Lawrence Battle grew up in the 3rd Ward area of Houston. He majored in political science and minored in economics at Stephen F. Austin State University. He is now in his third year of teaching 7th grade social studies at YES Prep White Oak and his first year as a grade level chair. We interviewed him about his pathway to YES Prep, his work as a diversity ambassador, and his favorite YES Prep memory.
What was your pathway to teaching at YES Prep?
After college, I moved back to Houston and worked on the Wendy Davis for Governor campaign. Once the campaign was over, I talked to my mentor, James Mosley (now School Director at YES Prep North Forest), and he suggested I apply to YES Prep. I come from a family of educators. My mother and grandmother both taught for 30+ years, but I never saw myself teaching. As soon as I started, I knew that teaching was exactly where I needed to be. I wasn’t feeling fulfilled behind a desk at a bank or block-walking for Wendy Davis. If I wanted to impact the next generation, this was the way to do it.
What makes you passionate about teaching?
My first year, I faced all the common first-year challenges, but the thing that kept me going was seeing the lightbulb go off in a student’s head. I love helping students connect current events to their lives. I’m also passionate about educational equity. It really bothers me that a school’s location determines the funds that school receives. You can see the effects of redlining and gentrification on education. In the future, I’d like to impact educational policy and come up with innovative ways to combat that.
I’m currently working to launch a mentorship program for the population of students we serve. We’ll work to expose students to opportunities, experiences, and resources they might not have access to at school or at home. Teaching is more than just a curriculum. We want to set an example for students and make sure that we’re telling them that they’re smart and capable.
If you were speaking to a prospective teacher, what would you tell them about why they should teach at YES Prep?
YES Prep values feedback. I’m not just saying that because it sounds good. YES Prep is an organization that will give you constructive feedback and then walk you through how to implement the feedback. I’ve never received that kind of feedback anywhere else I’ve worked. As a result of this feedback, I have grown professionally, and I have seen my students reach new heights in academic achievement. YES Prep has also put themselves at the forefront of the diversity movement. They work to highlight the current events that plague our country, to honor people’s differences, and to land on the right side of history.
Can you tell us a little bit about your work as a diversity ambassador?
We have system-wide diversity initiatives, so, as a campus, we’ve been working to roll out forums. For example, we read an article and had a discussion about the lack of focus on Latinx people in the retelling of the history of the civil rights movement. In January, we had a Professional Learning Session for all YES Prep staff on looking at data through a lens of equity. We analyzed what circumstances could be at play in those numbers.
Why is the work important?
A person might say diversity is a good thing but then walk into a classroom and allow implicit biases to prevent them from connecting and building transformative relationships with the students we’re here to serve. At YES Prep, we’re committed to having these conversations with staff, so we can serve students free from bias and embrace, honor, and respect the diversity of all YES Prep teammates and staff members. I think the diversity initiatives also help staff members understand our mission and how the work we do every day contributes to it.
Why is it important to more passionate educators of color?
African American men make up less than 2% of teachers in the entire United States. When you look at schools, there are thousands and thousands of African-American boys and girls who do not see a reflection of themselves in their teachers. That’s a problem. A student may not have someone that racially identifies with them to talk to about college, life, the future, or current events. You could be that person. The power of that should never be taken for granted.
What’s your favorite YES Prep memory?
My favorite memory would have to be Spring trip at the end of my first year of teaching. The camping trip with 100 middle schoolers was the culmination of so many late nights and early mornings of work. We spent three days team-building and forming long-lasting relationships. I learned so much about my students and their aspirations outside of school. The next year, that same class of students voted for me to speak at their eighth-grade promotion ceremony. I was extremely honored and humbled to have this opportunity. I ultimately realized that I could never take for granted any interaction with a student because you never know what kind of lasting impression it might leave.