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“What Black History Month Means to Me: A Conversation with Memphis Teacher Candace Hines”

Her laughter and smile are just as vivid over the phone, as she is in person. She is one of the most effusive people I’ve ever met, with a bubbly personality that you can tell shines through in her classroom. Needless to say, I was ecstatic when I got the opportunity to chat with one of Educators for High Standard’s Teacher Champions, Candace Hines from Memphis, Tennessee about the role of Black History Month in her own life and teaching. I left our conversation even more hopeful about the future of education.

I wanted to talk with Candace, not only because talking to her always makes me smile, but also because she teaches in a school that has a student population that is 99% African-American and is herself an African-American teacher who is vocal about there not being enough teachers “who look like [her]” in the profession. But she is proud that her elementary school in Memphis incorporates aspects of Black history throughout the school year, noting that through opportunities like Morning Meeting, which happens every day and Community Circle, on Fridays, she and her colleagues initiate conversations about the students’ cultures, identity and diversity.

Ms. Hines told me of her own vivid memory, from Black History Month, of sitting in an auditorium as a young school-aged child, watching a live skit based on the Jim Crow laws. She can remember “learning for the first time” about the atrocities.  I could feel the emotion in her voice as she recounted how memorable the moment was for her, a young child at the time, as “it brought to life the text and concepts we were learning.”

Today, she aims to show her own students inspirational stories surrounding representation of African-Americans in the study of mathematics. Ms. Hines uses her standards and curriculum to engage in learning about Black history year-round by teaching about famous minority mathematicians and influencers in the field. Even though she teaches kindergarten, her school has taken an innovative approach: departmentalized co-teaching. Ms. Hines is the math expert and her co-teacher is the reading expert. It helps her set consistent routines and higher expectations for her young scholars. She has noticed that her students’ test scores have gone up and she can dig deeper into the content, since she gets to focus on the math standards solely when planning her lessons.

For Black History Month, Ms. Hines was excited to introduce her young scholars to Katherine Johnson’s momentous role in getting NASA to the moon from the book and movie Hidden Figures by Margot Lee Shetterly. By exposing students to such an inspiring story, at such a young age and in a math class she’s already changing the mindset around an often-underappreciated content area. She mentioned that in a math class, bringing up culture and diversity requires extra creativity but that through her relationships with students she finds ways to bring these important topics into conversations on a regular basis.

After recently attending the Tennessee Educators of Color Alliance DiversifiED conference she was hopeful about the future of diversity in education. For her, there is not one single solution– continuing to promote Black history in all classrooms year round is one way. However, she was adamant that education as a whole needs more representation of color in teaching and leadership positions. In her classroom and around the decision-making tables she said she will “continue to be an advocate.”

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Senior Advisor of Teacher Outreach and Innovation, Kari W. Patrick, is a high school English teacher at STEAM Academy in Lexington, Kentucky. She is also a member of the STEAM Teacher Advisory Council, where she serves as a liaison between educators and administrators to drive teacher and student-centered policies for the school. In her six years in the classroom, Kari has taught in both rural and urban settings, and was recognized for her outstanding teaching in 2016 when she was named the Kentucky Council of Teacher of English High School Teacher of the Year.