i am not a monster: a Black Male Educator’s Experience in Identity in the American School System

By: Evan Taylor

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If I had to title this specific week of my life/teaching career it would be “i am not a monster”. Prior to this week, I guess my classroom performance and relationships with students made me forget or live a subconscious utopia. But on Wednesday I was reminded that no matter in what space I exist, no matter what I accomplish, no matter how much good I do, i will always only be seen as a monster in America. Sitting and talking to older Black males in education letting me know that in the field and in the world that Black men and especially Black male teachers are seen as monsters first and as humans later. Many Black males are pushed out of the profession because of the coincidental demonization of themselves and their students. I myself, when I realized my monster status, realized that as a Black male I have the exhausting task of proving that I am not a monster every…single…day. Others within the profession can more easily exist and go through the day to day process of being, but as a Black male in the context of the classroom, I am really seen as a monster and every day I have to prove not only to others but to myself that I am not the monster that the world has made me out to be. This monster context is not only within the presence of Whites, but also with Blacks as well, because some of us have been so trained by media and news that we are afraid of ourselves. I thought working in a predominantly Black school that I would at least not be feared as much, but I was wrong; I am still seen as a monster. I still scare colleagues who look like me when I walk into a room unannounced. I was told by a colleague that as a Black man I am a fearful presence and that my very being is a threat. I guess the issue of the next century is not only the color line, but also the monsters that reside on the color line. I thought in entering this profession that I was doing good for my people, but I did not know that the good that I did would serve as a means to prove my humanity. There is such a shame that there is so much to be written about as a Black male teacher and that so little has been written about this experience thus far. The learning moments, the students innovative ways of solving problems and all of my students’ excellence is often unnoticed because of my monstrous status. The lack of Black males in the profession to give guidance and mentorship is another reason why I see why so many Black males leave the profession, among other reasons. If you have no one to tell you how to navigate this space and still stay true to who you are, you will inevitably either leave the profession or try to change yourself to make yourself more appeasing to the ideals placed upon you. I could easily put on a show and play the political game of education, but is that worth my identity? Should I, as a Black male, have to lose my identity in order to teach? I have to not only teach my students about their own identity on the daily basis, but I must also fight for my own.

Just this past week, I was reading Kobe Bryant’s love letter to basketball as his farewell. I read through it and could feel Kobe’s love for the game through his words. After that I began to think of what it means to me to be an educator. Especially, a Black educator of Black children. Everyday when I teach I feel like I am making my ancestors proud. But in that letter to basketball Kobe speaks of how he gave his all to the game, he talks about all of his sacrifice and work he has put into the profession. I too, began to look at myself and my experience in education both as a student and as a teacher. Honestly, more days go by where I want to write a Dear Education letter and walk away from it, but I can’t because I love it too much, I love my students too much, I love the community I serve too much, I love my people too much. It would be selfish of me to walk away from teaching and to allow voices of Black teachers, specifically Black males go unnoticed. There are many unheard stories of the experience of Black teachers, both male and female, that may reflect my own experience. But for some the burden was too much not only the demonization of us, but the barriers put between us and aiding Black children. It is so much easier in America for a Black child to get a gun than it is to get an education. It is so much easier for a Black child in America to get booked than to get a book.

When I spoke with some of my students at the beginning of the year and told them that their cultural identity was Black, many of them were taken back to the idea. This is because of what they have been taught and what they have seen, because in America to be Black still means to be ugly, to be unwanted, to be a monster, to be villain, to be the despised darker sister/brother. The classroom is a space where these misconceptions can be untaught, but not when the Common Core takes precedence over the students. Teachers of Black students are often told to focus on curriculum, when the focus should be on community. If Malcolm X, were to give his “Who Taught You to Hate Yourself” speech today, many Black students future, past and present will probably answer, “my schooling”.

Despite the adversity and challenges and demonization of myself I continue to fight on, but I must like Kobe present a small letter to education. Not one of love but one of disappointment and pain. One that speaks to the fact that a president who so often claims to be from the Southside of Chicago failed to aid its many schools that were closed, but instead gave a library with his name. This letter is both to education and a continued call to action amongst educators to make education equitable and justice restorative.

Dear Education,

I have known you since my parents began teaching me reading and math at home

I have loved your pursuit of learning and your continuing birthing process of curiosity

I still remember in kindergarten when I looked at many of my classmates

challenging them to out duel me in saying our alphabet

I still remember the countless years where no one told me about me

I still remember the fact that everything about me was confined to the shortest month of the year

Even my birthday resides in February, so I guess according to American Educational standards that give me a leg up on being a part of Black history

I still remember being scared out of my mind the first time I was called the N-word on my high school campus when no one was there but me and the perpetrators

Don’t worry, I remembered then how you taught me not to bring up those kinds of things

I held onto that pain until college

I remember in college how I found that I love you more than engineering and I wanted to give you to my people

I remember the many classmates who did not like the fact that I judged you so critically because of what you had done to my ancestors and my living people

I remember the first days of teaching and how many people told me to only teach the you that was found in books with the approval stamp of some curricular program

“Never stray from the text they say”

“Don’t teach about the strange fruit, unless you want to be one they say”

I remember this week, when you reminded me that no matter what licensure or accolades i collect

No matter how many children I help fall in love with learning again

I will always be seen as a monster

I will always be seen as expendable

You will have articles published about the lack of me in university programs and districts

But will never do anything to make me feel at home

i came into this profession in hopes of being a teacher…but i realize in America i will always be seen as…a monster.

so i guess this week will serve as the first week that i must write to remind myself that i am not a monster

i am not a monster

i am not a monster

i am not a monster…

Respectfully,

the darker brother


Evan Taylor, first year third grade teacher at Roosevelt Elementary School in Dolton, IL. Teaching is and always will be my passion for it is my creative space and concurrently my therapy. Within the metaphysical classroom space, we transcend space and create alternate realities by which we can begin to make sense of the world while also challenging it. You cannot standardized that, for to standardized one’s transcendence is to clip the wings of a bird and force it to believe that in your hand is where it belongs. We are all angels trapped inside sculpture’s waiting for someone to chip away that which holds us back. May my lessons and teaching be both sculpture and chisel, may my students be my sculptures and chisels.

Evan

 

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2 thoughts on “i am not a monster: a Black Male Educator’s Experience in Identity in the American School System

  1. Pingback: Upon Being Called Father | Young Teachers Collective

  2. I just read this article, Evan. It was a truly powerful, authentic and real-talk about those who dare to different. To some, we are just “little off”–because we actually want our students to be lifelong learners; and we really nurture that learning. No, you are NOT a “monster;” You are a superHE-RO!

    Like

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