We’re sitting down with teachers from all four Freire campuses to talk about what it's like to be part of the Freire family. Check out the rest of our interviews here!
Meet Mr. Darren
Campus: Freire Charter School Wilmington
Classes: 8th Grade Readings in Social Justice, 9th Grade Writing for Change, Health
Leadership Roles: Athletic Director, Basketball Coach
Alma Mater: Hampton University, Relay Graduate School of Education (M.A.T. Candidate)
How did you decide to go into teaching?
Since I was about 18, I found myself always being around kids and thoroughly enjoying that experience. My first real job was working as a summer camp counselor for two years, and in college I would volunteer at the Boys’ and Girls’ Club and tutor at elementary schools. After college I served five years in the Army, and I had the opportunity to work with students in different capacities-- tutoring students, helping with field days and spirit days, helping lead gym classes.
When I made the decision to transition out of the Army, I was trying to think of how I could still be in service, just in a different capacity than before. And being a black male from Philadelphia, I realized how much of an impact seeing a black male teacher in the classroom would have for kids coming from a neighborhood like I came from. So I applied and was accepted to Teach for America, and in August 2017 I joined the Freire family.
Could you talk about the degree and certification you’re working on?
I am currently enrolled in Relay Graduate School of Education. Relay offers a Master’s program with a certification track, so teachers who aren't certified or didn't get their undergraduate degree in education can obtain a Master of Arts in Teaching and get their teaching certification. Relay’s core focus is the art of teaching. A lot of programs focus more on the more philosophical questions in education, but Relay focuses on the actual art of teaching, being in front of students, being in a classroom, and how to teach. That's been very beneficial for me and for my classmates and colleagues.
Can you tell us more about your Readings in Social Justice course?
Readings in Social Justice is an English course. We're addressing students' ability to read informational texts and write arguments through the lens of social justice. I start by introducing students to the concept of social justice and why it’s important. We start from Jim Crow and segregation and work our way up to talking about Emmett Till, Martin Luther King, Malcolm X, and then we get into some of the inequities within the United States criminal justice system. All the while, we’re focusing on students' ability to read and annotate informational texts, and to digest evidence and create arguments based off the information they're digesting.
We read The Autobiography of Malcolm X this year, which in the 8th grade is a pretty big feat, but they did a really good job with it. We read an excerpt from The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander along with some other informational texts, and then students wrote a claim on whether the criminal justice system needs to be reformed. I've really gotten to watch my 8th graders grow academically. When they first came in, they were like, "This is so much work! This is ridiculous!" Today I gave them two articles to write a claim about, and it was easy for them. "We're just writing a claim, right? This is easy."
How would you describe your approach to teaching?
The biggest part of my approach is to build relationships. I think that's the key to any teacher's success. Before I even get to content, I spend the first week or two of class just getting to know students, working together to come up with norms-- how do we speak to each other, how do we show each other respect, how do we engage in dialogue and discourse? I share things about myself, like where I'm from, who I am, my background, and I just spend time getting to know students. When you get to know students and they really feel that you have a genuine interest in who they are as a person, not just a number at a desk, I've found in my two years of teaching that they're more invested. They're more invested in the information that you're giving them, and they're more invested in themselves, because they know you're invested in them.
Once I've built relationships, I start gauging where students are and tailoring my instruction to meet them where they are. Every student, especially 8th graders, comes to Freire at a different level, and because of that they might need different supports or more challenges in order to grow. And, of course, it’s important to make class a safe and fun place. I always thought learning should be fun. I'm a very curious person, so I’m always trying to spark that curiosity in students.
Can you talk about your role as Athletic Director?
I serve as the Athletic Director, which has been a very, very fun job, and I'm also a basketball coach. It's been pretty cool to watch the athletic program here at Freire expand and watch Freire's name get out in greater Wilmington area. Athletics really teach you tangible skills that students don't always get in a classroom. Teamwork and sportsmanship are key skills that you need to be successful in life, and athletics is one way-- I might be biased, but maybe the best way-- to get those skills. It's pretty cool being able to facilitate kids' participation in that.
What strikes you as unique about your experience at Freire?
I’m able to teach the way I want to teach, and teach the content that I think is best for my students. That's not something you get everywhere. I think that's very unique to Freire, that autonomy. I designed the curriculum for Readings in Social Justice with the help of a school curriculum leader. I can't think of too many other places where I would get the opportunity to develop my own curriculum as a first-year teacher. That helped me grow as an educator, because although it was hard to do-- I won't lie, it was very difficult-- now I know that I can sit down and plan out a curriculum. That's a skill that's been added to my toolbox as a teacher. So not only do I get to do what’s best for my students, but it’s also benefited me and my craft as an educator.
How would you describe Freire’s culture?
It really does feel like a small family. Freire's a small school, so you get to know everyone. You get to know all your coworkers, and all the students as well. I've built relationships with students that I haven't ever taught, because the school's so small that I get to interact with almost all the students in the school.
The staff culture is great. Everyone here is supportive of one another. Everybody’s doing it for the kids-- there's no egos. Everybody's here to help kids be successful, graduate high school, get into college, and graduate college. That is Freire Wilmington's sole purpose, and everybody who works here understands that and is willing to support each other in helping achieve that goal.
Do you have any advice for teachers considering a career at Freire?
Come see it for yourself. Everything I'm talking about is evident. You can sense it and see it when you walk in the building, when you step into a classroom. You see the relationships that teachers have with students, you see the relationships that the staff have with each other, that team bond. Anybody who comes to Freire and walks around and observes, they’ll see it.