Hip-Hop and School Culture

One of the hardest things I ever had to do as a teacher (and maybe as a grown man) was to detach my culture from my profession. The culture I am referring to is hip-hop culture and the profession is school. I remember being so anxious about what I was going to wear to work those first few weeks. I would grapple with myself: am I worried because being back at school is some weird novelty and I’m equating my known experiences, of being a student, to my new experiences, being a teacher, with the one congruent demarcation along both of those experiences – the school? Or did my worries about how I presented myself manifest from a more “adult” phenomenon that I was experiencing – that being, entering the work force in a professional capacity? I used to stare at my closet and think, no one taught me the rules to this shit, what am I supposed to wear? So I bought a bunch of khakis and plaid shirts. And then painstakingly passed by Foot Locker and shopped for shoes at Aldo (no disrespect to Aldo, they got some fire winter boots). 

I was an adult now so, to me, that meant leaving that hip-hop shit at the door. There was a saying I had heard over an over as I was training to become a teacher that was, “park your biases at the door”. I would have modified it to say, “park your biases in your transmission when you put your car into park in the parking lot”. Heavily metaphoric but, yeah I know, too many words squeezed into one bar. I know why I never became a rapper. Still, I purposely left my earrings in my jewellery case and tucked in my shirt, into my goddamn khakis, that whole first year I taught. I left a real piece of me outside every day during those first years of teaching because I was taught to think of hip-hop as ostensibly opposite of school culture. I parked a piece of me outside because that’s that I was taught to do.

Doing that to myself did real damage. I felt like a fake every day. I actually wanted to quit and go take up another career. I was a grown-ass man thinking these thoughts. Imagine how black, urban, “uneducated” as of yet, boys feel?

Let’s leave the kids out of it for today. Do you know how many black men who become teachers feel like they probably should just quit teaching because they have to put their identity away from nine to three? It’s devastating. I see these articles about black male teachers and how sore we are as an institution because so many of them are missing in action and the ones that stay aren’t the ones that we need. I skim these articles because I already know what the next hundred words I’m about to read are. Because I’ve felt it. I still feel it.

We not only need more black male teachers, we need more black male teachers to stick around. And that is a fact whether you teach in Harlem, New York or Albuquerque, New Mexico. And we need the ones that don’t want to stick around. We need the ones that never ever even think about teaching. We need the ones with hip-hop pouring so vehemently out of their veins that they walk into classrooms on some straight regulators vibes. Hip hop and school culture have been at odds. But black men who embody that damn thing and are able to teach a bit of math and science too, transform entire classrooms. If you don’t believe me, just think about what your class would have been like if a Christopher Wallace or a Sean Combs were your seventh and eighth grade teachers. 



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Matthew R. Morris

Educator, Speaker, Writer

Matthew R. Morris is a writer, speaker, and elementary educator in Toronto. He has an M.A. in Social Justice Education from OISE at the University of Toronto and is the author of the forthcoming book, Black Boys Like Me. 

Matthew R. Morris

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