Servant Leader Apprentice Spotlight: Noel Baynes
“I really enjoyed Freedom Schools Literacy Academy and working with the team. I kept returning — even during the pandemic — because I figured that during COVID-19 would be the most important time to lock in and focus. The entire world was on lockdown. If I was ever going to stand up and be a teacher, that was the time.” Servant Leader Apprentice Noel Baynes
I’m currently in my first year of teaching high school computer science. To be quite honest, I chose to enter the education profession because I had a lack of support growing up as a young Black male and didn't have a lot of Black male educators either. I went to college for communications at Western Governer’s University. We had classes that required me to teach younger students how to use a camera, mic, etc. and I enjoyed teaching them. It was fulfilling. I’d never felt that before. I said to myself that “Maybe if I had folks who looked and talked like me…” I wanted to be that representation that I didn’t really have.
I previously worked as a 1-1 Behavioral Aid at Mastery Charter School. In 2019, Sharif and the team hired me as a Servant Leader Apprentice, and I worked with a small class of second graders. We had a great time connecting to our roots and learning about the history of Black literacy. I came back for three years in a row even during COVID-19, and last year was the first time that I didn’t participate. I really enjoyed Freedom Schools Literacy Academy and working with the team. I kept returning — even during the pandemic — because I figured that during COVID-19 would be the most important time to lock in and focus. The entire world was on lockdown. If I was ever going to stand up and be a teacher, that was the time. I said that if I have the strength and ability to do something, I might as well.
The Center and [its founder] Sharif [El-Mekki] influenced my career path in a lot of ways, but the most important is that I had a lot of great mentors and folks who looked and talked like me. Through working with Mastery and the Center for Black Educator Development, I learned the importance of leading by example and teaching with justice. A lot of times the system causes our sisters and brothers to be forlorn and out of pocket, but that’s not their fault. If you give them the tools, they will rise to the challenge. They want to succeed. Once I started seeing what happened when resources started coming to people who wouldn’t have them otherwise, it was like night and day. Seeing children go up four and five levels in their reading, made me realize that we could all achieve when given the proper environment and resources to do so.
Having Black teachers makes a difference in the lives of Black students because it helps just having someone with a similar perspective. Perspective is a really big thing and goes a long way. Even having a background that doesn’t match with students can be night and day. Having a teacher who understands where you’re coming from and even when they don’t understand but they try, it means the world. As a teacher now, I see it. Just giving students the benefit of the doubt goes so far. If you’re hungry, you can’t learn. That perspective helps to reinforce the understanding that our lives are different but also the same.
If I were to encourage people considering whether or not to begin a career in education, I'd say that, “You never know what somebody’s going through. You taking the time out — to not just teach, but to listen to the individual — could change their life.” I’ve seen it happen just working with students. You might not know the kind of attention they get at home. You might just be the positive interaction they need to keep them away from dark thoughts and vice versa. You never know how much of an impact students can have on you.
I really love this program. I don’t know if I would've continued my career if it weren’t for Sharif and Brother Makael [Burrell]. There are really awesome staff members. I love how things are going. I’m on my way.
*Interview conducted by volunteer, Angela Crumdy, Ph.D. Provost Postdoctoral Fellow; Graduate School of Education -University of Pennsylvania. Dr. Crumdy’s research interests are the social lives of teachers and teacher retention in Cuba and the United States.