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New Orleans Teacher Nurtures ‘Future Civil Rights Leaders’

February 21, 2019
In his 7th grade classroom, Cadarris Rucker builds student confidence through ‘advocacy, choice and voice’

When Cadarris Rucker looks at the students in his English class, he doesn’t just see young scholars. He sees future civil rights leaders.

The 7th grade students that Cadarris teaches at KIPP Believe College Prep in New Orleans are all of African American descent, growing up in one of the city’s poorest communities and facing the daily struggles and hurdles that come with poverty.

That’s why Cadarris believes his role is not only to prepare his students academically, but also to help shape them into champions of equity and opportunity – so they can realize their own potential to change the world.

New Orleans teacher Cadarris Rucker says part of his job is to help shape his 7th grade students into champions of equity and opportunity.

Over the course of his nine-year teaching career, Cadarris’ classrooms have featured photos of prominent black leaders, ranging from the works of Maya Angelou, Langston Hughes and even James Baldwin.

“I am constantly exposing them to different civil rights leaders. It’s not only the typical ones you know about, but also local activists working to overcome the inequities in our city,” he says.

It’s a culturally affirming approach to education that extends to how Cadarris teaches the curriculum, and which he feels is essential to help his students succeed in school and as adults.

“Curriculums are not always developed or written with African American children in mind. As a black male teacher it’s my job to create an environment where they can engage with this content and have it still be relevant to their culture,” he says.

I feel that school should be a place that gives my students an opportunity to create and effectively make change.
KIPP Believe teacher Cadarris Rucker

Cadarris encourages advocacy by having students express their own opinions and work to implement their ideas.

“A big part of our narrative in class is about advocacy, choice and voice,” he says. “I feel that school should be a place that gives my students an opportunity to create and effectively make change.”

Students make their own choices about text selections to study. And they develop their own voice by reading challenging text and then analyzing and articulating their feelings about the subject.

His lessons include discussions on current events impacting the African American community and how they relate to events in black history.

Teacher Cadarris Rucker says he aims to be a positive role model for black male students in his New Orleans classroom.

These can include topics ranging from high levels of incarceration of black males in Louisiana, higher school suspension rates for black male students or population shifts that are making some New Orleans neighborhoods too expensive for black residents.

“My students see injustices in their own community. That’s why I encourage them to be advocates and it’s why I see them as civil rights leaders of the future,” he says.

“The goal is to create an atmosphere of inclusivity, where scholars feel free to speak up and all opinions and conclusions are welcome.”

In 2017, Cadarris was named a New Orleans Excellence in Teaching Award winner. He is outspoken about the need for more black male teachers in the classroom.

Black men account for only two percent of teachers in the country.

Studies show that having just one African-American teacher in third, fourth or fifth grade reduces the probability that low-income African American boys will drop out of high school by 39%.

“I am seeing more black male teachers in our (KIPP) network. More black leaders. More black administrators. That alone makes me very optimistic.”
Cadarris Rucker

In high school, African-American students who had at least one African-American teacher have much stronger expectations of going to college.

“Teaching in a city in which one of seven black males are either incarcerated, on parole or probation, I think it is very essential for students to see someone at the front of the classroom who represents and shares their experience, someone who can inspire them,” Cadarris says.

“I am seeing more black male teachers in our (KIPP) network. More black leaders. More black administrators. That alone makes me very optimistic.”

Cadarris says his approach to teaching was shaped by his own upbringing. He grew up in Alabama, which was a fulcrum for the civil rights movement in the 1960s. His mother was active in the Southern Christian Leadership Conference.

For Cadarris, being a successful educator in New Orleans requires taking a trauma-informed approach to teaching. That means implementing additional supports for students who experience trauma outside the classroom.

“Most of the kids come from low-income households. Poverty alone is traumatic,” Cadarris says.

“That’s the biggest thing in the city we are trying to combat – the trauma of growing up in areas where poverty is so rampant.”

He has included dedicated time in class to focus on “social, emotional learning in addition to academics.” Students learn how to process their emotions and, if needed, seek services to get further help.

When Cadarris lost both of his parents a couple of years ago, he spoke to his students about the impact that loss had on his life.

“It allowed me to also create an environment where other kids felt safe to talk about things they were going through,” he says.

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