This excerpt is reproduced here with permission from Scott Morgan, member of the second cohort of ACE Teaching Fellows and founder of Education Pioneers.
I think often of my time at the storied St. Jude, an incredibly special place that helped change our nation’s trajectory in profound and positive ways. It’s perhaps best known in U.S. history as the campus that hosted 2,000 courageous individuals during the Selma-to-Montgomery March the night before they marched to the Capitol. The next day, they’d hear Dr. Martin Luther King deliver an inspiring address and remind the world that “the arc of the moral universe is long but it bends toward justice.”
February is Black History Month, the only dedicated time we have as a nation to honor and celebrate the significant accomplishments and contributions of African American and black Americans. We do ourselves and our students a sizable disservice when black history isn’t included in our history learnings and lessons throughout the year, or when we fail to recognize that black history is inextricably intertwined with our nation’s history.
More than two decades after I started teaching at St. Jude, I am incredibly grateful for the privilege of having worked in a place so steeped in history. I’m also reminded of three lessons from my experience there that remain as important as ever for me:
1. The power of inclusion.
It would have been easy and understandable for the students, educators, and larger St. Jude community (which was predominantly African American) to treat me – a young, white teacher who experienced a lot of privilege growing up in California – as an outsider who should be viewed with distrust.
I experienced the exact opposite reception.
I was welcomed with open arms into the St. Jude community with an abundance of amazing home cooked meals, invitations to beautiful church services, and loving prayers. The warm and inclusive embrace that I felt upon entering St. Jude was an incredible gift. It made me feel that I was meant to be there.
2. The importance of leading with humility and questions.
I fully expected the string of success I had experienced growing up in school and sports to continue during my first year teaching at St. Jude: Jaime Escalante, here I come! So it came as an incredible shock when the majority of my students failed the first test that I gave them.
As they continued to flounder during my first few weeks and months as a teacher, I had to face the brutal truth that my beautiful lectures weren’t translating into meaningful student learning.