Steven Gupton is a CTE Teacher at James E. Shepard IB Magnet Middle School in Durham Public Schools. Steven is a son, brother, paramedic, educator, coach, and member of the NCAE Educators of Color Cohort. He has served his community his entire life. In high school, he began volunteering in his local fire department and his love for public service began to grow. 16 years later, he is still going. He believes EVERY child can learn, and he will always fight for those that are underserved and underrepresented.
Out of the trenches story: Steven shares about being the son of an incarcerated male (at 31 still wishes his dad was here). His dad is serving 37 years. He talks about the hidden challenges of incarceration for black, brown, indigenous people of color. He’s talked with his students about that. It’s like the fact he’s an educator being a part of his resume, his dad’s incarceration doesn’t define him. He always shares it, though. He thinks many educators shy away from saying they are human. Start every year with an “I am” poem.
When did you embrace the fact your dad is incarcerated and come to acceptance? 2 nights after Christmas, he was sitting at his grandparents, a story began to air on TV about his dad. He was 5-6. Grandparents began to panic. Didn’t know Steven would be seeing it on the news. In high school, he had 2 good science + math teachers, they pushed him to succeed. He’s still in contact with those teachers he had in HS. He began to become disengaged in MS. Teachers found him. He was there for friends. He wasn’t there for the education aspect. Was truant in HS up to senior year.
Was there a person in HS who pushed you to pursue higher ed? He didn’t apply to college right out of HS, in his home there was no post-secondary educational culture. He’s 1st generation college educated. He worked as an EMT in HS, took CTE courses. Later became a paramedic. People who helped- Suzanne Cole, Ms. Songs (11th grade), Amy Miller, AP at MS. His science teacher went to school with his dad. She knew the story. Not all white or even black teachers were able to connect with him as a black student. Stone, the science teacher, understood rough black boys. She met their needs, like gathering in her room during lunch, because of missing work. Steven developed a love of science. Volunteered at local search & rescue. Advocated to CTE director about adding EMT classes.
Tell me about your current teaching context: He teaches 6-8th grade health sciences. He did a segment on NPR recently on engagement, truancy, students are showing up online, but there will be some who have excuses. Home visits reminded him students don’t have a quiet space. “We’re guests in their homes”. We have to govern ourselves accordingly. Him + other teacher knocked on doors. Ran into different situations. There was a 7th grader watching younger siblings. His district is rural. He’s making take-home kits for his science kids- idea came from the instructional coach. He’s trying to get the basics covered with that. He wants to make them feel like they’re in the science class in person. Wanted to get kids hooked from the beginning. He transitioned from teaching HS to teaching MS in the fall (new district). Was a bit nervous but it’s been an easy transition. He was using some tech tools like Peardeck, Brainpop. He didn’t want to learn 16-17 different applications. Equity- there are days students can come in and pick up materials for kits.
What are your thoughts on doing away with textbooks or not? HS kids he taught wanted the paper text, not the digital one. Speaking from his experience, it’s very technical, complex texts. Very difficult to teach without a text, based on feedback students have provided. Even e-books don’t work. May not be needed for core subject, but is needed for some CTE classes. Sometimes people forget that it’s good to have texts to highlight. Sometimes younger teachers like him, but “old school teachers” want them. It’s a personal preference. He never looked at health science as science. He was into healthcare already in MS. His state has provided him with curriculum support materials for MS. Surveying kids first is the best way to go. Has an online assessment as well.
Tell me about the NCAE Educators of Color Academy-he is in the first cohort, started in 2018, 25 of them throughout the state, they are working to recruit & retain educators of color. Work to make sure they can lead. 25 different issues they are working on. He’s working on micro-aggressions and racial tension in the workplace and how that affects teacher performance, it’s a vicious cycle. Can’t expect really great outcomes when teachers are afraid. They want to have educators who are trauma informed, and help to reduce poverty. Everyone has submitted problem of practice. Out of the 25, his group’s has been forwarded to the governor’s task force. Others are focused on building up math scores. He’s focused on work key scores and prison population, in CTE scores. He’s in an IB school, whole-school, it introduces them to things that are more rigorous, like kids getting health science careers in MS (diagnostic services, biomedical technology). He’s a firm believer that you should teach everyone at an honors level. He learned his 6th graders were ready to learn in the fall. This was something new. Knee injuries- he kept talking about it, an 8th grader who plays football he asked to teach the unit. It was relevant to him. His cousin who’s a junior in HS only takes honors + AP classes.
What are some of your ideas on how to recruit more students of color into honors/AP classes? His school is full IB. At HS he worked at, we have to understand why the black & brown students aren’t in the AP/honors classes. A former student is doing a project about inequities, she said she was the only black person in her class. Teachers need to believe students can and should be in those classes. Often we leave kids out based on scores from last year. A teacher who knows you personally can help advocate for you. An admin he had increased AP enrollment didn’t address the disparities among the black, brown students not in those classes. It has to do with the admin starting with the principal about getting more black students into AP classes. A colleague of his mentioned, why aren’t we teaching ALL the classes at honors level? The innovative schools, early colleges, he says don’t necessarily serve the population they were meant to serve. You leave students like him out. Can earn AA during “super senior year” 5th year of HS. In his area, innovative schools were based on fact some students didn’t have the opportunity to go to college after HS. They then ended up in the innovative schools but in an alt. School instead. A friend who is a principal at one & him have conversations. They were sending kids with 3.5 GPA’s from the suburbs. The general assembly agreed on it. A lot of students we should be serving in innovative schools are those in alt schools. A lot of those students will rise and meet those.
Key quotes: students and educators- “don’t allow your past experiences to define you”. No one should forget that. You don’t know whose in your classroom. “Don’t take on too much at once. You are first as an educator! As a paramedic, he learned that you need to take care of yourself first. Find Steven on Twitter @guptonteaches View this episode on YouTube: https://youtu.be/r7GCCPhCTuI