Talking like a teacher to being a teacher talking  

I was explaining to a non-teacher friend of mine about the dynamic that young Black males face as teachers in the elementary setting, a setting dominated by middle-aged white women. The initial friction that urban Black male teachers face in elementary schools is one that manifests on a daily basis. This is not a shot at middle-class, white, middle-aged female elementary teachers. It is just a reality that schools have a lot of these ladies in the building. So when it comes to talking like a teacher, for me, it was something that I consciously grappled with on a daily basis.


My friend then asked me, when does one make the transition from talking like a teacher to being a teacher talking? I had to think about the question for a while. In fact, I couldn’t provide her with an immediate answer. The question suggests that there is some transition that occurs within teachers from the point of being a new teacher toting the linguistic line by always evaluating their speech patterns with students (and staff) to a “veteran” teacher who no longer consciously thinks about how his words come out of his mouth. The question delves at a deeper understanding of the teaching profession, and that is, when does a teacher authentically feel comfortable inside his or her classroom?


I finally became a “teacher talking” when I perceived that I had gained the trust of my students and the trust of the staff I worked with. I gradually gained this “trust” by doing my job: and I didn’t measure proficiency in doing my job merely by the test scores of my students. I measured my effectiveness in the classroom by student engagement: if I ran a club, how many students would show up? If I wanted a quiet work period, how quick could I get students to buy in? When student I taught graduated, how many would come back to visit me? I backdoor-analyzed my ability to talk like a teacher through measures that could demonstrate how many of my students actually liked me as their teacher. That sounds trivial in that teaching is not a popularity contest nor should teachers strive to be friends with students (to a certain extent). But with teaching in elementary school comes a certain negotiation (or molding, for a more optimistic term) with students. I became a teacher talking after I gained the trust of my students and realized that however I talked to them, as long as it was genuine, would be received in earnest. Thus, I realized that I went from talking like a teacher to being a teacher talking once I understood that my students were going to validate my “teacher existence” no matter which way I gave it to them.


I think being an anomaly in a space, especially one like education, gives you a certain insight into certain things. Aspects of teaching that others may take for granted were not afforded to me as a young, Black male in the world of education. Things that may have been merely subconscious to other teachers were explicit and fractious for me as I learned how to navigate this new professional world. Now, there is no doubt that I am a “teacher” talking. I come off the top and say things to my kids that would undoubtedly have observing teachers scratching their heads and thumbing through their first-year manuals trying to find the page where it says in this instance, do or say this! But I am able to be fully comfortable with my approach to teaching, and more specifically, the way I talk as a teacher, because of the validity that students have given me over time. Along with that comes a comfort level that may take days, months, or even years. But when being a teacher talking finally comes, it is the students primarily who have afforded you that ability to finally find your voice.


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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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