When you think of late August and early September, a few things should come to mind; football, grilling out and back to school! For most children this is the time they get to reconnect with old friends and show off their new gear and parents are able to take the lock off the refrigerator and save a little money. This is the time where students are able to start fresh and refocus on their academic goals and teachers are there to educate and guide them in the right direction.
Guilford County is just one of 100 counties in the state of North Carolina. Within the last few years North Carolina has witnessed educators go on strike due to budget cuts that would froze any raises on teacher pay and eliminated the majority of teacher assistants. According to the National Education Association report, during that time N.C ranked 47th in the country for the average teacher rank. Due to teacher strikes and a roughly five percent increase of salaries the NEA reports that the average teacher salary in 2017 puts North Carolina 35th in the nation.
Despite a slight increase in wages there are certain struggles that never seem to fade away. The academic performance of minority students in Guilford county, and the huge disparity between how black students are disciplined when compare to their white counterparts. The youth justice project reported that during the 2014/2015 school year only thirty one percent of black students were “college and career ready” during the end of course exams compared to sixty eight percent of whites. The report also revealed that black students account for seventy one percent of short term suspensions where as whites accounted for only fourteen percent. Mass incarceration begins early as blacks accounted for eighty percent of detention admissions compared to five percent of white students; all for the same offenses.
I was able to speak to a former classmate of mine who is now an educator with the Guilford County school system. I asked a few questions and he was able to speak on his experiences as a teacher and some of the hardships both students and teachers endure daily.
Lacy: What inspired you to embark on a career in education?
Kev: For me, it wasn’t what inspired me, rather it was who inspired me to embark on a career in education. My good friend Christian Hill (former GCS Recruiter/former HP Central Assistant Principal) talked me into working in education when we were hired as football coaches at Mendenhall Middle School.
Lacy: As a black educator, what's a hindrance you can identify that minority students face?
Kev: There are too many things to truly list that hinder our minority students. I’ll name a few with hopes of not rambling or boring you, discipline, reading levels, and cultural/ethnic representation. A student's behavior will directly disrupt their learning and it usually shows when it is time to read. Most black and minority students don't open up to receive the teachings from someone who doesn't come from the same cultural background or ethnicity as them.
Lacy: Do you think that black students and other minority students would benefit from having more educators that resemble them in the classroom?
Kev: I absolutely think black students and other minority students would benefit from having more educators who resemble them in the classroom. This goes back to the above-mentioned cultural representation as well. Nobody can reach a child like someone who speaks like him or her, and lives or has lived like him or her in my opinion. Of course there are lots of kids who are reached by those who don’t share the same cultures or ethnicities, but the majority need/want to see someone who resembles them being successful in a positive way to be reached.
Lacy: Do you plan to stay in education? If so, what are you hoping to achieve?
Kev: I hope to stay in education for as long as I can and guide the misguided youth, as well as return to coaching football in the near future. The only thing I have ever wanted out of this when I first started was to save a kid going down the wrong path. It was really all about football for me until I saw the impact I had on a kid’s life. Being able to say I’ve had former players/students go on to play at Florida St, N.C. A&T, ECU, WSSU, and more is more than enough of an accomplishment, but when a former player/student tells you that they don’t know if I would have made it without you that is priceless.
Lacy: What's one of the biggest challenges teachers face in the classroom that most are probably unaware of?
Kev: I think race and lack of understanding are the two biggest challenges teachers face in the classroom. Too often black students and minority students want to play the race card with a teacher who is willing to give them the shirt off of their back. I can’t tell you how many times a student has called a teacher racist because they weren’t given their way and allowed to be a stereotypical (by society’s standards) black or minority. This makes it harder for that educator who doesn’t have the same cultural or ethnic background as he or she to reach them. Students also have to understand that everyone who doesn’t look or sound like you isn’t against you. Once that is understood the education process seems to get easier from there.
Article written by Lacy D. Colson III. Colson is a student at N.C. A&T State University, studying African American studies. Lacy is also a mentor for the African American male initiative program through United Way and is a loving husband and father living in Greensboro, N.C.