EDITOR'S NOTE: Carl Hill originally penned this article for Las Morenas de España. It has been republished with their permission. The original article can be found here.
The Black male teaching experience abroad is unique. Living and working as a teacher and eventual manager of an international department has given me perspective in ways that I had never imagined. Being a teacher is an honor and a truly rewarding experience. As a Black male teaching abroad, I've learned a lot regarding how I am initially perceived by those I have yet to meet. I am fortunate to be able to teach and show the youth a positive example of my culture and people through the powerful vessel that is the classroom.
There is a compelling feeling of comfort found in uncomfortable and outright dangerous situations for some black males. It’s almost as if since we are born into a world that seemingly views us as hostile no matter our upbringing, education, or environment, which yields our natural physical and mental state being on constant high alert. We adjust to always somehow having the feelings of being in some type of danger, whether it’s passive or adherently aggressive.
It’s a feeling that’s hard to shake if we choose to remain in the same environment over the course of our lives. Since we do spend the majority of our early years in this state of being, it becomes second nature to many of us; until of course we are confronted with the opposite.
Walking into a classroom for the first time in another country full of students who barely speak your language is a different experience for everyone. If the country is populated with those with fair or bright skin complexions and you happen to be the opposite then the issue, in some cases, of “how will they perceive me” undoubtedly crosses the mind. It’s perception not in the sense of “will they like what I’m wearing” or “will they like the lesson I prepared and the activities we’ll do.” It’s perception of what type of black man will they take me as before the first words even leave my mouth. Will I be the athlete, the rapper, the singer, the dancer, the gangster, or will they simple see me as a teacher?
Younger students perception of people no matter the skin color in my opinion is half family and half social media. Since young future leaders from ages as early as three years old are face deep in tablets, cell phones, and computers they have access and exposure to technology and information much faster than generations before them. Regardless of these things, especially when abroad, when we as black men are in that moment we are in absolute control of not only how the students, teachers, and admins will view us as individuals, but how these young students, some teachers, and few admins “initially” will view and interact with every other male person of similar color thereafter.
Because we are uniquely cultured, we can be the rapper, singer, dancer, athlete, and teacher all at once in class and change perspectives and notions that the students once viewed, but are now living in real life. It is these cultural, unique qualities and more that help us as black male teachers relate and connect with students easily and become more human to them than a race or culture. I say this because more times than not, as youth, we are presenting them with very opposite positive notions that they are fed and almost steered into believing represents the masses. We are viewed as humans because our color becomes less significant, and with continued positive exposure they begin to see us not as American teacher, or African teacher, but simply a teacher in the same sense as their other native teachers.
Color becomes absent in relation to our interactions, our lessons, and our connections, but because they have eyes and they know where we’re from we are still the first teachers they talk to when LeBron James or Stephen Curry does something amazing on television because they are “sure” that we can relate. The child like understanding of culture vs. human is what makes the teaching experience so rewarding.
Sharing culture and being ones true self in school, at work, while dating is something that should be valued. There are always those experiences in certain situations when black males have to hold back who they are to meet or fit a standard that others deem is “appropriate” for them and all people. To me, that’s like living in a shell for most of the day waiting in anticipation for the ability to be who you really are inside and out. I prefer freedom. I choose my family and myself above all else. Teaching from the opposite side of the room has taught me far more than ever imagined. And for that, I am grateful.