HUNTER TAYLOR


INTERVIEW



How has race and intersectionality impacted your life as an educator?


I'm a Clinical Assistant Professor in the School of Education at The University of Mississippi, and I help lead a graduate teaching program called the Mississippi Teacher Corps (MTC). We take a cohort—25 to 35 mostly recent college graduates—and we train them and place them in middle and high school districts in Mississippi. We only place them in districts that are labeled critical needs, which is a definition tied to the Mississippi Department of Education, meaning they have a certain percentage teacher shortage. They earn a Master of Arts in Teaching from the University of Mississippi, while they're serving a two-year commitment at their school.


The schools that we work with are made up predominantly of Black students, in towns and cities that are made up predominantly of Black citizens and Black families. We’ve had a couple students in the program born and raised in these school districts, but the majority aren’t from the community. Dr. Brian Foster spoke to our cohort the other day. He said, “You don't know. You never know. You learn. The moment you think you know, you've got it wrong.”


I’ve been a professor now for a little over three years. I was a teacher in MTC 15 years ago. Now, more people have been willing to initiate uncomfortable conversations. That's been a great thing. Sometimes, you take something personally. And I don't want to do that. I want to be someone who learns, and wants to try to understand better. I'm learning more and more about being a White male, in a leadership position, who trains teachers to go into communities and schools, predominantly made up of Black people. I can easily say, “Hey, I have been trying to prepare. I have been trying to understand, and I have been trying to read.” But it's not enough. I've got to commit.


For me and my wife, both of our parents are in their 60s. We have conversations in which they're uncomfortable. We also want to talk with our kids, in a way that’s not a fad or a phase—that there’s a responsibility with the hand you’re dealt, and there's a responsibility to love your neighbor. Not to just do something so you feel good about it. To truly love your neighbor and understand your neighbor. I think that happens before love. We are committing to do this in our private homes. And then to take them into our spaces, our small group at church, our people we go vacation with.

The credit goes to friends of color who have nudged.

I'm not taking credit for some personal, moral conviction. The credit goes to friends of color who have nudged, and been vulnerable enough to share about things that were hurtful from a program standpoint—things we'd never before thought were harmful. I've had people who loved me enough to do what love means if we're really friends: to also present truth. That’s something I believe was instrumental in us wanting to commit even more.


What about as a coach?


I taught middle school math for two years, and then I taught high school math. But I was also a basketball coach. And I was very passionate about that. The relationships I developed with certain student players through that experience were just different than in the classroom.


I think there's an opportunity for this work to be done even more effectively in team arenas—though I’m biased. I thought there was something sacred about the locker room, how much time you all have to spend together. For the most part, people choose to play a sport. “I love doing this." The same thing for people who want to coach—it's not required in your school contract, and there are ways to get a stipend and, but if you look at the hours, I don't think you can do it for money, in a K-12 setting at least. So we've got players and coaches who are choosing to spend hours together.


A lot of times people will start to use "family" as a synonym for “team.” This is our crew, right? It's a thick institution. People are really proud to be a part of certain teams. And with time, with connection, with mutual love and relationships, you can be authentic and sincere with people. When there are disagreements, you work it out. “No, no, this is the team. Let's talk about it. So you have this opinion on this issue. This is my opinion. This person has this opinion.” Sometimes people are more fearful in another setting, because there isn't already a ton of trust. With a team, there’s mutual commitment. We show up the next day for practice. We’ve got four months together, the next three years together.


I think there's such a need for tools for coaches to foster conversations [about race] within the spaces of teams. You also have to look and be honest about conversations that are happening nationally. I used to be a college basketball coach, and there's a huge conversation about how many of the head coaches are White. There might be another role for player development, and another role for recruiting. The recruiter is oftentimes a Black assistant coach, and there's a stigma that they don't want as just being a recruiter. From talking with friends, it’s like, “I'm a coach. I'm just as good with the game planning part, or the tactical part about dissecting an offense or defense.”

Most of the players are Black. Their coaches are White. So who makes the money?

From a player perspective, most of the players are Black. Their coaches are white. So who makes the money? Well, it's the coaches. Even though a player is doing most of the work. And in college, the scholarship is how the athlete gets awarded, but your jersey can be sold. Your likeness can be sold. I know there are changes happening, but these are big issues that we need to talk about.


What was it like teaching this lesson or unit plan?


My students are smarter than me. They are fantastic. They're creative. They have this yearning to be so relational with their students. So it made sense to empower them to [connect] their lesson plans with Tell Me Who You Are. In total, 18 of them designed lesson plans, and they taught it to around 20 students each.


