Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) have supplied many of the nation’s African-American teachers for more than a hundred years. Now as the high cost of college drives graduates to more lucrative careers in tech companies many schools have difficulty attracting high-performing Black men. Meet Corey Carter, an educator who teaches the health–science magnet course at Northwest Academy of Health Sciences and co-founded the My Brother’s Keeper Mentoring Program at NAHS. (Story was first published on Black Engineer in 2017).
Baltimore County Public Schools named Carter 2016-17 Baltimore County Teacher of the Year. Growing up in Silver Spring, MD, Carter always liked biology and saw a doctorate in life science research in his future. Others saw his potential and motivation to be effective in the classroom.
While in high school, Carter landed a summer job at a tutoring company. He was so good at teaching mathematics that he served as a teacher intern for two years. As Carter worked on the preset online curriculum, he would take questions from his K-8 students.
“What really stuck out was when you could relate [the curriculum] back to them, take away some of their trepidation looking at these numbers and symbols and relate it to real life,” he said.
Carter enjoyed helping students struggling with math— removing the mental blocks and barriers in order to improve mathematics achievement.
Midway through his senior year, young Carter went on a few college tours with an aunt and talked about college applications. About the same time he was visiting local campuses, his father introduced him to a new neighbor, who just happened to be the director of the Meyerhoff Scholarship Program at the University of Maryland Baltimore County.
The UMBC Meyerhoff program is at the forefront of efforts to increase diversity among graduates pursuing graduate and professional degrees in STEM fields.
“There are amazing people in the Meyerhoff program,” Carter said. “Somehow I felt I had to live up to that with prestigious Ph.D. research. I never really looked at teaching.”
However, Carter’s college sweetheart, now his wife, encouraged him to embrace his natural gifts and talent.
“You’ve been tutoring since high school,” he recalls her saying, but teaching wasn’t something he thought he could do as a full-time career.
After earning a bachelor’s degree in science at UMBC, Carter transitioned to a Master of Arts in education, secondary science, also from UMBC. Then he started his career in Baltimore City. That experience opened his eyes to new challenges and solutions.
“Kids now have to learn things faster than anybody else that criticizes them,” he said. “Everything is instant and personalized these days, so I have to make the relevance to their lives, and kids need to see my urgency in recognizing and celebrating them before they’re going to listen to anything I have to say.”
Carter is a passionate teacher, committed to good science teaching. But he also uses every opportunity to make the job look good as a career with prestige for high performers. He tells young people that when they think of career paths to science, technology, or engineering, teaching should be at the top of the list.
With 40 percent minority students and 5 percent minority teachers predicted for early in the next century, a critical shortage of education workers and role models may be at hand, according to the National Education Association (NEA). The NEA wants to encourage more minorities to teach so people of color have more representation in education.
It’s one thing to attract high-achieving candidates to the teaching field, but Carter feels more can be done to help those with the highest potential for success in the classroom.
Carter has 7 tips for new teachers:
1. Honor the profession.
Many athletes say, “If you love the game, it will love you back,” and the same is true for teaching. Get to know your students. This is not a one-time activity—they have fears, aspirations, talents, cultures, and learning styles. Also, get to know yourself. You should be the expert of your own expertise so you can model it, plan accordingly, and build on your strengths.
2. Find someone with experience that you can trust. Find a dedicated mentor.
“That’s vital because when we look at careers like doctors, they get matched as part of their educational process. Teachers should also start their career with an experienced professional who cares about their success,” Carter urges. “Every day teachers are dealing with the most important resource that [America] has.”
3. Choose your own way to document your journey.
“Journaling, conversations with other people, [and] poetry” are all important exercises for professional,
mental, and spiritual enrichment, Carter said. “You have to find a way to decompress.”
4. Be realistic with yourself.
“There’s a lot of dangerous rhetoric out there,” Carter said. “The true strength of being a teacher is having the tools to meet changes day to day, year to year. It’s okay to have lofty goals, but that’s where a strong mentor and journaling come in.”
5. Don’t hold back.
“If you love cars or collages, find a way to make it part of your teaching,” Carter says. “Don’t hold back your talent.” Students are drawn to passionate people, and they remember when something is meaningful.
6. Use every day as a new opportunity.
This could mean you build on yesterday’s success or you learn from yesterday’s challenges. There is no such thing as permanent failure, and this should be modeled for the kids through their teachers every day.
7. Find a way to give back.
Listen to your peers and share resources. When educators share successful methods with their colleagues, the outcome always benefits student learning.