Charles Butt Scholar reflects on what it means to be a Black teacher

Black History Month - Kayla Jules, 5th Grade Teacher, Frisco ISD
By Kayla Jules, 5th Grade Teacher, Frisco ISD

To honor and uplift diverse voices, the Charles Butt Foundation is inviting guest blog authors to share their perspective on public education throughout the year. The opinions and views expressed in this piece are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of the Charles Butt Foundation.

I knew I wanted to be a teacher in the early stages of my life. From using my stuffed animals as my students, to completing my practicum in high school, to finally graduating with a degree in education, teaching has always been a passion of mine. As a student, I had a total of three Black teachers. Not many people can say the same. Those teachers always stood out to me. Not only because they looked and acted like me but because there was an unspoken understanding: an understanding of customs and lifestyle. These teachers showed me what being a Black educator meant.

I am currently in my third year of teaching because of their guidance and my dedication to teach. A parent of one of my students once told me, “I am so glad that she has a teacher of color because we don’t see that often and it matters.” Representation does matter because of the strong connection in community and culture, equity-minded teaching, and engaged learning. 

No matter how many courses I took and internships I completed, nothing fully prepared me for entering my first classroom. I was lucky enough to collaborate with several Black mentors and educators that paved the way for my teaching career. On top of normal first year jitters, I endured my first year through a pandemic and online schooling. Seeing this academic and social setback, I continued teaching when others made the understandable decision not to. Even through those challenges and hardships, I loved the thought of teaching and could not imagine doing anything else. 

Teaching can be such a demanding but rewarding job. When a student finally understands an academic concept and you see that light bulb go off, it is an amazing sight to see. Watching your students grow academically is one thing, but when your students grow socially throughout the school year, gain self-confidence, learn social-emotional traits and problem solving skills, you realize that you’re not only a teacher but you are also a mentor, counselor, role model, motivator, and so much more. Teaching is definitely a multifaceted profession. 

As a Black teacher, connections with Black students hold a different weight — a weight that only we can measure. There are different expectations for Black teachers. When talking to many Black educators, I often hear that Black teachers get the “tough” students with behaviors that need more love, care, attention, and support. Yet many say we are not qualified to do the job and, at times, there’s a lack of trust and credibility. I have experienced both situations firsthand and we constantly have to work twice as hard to get to where we are in everything we do. 

So why, in my third year of teaching, do I contemplate not staying in this occupation throughout my career?

It’s because teachers everywhere are undervalued, underappreciated, and constantly undersupported. The lack of respect that teachers get from the public, some of the parents, and elected officials for a job where we dedicate our lives is heartbreaking. The lack of support we receive from administrators is discouraging and the pay does not equate to what we accomplish.

Unfortunately, in order for many teachers to make a living they have to take on a second or even a third income to support their families. The excessive workload and time spent outside of school hours push those wonderful moments of teaching to the background and lead to many burnt out teachers with minimal work-life balance. 

I applaud the veteran teachers that continue to choose teaching through all of their hardships. I applaud the first year teachers that choose this career when knowing what they will be faced with. I equally applaud all teachers in between for preparing our children to be successful in their future endeavors.

The future of the world is in our classrooms. Future presidents, doctors, lawyers, football players, artists, and even future teachers, begin with us. I wish the institution of education was respected and valued more for what it is because education is the foundation of everything around us.