Great teachers know that all students deserve an excellent education. That’s why the Tennessee Educational Equity Coalition, a network of education advocates led by Conexión Américas, is celebrating Teacher Appreciation Week by honoring five Tennessee teachers who believe in educational equity for all students. One of those teachers is Diarese George, a business education teacher at Clarksville High School in Clarksville, Tennessee. Hear why Diarese loves teaching and how he sets high expectations to help all of his students succeed.  

What do you love about being a teacher?

I love the day to day interactions and end results. I have the pleasure of teaching in the district that I not only attended K-12, but also college. Over the last five years, I have witnessed several success stories from former students; it is a wonderful feeling to know I played a role in shaping someone’s trajectory and professional outcome. The daily interactions of current students and the sporadic exchanges in conversation regarding success when I encounter former students, affirm that I am doing my part in answering my calling to nurture, develop and educate Tennessee’s biggest assets—students!

Why do you choose to do the work that you do?

Having an opportunity to teach in the district that I attended school in, I realize that I have a moral obligation to not only project a positive and inspiring image as an educator, but also as a person of color in the education profession. I experienced three educators of color, one principal and two teacher, during my K-12 experience in Tennessee, all while I was in high school.  Outside of military personnel, these were the only professionals of color that I had experienced until I entered college. I noticed early that they carried themselves differently from the rest of the individuals in the building.

Currently, I am the only black male educator of color at the high school where I teach, and one of six educators of color on a staff of 80.  I acknowledge the fact that future doctors, lawyers, entrepreneurs, educators, and leaders are sitting in my classroom daily.  More importantly, I realize for many of my students, both of color and White, I am the “first” educator and professional of color that they have experienced on a personal level. I want students of color to see themselves in the classroom and non-students of color to embrace diversity and cultural differences.  Additionally, I want to leverage my position of influence and close the opportunity gap that many of our students from underserved populations encounter.

What does an equitable education system look like to you?

An equitable education systems operates as if every child were theirs. This system focuses on the whole child of every child. No parent wants their child to be denied access, opportunities, and positive outcomes.  Yet, we graduate students and turn them to a world that they are not prepared for. We need to acknowledge the damaging effects of the inequities that many students experienced from K-16 that affect them as professionals. Students are entering post-secondary institutions unprepared and its reflective even when they graduate, and transition to their chosen professions. An equitable education system institutes high expectations for all students, helps all students develop necessary skills and increases access and opportunities to obtain them, allows students to view failure as an opportunity and safe space, embraces diversity, and values culture as a necessity and resource.

What is the most rewarding thing about working towards equity in your classroom, school, district, or state?

The most rewarding thing about working towards equity in my classroom is setting a high bar and watching students embrace the challenge of reaching it. It is a beautiful experience because in many instances most students do not start at the same level. Several students enter the classroom a victim of inequity and do not realize it because they have been “promoted” graded after grade. The effort that students apply has a parallel effect on me as an educator. Their attempts and efforts encourage and motivate my efforts too.  We realize that we are in it together. From this experience, relationships are formed, culture-blindness is eliminated, and opportunity and achievement gaps are lessened. I think we both feel a sense of gratification when goals are met. There is growth, beauty, and understanding in the process of learning.

What do you wish people knew about your students?

I wish people knew how ambitious, motivated, and persistent my students are. They overcome barriers, embrace diversity, and have a willingness to try, even if it means failing at times. They have some high aspirations; I am confident many will reach their goals. More importantly, they are smarter than what meets the eye. Student voices are powerful and add to the conversation; we just need to be willing to listen to them.