My physical build is closer to a teddy bear than it is to an action figure. I wear a size 11 shoe. I am flat-footed. I walk at a steady pace. And, with Michigan winter weather, I do get a chance to see my footprints more than I prefer. And, teaching for ten years has taught me to pay attention to my footsteps. So, while walking through a local grocery store, I realized that someone was following in mine.
In a previous article, I wrote about Pulling the 10 of Hearts, which was a way of speaking about the six African American male teachers I had over the course of my educational career. I wrote about their impact on my decision to become a teacher. I wrote about how I am one African American male teacher, who is a part of the 2% total of African American male teachers in America. In addition, I asked myself how, if at all, I had made an impact on the futures of the students I had taught.
Well, eleven days after publishing Pulling the 10 of Hearts, one of my questions was answered in the deli section of a grocery store. I was walking with my steady pace when I heard, “Mr. Parks.”
Being a teacher in any store means there is a good chance you are going to see someone you know. This store was no exception for me. As I turned to find out where the voice was coming from, I looked into the bright eyes of a former student. Though his height and facial hair had grown, the years since I had last seen him could not hide his 5th grade features. I remembered him instantly and the years evaporated upon seeing each other.
Over the course of a few minutes, my former student and I caught up on events and shared our plans for the future. I talked to him about what my goals were as a teacher when he was a student in my classroom. He informed me that he was a freshman at a local university and he planned on being a teacher.
This young African American male was planning on being a teacher.
Instinctively, I wanted to climb over the deli case and give him a big (teddy) bear hug, but thoughts of my right foot ankle-deep in strawberry parfait or egg salad gave me pause. Instead, we shared a non-verbal moment of understanding, just like we did back when we were together in the classroom. After giving him a few tips on the trials and tribulations of college life, I left him to continue doing his job while I did my shopping.
Once I left the store, I immediately sat in my SUV and sent out a text. See, I wasn’t the only African American male educator in this kid’s life. During that particular year, there were four of us who were in the lives of those students on a daily basis. The other three also needed to hear about his decision and realize that the impact we had on him was strong enough to provide the desire for him to follow in our footsteps. And, as humble as the four of us are, we all realized we were a portion of the teachers who had a positive influence on this young man’s choice to be a teacher.
As I sat in that grocery store parking lot, I felt proud of my former student. I felt proud of myself for representing the 2%. I realized that, though I’m still built like a teddy bear, I was an action figure in the life of this young man who is now following in my footsteps.
I wear a size 11 shoe.
I am flat-footed.
I walk at a steady pace.
P.S. I spoke with the young man a week after our first encounter. He informed me that he wanted to be a teacher because he wanted to help other people the way he was helped during his 4th/5th grade year of schooling. He mentioned not knowing where he would be if he did not have us in his life during that time. Needless to say, it was quite a humbling conversation.