The Impact of Black Educators on Black Students

Channing GauldenGuest blogger Channing Gaulden is a California native with over seven years of program management, education, and recruitment experience. Gaulden works to recruit extraordinary talent and is passionate about achieving educational equity for both students and staff. Gaulden interviewed two YES Prep staff members about their experiences with having Black teachers in school and the impact on their lives.

Ashleigh FritzInterview with Ashleigh Fritz, School Director at YES Prep Southside

Did you have teachers who looked like you and what impact did they have on you? 

I had a few teachers who looked like me when I was in school and remember them distinctly. My favorite teacher of all time was Ms. Curry, my 5th grade teacher. She was my first Black teacher, and she taught us everything, but what I remember most is her passion and authenticity when she taught us African-American history. She taught us in a way where we felt pride and knew we were descendants of kings and queens. I saw myself in her and knew there were no limits to what I could achieve in life.

How do those experiences influence your work as an educator? 

Every day, I try to align my actions with my values and words. I know the platform I have and know there are young African American female students and adults watching me. Seeing a Black woman lead a school proves it’s possible. When I first entered YES Prep, I told myself that I would work hard to have a seat at the table, to have input in the decisions impacting young boys and girls that looked like me. I am humbled by the seat and try to lead in a way in which others are moved to follow.

Why is it important to have more Black teachers in schools? 

The presence of Black educators that understand the power of their influence and responsibility is invaluable. It’s more than simply being Black, it’s about being professionals that can relate to our students while modeling excellence and good work ethic in their authentic skin. There is power in being a mirror for our Black students and it’s quite a responsibility.

How do you create an inclusive and diverse campus community?

I believe creating an inclusive and diverse campus community starts with hiring and then building team. I understand the value of having a diverse staff and having students see themselves in our staff. Once hired, we begin building team within grade levels and campus-wide. We often avoid conversations because we don’t have a relationship with the other person, so while building team through team builders and daily work, we also prioritize time for open dialogue. At Southside we ended the semester discussing micro-aggressions and how they show up in our work. When I was a School Director at West, we created an open space on campus (for students and staff) for authentic conversations. I also don’t shy away from discussing current events happening in our nation and how that impacts students.

Shannen GarzaInterview with Shannen Garza, Director of Alumni Affairs

Did you have teachers who looked like you and what impact did they have on you?

My high school consisted of roughly 70% white students, and while there was a significant Latino population, the only teachers of color in my high school were our Spanish teachers. There were no Black teachers present, and this did serve as a barrier in being able to envision myself in certain positions or feel understood by staff. They did not know how to place me. Many asked me questions about what language I spoke or what country I was from; most of the time I just felt like an “other.” Being able to understand that I was bi-racial was completely out of the question. Even in college, I did not have any Black professors. It was not until I studied abroad in Jamaica in grad school that I finally experienced a professor of color. Before then, I hadn’t even imagined the possibility of being a well-known academic as a woman of color.

What was it like when you had teachers who didn’t look like you?

I often felt they thought I was lazy, when really I just didn’t understand the material and was too scared to ask questions. I also felt immensely pressured by being one of the only students of color in AP classes, as well as one of the few students of color at my university. I felt dumb, and most of the time I thought I didn’t belong. Nevertheless, I made it through both high school and college by relatively laying low under the radar.

How do those experiences influence your work as an educator?

My past made me extra-sensitive to how I portrayed myself to my students and the way that I created a space for them to explore who they are. I work to express what realities lay ahead of them, and try to navigate through tough cultural conversations.

How do you create an inclusive and diverse campus community?

Creating an inclusive and diverse campus community starts with having a diverse representation within staff. It is important that students are exposed to both role models who look like them, and individuals who have very different beliefs and lifestyles. It is only through exposure that students can broaden their perspective to the spectrum of identities– both chosen and unchosen– so that they can truly feel confident in being a unique being that is permitted to exist exactly as they are.

At YES Prep, we are committed to ensuring that the diversity of our educators reflects the diversity of our students. Help us meet our goal by inviting your friends and colleagues that identify as Black/African-American to our Black History Month Mingler on February 15, 2018 from 5:30-7:30! Click here to learn more and RSVP.

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