Pretty often someone asks me why I left the K-12 classroom. Since I am someone who works pretty hard to recruit talented young people into the teaching profession I think that’s a fair question. It is no secret that there is a critical shortage of teachers of color, particularly male teachers of color. So why have I chosen to spend my career in the academy instead of in schools where I can have a more direct impact on students?
Let me start by saying that I in no way profess to have been God’s gift to the profession; but I do think I was a pretty effective teacher by the time I left K-12 teaching. I didn’t have a clue what I was doing when I started. I owe my growth in teaching to fabulous mentors who spent a lot of time with me during my first few years; four very special ladies in particular: Tina Baptiste (New Orleans Public Schools), and Rhonda Voiselle, Tanya Bourgeois, and Erin Raiford (St. Charles Parish Public Schools). With their help, I can comfortably say that I was consistently having a positive impact on student learning by the time I moved on.
But what I also learned beginning in my very first year of teaching, was how broken systems and failed education and social policy can create conditions in schools that even the most talented teachers cannot overcome. A teachers is unequivocally the most influential school-level determinant in a child’s academic success, and teachers impact the lives of their students in extraordinary ways; but it is very hard to fix broken system and influence policy from the classroom. Most effective teachers that I have known spend well over 40 hours a week on their planning, instruction, and assessment. So while I loved my job as a middle school and high school teacher, I realized pretty early on that I wanted to work to change systems and influence policy. That’s why I returned to graduate school to earn a PhD, and why I took a faculty position at a research university.
I see my job now as preparing high quality teachers and leaders for schools, and working to change policy to create conditions where teachers in our most challenging schools and districts have a much better shot at impacting student learning in significant ways. That’s what I try to do everyday at the University of Kentucky, and I want all of you to hold me accountable to that.