So, yes, I demand excellence from them, just like I do any other student in my class, but with them, I know it is my duty to let them know things are going to be difficult – extremely difficult, in most cases. Therefore, I do not accept excuses. Period. I don’t care if they come from the Hood or Park Avenue. One semester, one of my Black male students emailed me his little girl didn’t have a babysitter so he couldn’t come to class. I emailed him back and told him to pack up all of her things: diapers, bottles, toys, etc. and get his butt to class on time. I also told him he better take good notes during class AND he better keep her quiet so she doesn’t disturb me or the other class members. I am proud to say, he accomplished all three things. Was I too tough on him? Should I have just been happy he was a young Black male trying to be a good dad? Maybe, but I don’t think so. I wanted this young man to know that yes, I was proud of him for taking care of his fatherly duties, but school was a duty as well, and it was up to him to make it work. I am proud to say this young man not only “made it work,” he will be graduating soon, and I am sure, there will be a smiling little girl in the audience clapping her hands for her daddy as he walks across the stage – the first in his family.
I try to Conference with all of my students in all of my classes near the beginning of the semester. I want to get to know them on a personal level, if possible. I always tell my Black male students I expect better than their best because they have a generation on their heels that will need their leadership and their counsel. But, don’t get me wrong. I also offer them my Mommy ears. Many of them are away from their Moms for the first time, so I often get treated like the surrogate mom. I don’t mind it. My prayer, always is, if I can’t be there for my sons, please allow there to be some other mama who can step up and offer them some motherly words of wisdom. So when these young men come to me, I listen to their fears, their concerns and their worries, because I know what it is like to be “one of the only Black students” at a predominantly White school. I know what it feels like to wonder, “Am I good enough?” or “Should I really be here?”
To my fellow teachers (regardless of your ethnicity, social and economic level, gender, sexual orientation, etc.): These young men might enter your classroom looking angry, bored, hostile, etc. Don’t buy it. They are only wearing that mask in order to protect themselves. They are afraid you are going to “punk them,” “make fun of them,” and/or “shame them.” So, before you can GET them, they try to GET you. Therefore, I challenge you – reach out to these young men and let them know they can remove their masks in your classroom, because in your classroom, masks are not required.