LCFC Journal #22: Young, Black, Teaching in America Part II
In 2017–18, I found myself to be extremely fortunate to have been hired as a 7 th/8 thgrade ELA teacher at Simpson-Waverly Community School in Hartford, Connecticut. After completing my training at TFA Institute in Philly where I served my summer 17' assignment at Simon Gratz High School, I was ready for the next chapter. Or, at least I thought I was. After returning home on Sunday, July 30 th. I racked my brain wondering what was next for me in Connecticut as I hadn’t been offered a job or granted many interviews at that point in time. The more I thought about it, the more nervous I became.
And so, a week later, I was off to Connecticut for August training with TFA in which I was focused on lesson planning and freaking out about my lack of a guaranteed job. Once training concluded the week of the 15 thand school was about to begin, I received a call from the Dean of Students at Simpson-Waverly telling me that they were interested and requesting that I come in for an interview.
Upon arrival, I found myself seated with the Dean of Students and principal. Although I was nervous and felt unprepared due to it being last minute, I felt a bit at ease with them since they were both black admins and as a young man of color it meant a lot to me to see people that looked like me as head representatives of the faculty and administration. After the interview, (which I thought went well) I remember following up with the principal, thanking him for the opportunity and wishing him well in the hopes that I wanted to be there during the first day of school.
Less than a week later, he reached out to me by e-mail and said that he wanted me on his team for the 2017–18 school year which was scheduled to start in a week’s time at that point. During that moment in time, I was excited for what was to come and promised to put my best foot forward. However, what was certainly going to be a problem heading into the first day of school was that I had no materials, classroom items, resources, etc. Although a major concern, it turned out alright for me as I was lucky to be placed with three teachers apart of my middle school team that really helped me get my classroom in order and always reached out for assistance and answered my questions as I was getting acclimated to the school culture, climate of education and everything you could name or think of in between.
Now, as for teaching goes. Let’s just say that not only was I overwhelmed but I didn’t have a clue as to what I was doing. I hadn’t made lesson or unit plans as I was not sure what I would be focusing on with my students and it certainly showed. The students seeing this, definitely took advantage of me as they knew I was still trying to figure it all out. And so, I remember one day teaching in either my third or fourth week in which I lost complete control of the classroom. No one was paying attention, students were doing whatever they wanted and one student came up to me and told me that if I didn’t think I could do the job any longer that I should quit. The student said, “Mr. this is how it always is around here and if this is too much for you it’s okay to quit because it’s only going to get worse.” I didn’t doubt her and part of me wanted to heed her advice and get the hell out of there because I felt as if I didn’t deserve the stress and since I had just wrapped up my Master’s degree and desired to return to academia that a job of this nature was definitely not worth it. But somehow, I stuck with it and I hung in there, trying and failing, learning and doing, until I eventually got the hang of it with practice and coaching that I received from my school, TFA coach, colleagues and professional development opportunities from the school district.
The true turning point for me came on the 25 thof October that year. I had missed the day prior because my car window had been busted and I had to take the day off to repair it. However, when I returned to school, the kids started saying, “Mr. Anglade, you’re FAMOUS!! We found your books and poetry on google!” As I heard this I was taken aback as I couldn’t deny it but also flattered at the same time. From that point on my students no longer looked at me the same and I felt a shift in terms of their admiration for me. The fact that I had a layer beneath the surface that exhibited me as more than a teacher really made me appear cool or something of the sort. Often more times than not, students in America paint a picture that their everyday school teachers only do one thing. It’s kind of similar to the stance you take as a child growing up. You forget that your very own parents had lives before you and that at one point they were kids just like you that did exactly what you do or maybe even worse. And so, I think it was cool to be accepting of this fact and for my students to see this side of me.
Furthermore, the students’ expectations or understanding of me shifted again but this time it happened on the basketball court as the school coach asked me and a few college youth interns to practice with the team through a scrimmage to help prepare them for the upcoming season. I obliged and found it to be thrilling as the students were taken aback that their ELA teacher could not only play basketball put perform well and keep up with them out on the court. Although, I didn’t think about it much, afterwards I reflected and thought how important it was to have my students see that side of me. It really meant a lot to them and as a result their respect and appreciation for me grew even more.
During my time serving the students of Simpson-Waverly, I thought it was important to not only teach them what was expected from the curriculum and state standards but I also thought that I made them think critically about the theme of every book we covered by having them explore films, music videos, hip hop and interviews to expand their understanding of the topics we covered which enabled them to wrestle and unpack those ideas in a humanistic way. These were everyday thoughts or concerns that also affected their livelihoods and the people within their community.
At the end of the school year, my creative side started bubbling. Since I knew the school was closing, I became inspired and thought it would be incredible to put on an open mic/sketch show that combined the components of Russell Simon’s Def Poetry Jam with Damon Wayan’s In Living Color. At first, the idea seemed great and the kids loved the script that I drafted but I wasn’t sure if it would actually happen as the kids weren’t focused most of the time or taking it too seriously. However, the idea was executed and the students rocked the production for our entire middle school to great success. I was so proud of them that I couldn’t contain my excitement or how I felt about the production and I’m sure they appreciated the opportunity and got something great out of it too. To this day, I look at that production as my greatest artistic achievement and feel so humbled and lucky to have worked with such amazing students.
On graduation day, I was clapping and cheering for my students as I was so proud of them and overwhelmed with joy. But as I clapped I couldn’t help but think that I would never see most of them again and that they were moving on to high school one step closer to being adults in this big scary world. Though, I was at peace that I had done my job and was happy to see them all advance to what lied ahead. It also hit me that the school year flew by and that the ten months I was fortunate enough to spend with them was simply a moment in time that I’m glad I not only experienced but cherished, both good and bad.
Moving forward, I will never forget my time served as an ELA teacher at Simpson-Waverly Community School. For it to have been my first year as an instructor and outside of my normal comfort zone of being an artist, I realized how important the work was and that leading bright youthful minds brimming with untapped potential is the job of a noble being. Therefore, I say that to say thank you to all my students who made my first year of teaching a success. You all can say that I taught you a lot or something along the way but in retrospect, I learned a little something about sacrifice and patience and for that I will always appreciate being a student to you all as well.
Until next time.
- Mr. Kevin Anglade
ELA Teacher (Simpson-Waverly) 2017–18
KEVIN ANGLADE is the author of mercy for murder(s) in brooklyn, a detective fiction novel. He was featured on NBC’s The Debrief with David Ushery in 2014 where he provided insight and purpose about small-press publishing. Anglade holds an A.S. in Theatre, (Queensborough Community College) a B.A. in English (Brooklyn College) and an M.A. in English (Queens College). He currently teaches 7th & 8th grade English Language Arts in Hartford, Connecticut and is the author of the poetry collection “Life Comes From Concrete”: a poetry memoir (2016).
Find him online at:
Tags: Education, Hartford Public Schools, Kevin Anglade, Simpson-Waverly Community School, Teach For America