As far as coaching, I still help advise a local head football coach here in Oxford—Coach Chris Cutcliffe—and it's a fun, creative way for me to still feel connected to a team. I think the work that he and his staff are already doing is incredible. It’s all about fostering relationships. He’s also open to new things we could try.


So we created this book study. For the past two years, we’ve done book studies. This year is the first time we've ever talked about race explicitly. I'm embarrassed we haven't done it before, because if we're serious about preparing our students for life, I mean, this is a huge aspect of life. We talked about things that are happening in our state, in our community, but also in our team. We looked at different models of how to do it effectively. And we empowered them to think of ways that the team can be improved, so that everybody feels like this is their team.


How did your community react to your work?

There's a connection piece that we're craving. I just want to know that this stuff is real.

I think a story is way more effective than a plan. I remember a story. With the football team, if you tell a story, and it's connected with something that they're interested in, they're dialed in. There's a connection piece there.


I saw a difference in my students’ eyes and reactions when the Tell Me Who You Are authors hopped onto Zoom and spoke with our class about their background, and what they’re trying to do. Well, all of a sudden, they realized that there are two people behind this—as opposed to a document that was given to them as an assignment.


I think there's a connection piece that we're craving. Like, I just want to know that this stuff is real. And authentic. And sincere. Who is this benefiting? Who's behind this? What do they look like? Why are they doing this? What are their motives? The authors’ motives are pure; they have been. I think that's important—you've got to express what you're about.


What would you like to tell any educator looking at your work right now?


I’m spending a lot of time, energy, effort and intention in the creation of my work, but it's still flawed. I’m learning, and I want to be better. That starts with the acknowledgement that I can be better. We’re not there, so we've got some work to do.



HUNTER TAYLOR's Lesson plan:

TYPE: Team Captains Course TITLE: “Leaving It Better Than We Found It”

DESCRIPTION: In this course, we will examine why Humility (we already mentioned that one - that means it’s important), Discipline, Empathy, Resilience, and Responsibility are integral parts of you becoming a better leader.

Click below to download a PDF of Hunter Taylor's course.

Leaving It Better Than We Found It
.pdf
Download PDF • 37KB



STUDENT WORK:

The lessons below were not created by educators of the CHOOSE Champions Fellowship, and CHOOSE has not reviewed its content. These lessons are examples of student work: CHOOSE Champion Dr. Hunter Taylor asked his students to create these lessons as part of a Mississippi graduate teacher educator program.

Lessons Created by Hunter Taylor’s Students for Middle-High School:


Currie McKinley

TYPE: Lesson (full class)

TITLE: The Legacy of Racial Injustice: Pairing U.S

History Topics to TMWYA Stories

CONTENT AREA: English

GRADE LEVEL(S): 9th Grade

McKinley Lesson
.pdf
Download PDF • 98KB








Kristy Sanchez

TYPE: Lesson (full class)

TITLE: Ancient India’s Caste System and the American Dream CONTENT AREA: World History

GRADE LEVEL(S): 7th Grade

Sanchez Lesson
.pdf
Download PDF • 84KB






Jocelyn Jarrett

TYPE: Lesson (full class)

TITLE: Encounters with Strangers: Breaking Down What Divides Us CONTENT AREA: English

GRADE LEVEL(S): 9th Grade

Jarrett Lesson
.pdf
Download PDF • 49KB





Jack Sullivan

TYPE: Lesson (full class)

TITLE: The Crucible: From Tituba to Tell Me Who You Are CONTENT AREA: English

GRADE LEVEL(S): 6th to 8th Grade

Sullivan Lesson
.pdf
Download PDF • 69KB






Alex Bailey

TYPE: Lesson (full class)

TITLE: Verbal Bullying and Choosing Our Words CONTENT AREA: English

GRADE LEVEL(S): 7th Grade

Bailey Lesson
.pdf
Download PDF • 49KB









Dottie Reid

TYPE: Lesson (full class)

TITLE: Modeling Similarities and Differences CONTENT AREA: Math

GRADE LEVEL(S): 6th Grade

Reid Lesson
.pdf
Download PDF • 57KB









Hanna Nightingale

TYPE: Lesson (full class)

TITLE: The Paper Menagerie and Childhood Lessons About Race CONTENT AREA: English

GRADE LEVEL(S): 10th Grade

Nightingale Lesson
.pdf
Download PDF • 54KB











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Last Updated: October 2020

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