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Watched, But Not Noticed

By: Barrion Fannin, Jr.

There was Mrs. Drummond, my fifth-grade teacher. I think I did my work in her class because I had a major crush on her. She really left a lasting impression. My third-grade teacher left an entirely different impression. One of pain and regret if we didn't obey. Mrs. Hunter, my 2nd-grade teacher was also a dope teacher and I dare not forget Mrs. Rivers in first grade. Over the years, particularly in my primary education, I was afforded a great teacher after great teacher. But one thing remained the same. They were all women.

Now, as mentioned before, having female teachers was beneficial. But I can count on my hands, (probably one hand at that) all the male teachers I had the opportunity to learn from and be a student in their class. I mention this, because usually when something is odd, or different from others, it usually sticks out. A fork that's been accidentally put in the tray with the spoons. That toe next to the big toe that is begging for attention in Ms. Thatcher's sandals. Or the drummette in your wing meal when you specifically asked for all flats. As the song goes, one of these things is not like the other. As humans, we discern and figure out what is different, and attempt to get to know about the outlier.

However, in my teaching career, I cannot say I had been afforded that luxury.  Spending most of my teaching career in the Atlanta area, the majority of the student population was a reflection of myself. The staff was also overwhelmingly black and also, of course, dominated by females. I had a plethora of qualified and experienced teachers to learn from during my first few years as an educator. These women whipped up lessons and motivated students like you wouldn’t believe. I took this opportunity to become a sponge and soak up as much knowledge and expertise as I could. Over the years, I developed my own teaching style and swagger, if you will.

Parents looked forward to sending their students to my class. Additionally, students, I taught in previous years, continued to come and extend the rapport we developed when they were in my class. Students excelled academically and expressed how they enjoyed coming to school. Children who didn’t love math developed an appreciation for it. Other teachers looked to me to help with discipline problems and mentor students when needed.

My workload and demands continued to increase and I needed a break. I decided to move around the world to the Middle East to teach. Immediately, my passion for education returned. Working in an international school, I still formed real bonds with my students and their parents. Again, parents and students alike were clamoring to be in my classroom. Even during my first year abroad, my students showed incredible gains academically and flourished in my classroom.

Tremendous growth from my students, incalculable parental support, and genuine love from my students was great. But somehow, staff and admin continued to discount my effect in the classroom. “How Sway?” In an article written by Chandra Thomas Whitfield and published in The Undefeated, we know that “People of color make up about 20 percent of teachers; a mere 2 percent are black men.” That same article also highlights how the presence and exposure of black teachers is positive for all students; often considered “more approachable and voted most popular among students from all backgrounds.”

With these things in mind, I found myself perplexed as to why more recognition and acknowledgment was not shown to myself, but also to other black male teachers with the same fervor as our counterparts. I had conversations with other male teachers and they shared in this displeasure. Often times throughout education, we hear, “make the children happy.” Also echoed is, “keep the parents happy.” Some of the very people keeping the children and parents happy were unhappy. Because it seemed like all our hard work went unnoticed.

Unfortunately, I was one of the unhappy people. Looking to be praised and celebrated for what I did in the classroom. I treated my classroom as a window, instead of a mirror. I expected others to look into what was happening and occurring in my classroom. However, I should have been reflecting on what I was doing as a professional within my learning community. In essence, I had to inspect what I expect.

With better insight, I finally realized that the attention and acknowledgment I craved, I had all along. From the people who matter the most: the students. The countless pictures they draw and tape to the back of my laptop are my certificates. The handshakes we share every morning represent my congratulatory hugs. The smiles I see as I interact with students are snapshots and Instagram posts from the award ceremony. All this time, I indeed was watched and noticed. And just like my teachers, I hope to leave an impression. Make YOUR mark!


Barrion Fannin, Jr. is currently a 5th-grade teacher working abroad in the UAE. He has almost 15 years of teaching experience ranging from Kindergarten through Grade Five. He recently started a podcast with his brother, titled “The Nutty Professors” where they discuss education, family, culture, and everything in between.

Instagram @thenuttyprofess and @bfann81

Twitter: @NuttyPodcast

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