I Show the Black Boys in My Classroom What's Possible

Trinity Gardens, Houston, Texas. A community that was rich with family, love and pride. A neighborhood that contributed to the uniqueness of the north side communities in the Greater Houston area. As soon as the bell rang, signaling the end of the school day, I would dash out of the doors of Key Middle School with my friends to be the first in line at the neighboring corner store to buy my evening snacks.

A line, at a young age, that I thought signaled my respective place, but after hearing the store owner’s comments one day, the line revealed a devastating reality. Because the neighborhood was considered dangerous; because the school was an urban, traditional public school; because of where we came from; we were made to enter the store one at a time, because he thought we would steal.

Unfortunately, this is the message that many young Black boys hear every day.

My time as an educator at an all-boys preparatory academy has taught me that in order to close the achievement gap for this demographic of students, young boys of color need a nurturing environment in the classroom more than any other place in their lives.

An environment that invites them into a learning atmosphere that uses literature to depict impactful characters. Stories like “The Narrative Life of Frederick Douglass” or ”A Raisin in the Sun” that are characterized by a rich protagonist who embodies fortitude, identity formation and pride, and a society that mirrors or relates to the lives of young Black male students, while at the same time providing an alternate view of what they see on television.

In particular, young men of color require a unique approach to education that encompasses their cultural backgrounds, dispels the societal markers that are placed against them, much like the one placed against me as a young child, and builds on the strength and richness of community inside and outside of the classroom in order to be successful in educational settings.  

Your Circumstances Do Not Dictate Your Outcomes

With happenings like the Michael Brown shooting, Trayvon Martin, Jordan Davis, and Botham Jean, as an educator, I have a personal responsibility to strengthen the mindset of the Black boys in my classroom, starting with my story as their first example.

Stemming from a single-parent household, I graduated at the top of my high school class, obtained my bachelor’s degree at the University of Texas at Austin and my master's degree from the Relay Graduate School of Education. During my teaching preparation program, I was fortunate enough to teach in the community that I was reared in. Now that I am pursuing my doctor of education in professional leadership and literacy at the University of Houston, I am more dedicated now than ever to ensure that we are closing the achievement gap, starting with our Black boys.

Shontoria Walker teaches eighth grade English Language Arts at KIPP Polaris Academy for Boys in Houston, Texas. She is a Teach Plus Texas Teaching Policy Fellow.

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