As a part of my series on educator diversity, I’m having conversations with educators of color that have expressed an interest in speaking with me about their experiences. The goal of these conversations is to provide voices to the plight of educators of color, and to show how we can not only get more young people of color into classrooms and into education in general, but that investments also need to be made on the back end to ensure we keep really good educators in the work.
For this interview, I have the opportunity to speak with Lynn Darby, Resident Teacher at Friendship Public Charter School. Lynn is a highly motivated individual who is passionate about seeing real and equitable change in our current education system. He has extensive experience related to peer/youth mentorship, and is a graduate of Temple University, where he received his Bachelor of Education in Secondary Education & Teaching.
Malcolm Davis (MD): Hi Lynn, thanks so much for chatting with me! I’m excited to have this conversation with you and to learn more about your experience and how we can make education more appealing to younger potential educators.
Lynn Darby (LD): Thanks for having me Mal!
MD: Let’s talk about some of the reasons why young people of color aren’t becoming educators. You said salary, can you elaborate on that?
LD: I remember back in high school thinking about going to college for education, I remember people telling me I won’t make money and my friends said they wouldn’t teach because you make no money. Early on that resonated with me, that teachers don’t make money and they’re held back financially, especially Black men.
MD: Now that you’re an educator, what has your experience been with salary and salary expectations?
LD: I moved to Washington DC, which is different from Pennsylvania, but salary is a misconception. Teachers deserve more compensation for the work that they do, but the money is adequate for what’s asked of you. Another one I think is that people of color don’t see teachers that look like them and don’t see themselves in that space, and that education is a space where Black people can succeed as teachers and leaders.
MD: Salary is definitely one of the major misconceptions about being an educator. I wholeheartedly agree that educators deserve more compensation, but on the same note I know plenty of educators that have been able to provide very well for their families. So we touched on why young people aren’t becoming educators in your opinion, what about what is preventing educators of color from staying in education?
LD: Work/life balance is definitely at the top of the list. I feel like once you’re in education, a lot of it is playing catch up as a first year teacher. The first few years are the hardest and getting over that hump is a deterrent. Teaching is one of the most difficult things to do and my first year was interesting. I came on as a co-teacher to teach Social Studies but because of the pandemic and teacher shortage, there was a need for a 5th grade ELA teacher. I had just graduated from Temple with a social studies degree, but by January of my first year I was teaching 5th grade ELA.
MD: Wow, so you were really thrown into the fire the first year. It’s tough because your story isn’t one that is all that different from ones I’ve heard from other educators, or from my personal experience either. What did you gain or learn from your first year?
LD: It forced me to grow and develop my own tool belt via trial and error, and now I’m in the process of evaluating my practice. At this point I honestly think I still have a long way to go, this year brought a lot of challenges but if you throw me in the ring of fire I’ll navigate it. I felt comfortable in being uncomfortable and this experience this year didn’t deter me from the field, and I’m moving back to social studies in the fall.
MD: That makes me really happy, that your experience didn’t push you out of the work, but instead added to your resolve and determination to become better. You didn’t have many educators of color as a student, how did that affect your sense of culture and pride as a person of color?
LD: Even though I went to a school that was predominately white, I was able to find my group of friends. Having that helped guide me through it, with teachers though there were some awkward experiences. That’s what helped push me into education, seeing teachers do or say things that I didn’t necessarily agree with. I then thought maybe I should pursue a career in this, and define my “why”.
MD: I can totally relate! I didn’t have many educators of color as a young person, and I knew that wasn’t the experience that we should be having. That lack of cultural understanding is what leads to a negative experience for so many of our students. So talk to us a bit more about why you became an educator.
LD: I know from my experience being Black and having white teachers, they may not understand where you come from, especially as a Black male growing up in America. As an educator I’m able to relate with students, be a positive male role model, and teach my truth. There’s a lot of ways to have a wide ranging impact as a Black male in education. My mom and uncle have worked in schools almost my whole life, so I realized I could be the change for a Black student somewhere as well.
MD: Lynn thank you so much for chatting with me, and for your continued commitment to serving our students and communities. I’m excited to hear how your second year of teaching goes, I know you will have a long and rewarding career in education.