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In today's episode, we grapple with the accuracy of the following Shakespeare quote: What's in a name? That which we call a rose by any other word would smell as sweet. You sure about that, Juliet? You sure about that? My guest Drew and I sit down and talk about the ways that names, language, and cultural norms can sometimes take a while for new teachers to navigate.
Meet Drew, Educator, Author & Owner of Voyce Threads
Since then, I started my own education consulting company, Acumen Learning Innovations, I released my first children's book, and I am currently working on a new project called Voyce Threads. It's a socially conscious lifestyle brand that brings awareness to important causes through mismatched socks. So, apparently I'm a glutton for punishment.
Tell me about what it was like growing up in the Carolinas
Growing up in the Carolinas, I didn't know anything different so I didn't know that it was different from anything else. It was predominantly black and white, really slow paced, really friendly. You know the term of southern hospitality is so true. It was just very idyllic in a lot of respects.
What made you want to go away from home?
I've just always been an adventurous spirit. I think my mom kind of instilled that in me. Even though we came from a low income family, she really very much believed in giving us opportunities and exposing us to as much as possible. And she tried as much as she could to identify our own individual talents. My older brother was really into art so she put him in some art classes. I was in modeling and acting and stuff like that. She exposed us to things that really changed the way we saw the world and I think that I took that more to heart than my other two brothers and I knew that there was way more in the world that I wanted to see. So I had to leave.
Why did you opt for teaching as the adventurous path as opposed to something else?
That's a good question. I mean, I could have done Americorps or Peace Corps or any kind of thing like that, but, I think because I knew the value of education. I saw a lot of it as a social justice. Not as like, oh, I really love kids, let me go teach kids. And so, and taking those into consideration, it just seemed like a really great opportunity for me to both going in adventure and to actually make a difference. At the same time.
How did you prepare to teach in Arizona?
Teach for America does a pretty good job at kind of prepping you for what the experience is going to be like. We did all kinds of things to prepare us and give us some background knowledge on communities that we probably had no previous experience with. And so I came in expecting, you know, not the best of circumstances. It grounded me a little bit not to expect to have the best facilities and the best of resources. On the first day of school, I wrote in my journal that I felt like I had known these students for a very long time because of that.
I thought about how I was going to navigate reaching them on their level. How was I going to find out what motivated them to come to school every single day? And how am I going to motivate them to reach these high academic goals? I also thought about my identity as a Black male teacher. I may probably be my students’ first experience ever with a black male as an authority figure, as an educator. How am I going to make that a positive one so that they can move throughout their lives knowing that the stereotype about the Black male is not something that's negative, but it's something positive.
So all those things went through my mind first. But by the end of the week I just realized that these are just normal kids too and they like things that normal kids like and dislike things that normal kids dislike.
What were you not prepared for?
I'm from the south and we address adults by “yes sir” and “yes ma'am.” and “Mrs. Such and Such, Mr. Such and Such,” but my students would just call me “teacher.” I'm like my name, “My name is Mr. Shaw not teacher! I don't know what your problem is, but you're driving me nuts. My name is Mr. Shaw. I'm a write it on the board. We're going to practice every single day. Mr. Shaw!”
It was so annoying to me and I didn't understand why! It didn't really click to me until we had teacher-parent conferences. The parents mainly only spoke Spanish. They would call me “maestro” and, when they said it, it had a whole different kind of feel to it, but it means it means the same thing. It means teacher, but it has this reverence and there's honor behind it. And so I thought, “hey, you know what, when my kids are calling me teacher, maybe it's not out of laziness and disrespect, maybe it's just out of honor.” So, it really shifted how I thought and that was one of the cultural differences that I had to address.
Eventually, my students and I came to an understanding and I think that that's one of the secrets behind teaching. You may feel disrespected or misunderstood because of a cultural difference, but somewhere along the way, if there is a relationship built both individually and collectively with your students, there's gonna be some common ground.
Want to hear more?
Tune in to the rest of the podcast to hear about two stories in which calling students by their names came up in Carla’s teaching career. Teaser: one story is funny, but one is tragic.
Carla Rivera-Cruz (CRC) is an educator and entrepreneur committed to helping like-minded educators reach their fullest potentials.