. Seeing what my counterparts and ancestors were able to achieve serves as a huge inspiration for me. I want to introduce my students to similar experiences in an effort to support their own dreams and goals, and show them that if it was possible for (blank), then it is possible for you as well.
Many of the young leaders I work with through YouthBuild say that a major reason they have changed their lives from dropouts to high school graduates is that our programs create a family vibe that they may not be receiving at home. I want to recreate this atmosphere for my students so they will know that they have a safe place to learn. Creating a safe environment starts with respect. Everyone in the classroom needs to support the learning of their peers.
I want to introduce my students to the concepts of self-doubt and self-sabotage. Self-doubt is a counterproductive mindset that inhibits one’s productivity due to a lack of belief in their own abilities. Self-sabotage is a fear of the unknown or uncommon success, generally resulting in the derailment of positive behaviors that lead to one’s own defeat. I will work within my classroom to set up early warning systems to alert me when one of my students enters into one of these detrimental spaces.
Many people allow both of these subconscious behaviors to inhibit their potential, particularly low income students. By labeling, I will draw their attention to these concepts with the hope that they will be more equipped to persist through these challenges to success. I will also work to develop a culture of student leadership in my classroom.
I want to be a mentor for my students. I plan to be an ever-present helping hand that will support them through their challenges in the classroom. I recognize that most students may not feel comfortable doing this at first. This is why it is important that I set up a safe learning space and relationship, so that my students will feel comfortable reaching out to me.
Last, but not least, I will have an open door policy for parents and guardians. I want the families of my students to know that I will always welcome them to engage in their child’s learning.
Explain how your past experience informs your response to these questions. If applicable, please include relevant personal, work, or volunteer experience with high-need communities. (311)
I’ve peppered many of these essays with knowledge that I’ve gained working with YouthBuild USA and a lot of its student and alumni representatives. YouthBuild is a national nonprofit that focuses on helping low-income young adults, ages 16 – 24, return to school to obtain their high school diploma/GED and job training skills. Many of the students who enter YouthBuild programs across the nation have left school for a number of reasons which can include but are not limited to not getting the academic support necessary to learn new material, problems stemming from the student’s home life, criminal behavior, transportation issues, being expelled from the local school district, or even an unexpected pregnancy.
As the Graduate Education and Policy Coordinator for YouthBuild USA I get to work closely with many of the students and alumni who are involved in our young adult policy councils or our National Speakers Bureau. I also work with our students that attend our national events such as Conference of Young Leaders which takes place annually each March in Washington, DC. In this role I work under two departments, our Graduate Leadership Department and our Postsecondary Education Department.
In this capacity that I get to hear many best practices on how to support the development of disengaged youth from our students, alumni, program staff, and partners across the nation. This knowledge has given me valuable ideas about how to make a difference, but only the Teaching Fellows will allow me to put these ideas into action.
I truly enjoy working with the students to transform their best practices into national policy suggestions. However, I feel the need to have a more direct role with students in a classroom environment. Many of the ways I plan to support student development inside my classroom are indirect representations of advice, practices, and tools I have heard throughout my time with YouthBuild.
In no more than 400 words, please briefly describe your specific interests within the NYC Teaching Fellows program. While not required, we encourage candidates to respond to these essays as they will help us to understand your Fellowship preferences.
3. Why do you want to teach Special Education? If applicable, please include relevant personal, work or volunteer experience with populations with special needs. (372)
I feel the natural next step in my professional career is to become a teacher. One of my future goals is to be an education administrator supporting the development of strong students, alumni, teachers and support staff. I have gained valuable administrative experience in the field, but now it is time for me to venture into the realm of teaching and educating in a true classroom setting.
Graduating from college with a degree in public relations has made me a strong thinker and communicator. However, my degree limited my immediate options to enter the realm of traditional teaching. I actually investigated getting an alternative teaching certificate a few years back. But, I became discouraged when I realized that I could never teach science, history, or English.
Eventually I realized that working in for an education nonprofit was not close enough for me to feel as though I was making a real difference. Around the same time I saw an ad on idealist.org asking for teachers in New York City. It was then that I understood that I was still eligible to become a special education teacher, and I have been re-energized ever since.
To me, special education has a strong correlation to the student population I was working with at YouthBuild USA. I do not claim to know all the answers, nor the unique challenges this subgroup of students face on a daily basis. However, I understand that this classroom environment will be made up of an eclectic group of learners. This tells me that the classroom will not lend itself to using one approach to ensure all are learning the same content.
It is my understanding that this group of students would benefit from highly specialized and individualized instruction. This groups of students more than likely faces a wide range of disadvantages, and needs someone who is in tune with those, and willing to work around and through these barriers to help them find success.
I know that I will be a strong advocate on their side. And I am eager to couple my knowledge and the best practices from YouthBuild students and staff with the tools and tips I learn from teaching fellows to be a successful special education teacher.