The Impact of Black Male Teachers: A Conversation with De’Shawn Washington, the Massachusetts Teacher of the Year

In today’s rapidly evolving educational landscape, the role of teachers extends far beyond classroom instruction. It encompasses mentorship, inspiration, and the cultivation of life skills that prepare students and other teachers for success and a balanced life. De’Shawn Washington, 2024 Massachusetts Teacher of the Year and the first Black male educator to receive the award, embodies this multifaceted approach to education. We talked to Mr. Washington about not only the vital need for Black male teachers but also how we have to protect our authenticity within this calling inside and outside the classroom. You can listen to our full conversation below.

The Journey into Teaching

De'Shawn Washington
Photo courtesy of WCVB

De’Shawn Washington’s journey into education is a testament to the power of purpose-driven career choices. He shared his transition from the business/finance industry to teaching, a shift sparked by his desire to create a meaningful impact in the lives of young students. His transition highlights a critical aspect of the Black male teacher narrative: the recognition that teaching isn’t merely a profession but a calling – a mission to uplift communities and inspire the next generation.

Throughout De’Shawn career, he has recognized the unique role that Black male teachers play in the lives of their students. He emphasizes that representation matters, especially in education. Seeing someone who looks like you in a position of authority and leadership can be a powerful source of motivation and inspiration for young Black students. Mr. Washington’s presence in the classroom is a testament to what’s possible: breaking stereotypes and forging new paths.

“Teaching is a calling. This is a calling from God, and you have to be ready when it happens.”

– De’Shawn Washington, 2024 Massachusetts Teacher of the Year

Through his 7 years of teaching, De’Shawn has grown in leaps and bounds. He has turned to mentor coaches to grow and now leads the conversation of growth within his school. While De’Shawn loves teaching math with his 4th graders, he sees his students as teachers too. This perspective of teaching and his students sets him apart from many educators. It allows him to connect with students and grow with them, planting seeds that sprout later in their lives.

Building Authentic Connections

One of the central themes of De’Shawn’s teaching philosophy is the importance of building authentic connections with students. He understands that teaching is not just about delivering lessons; it’s about creating an environment where students feel seen, heard, and valued. By playing jazz music in his classroom and crafting a peaceful ambiance, he demonstrates his commitment to making learning a holistic and enjoyable experience. This authenticity is what allows him to connect with his students on a deeper level, empowering students to grow. De’Shawn’s methods lead to students’ increased test scores and preparation for the MAP test, ensuring they are ready for the next step in their education journey. 

But De’Shawn’s influence extends beyond the classroom. He embodies the idea that teaching is a service where educators not only impart academic knowledge but also teach life skills. This mentorship aspect of teaching is often underestimated but holds incredible value. De’Shawn’s students benefit from his guidance and wisdom, learning essential life skills that extend far beyond textbooks.

De’Shawn also speaks about a common misconception surrounding Black male teachers: the assumption that they inherently know how to control students in the classroom. We shared a great exchange about how this misconception drives many misaligned opportunities for educators. He astutely debunked this myth, highlighting that teaching is a demanding profession for everyone, regardless of gender or race. This myth underscores the importance of mentorship and support for all teachers, especially those in their early years of teaching.

A recurring theme with talking De’Shawn is the significance of relationships in education. He shares his experiences forming connections with students’ families by meeting them where they are and working together towards common goals. This alignment between home and school creates a robust support system for students, ultimately enhancing their personal and academic development.

“You’re not going to remember we did multiplication together. But [students] will remember how you made them feel.”

– De’Shawn Washington, 2024 Massachusetts Teacher of the Year

The Journey Continues

De’Shawn’s insights extend to the importance of cultural awareness in education. He highlights the need for schools to create environments that respect and support the cultural backgrounds of all students. This includes acknowledging that students may have different ways of expressing themselves, especially in areas like writing. De’Shawn is dedicated to fostering a culturally inclusive classroom, a testament to the positive impact it can have on student engagement and success.

De’Shawn concluded our interview by reflecting on the profound impact he has made as a teacher. He believes in planting seeds in students’ minds, even if they don’t witness immediate results. This long-term perspective underscores the dedication required in the teaching profession. De’Shawn’s journey from financial services to education, initially driven by practical considerations, has evolved into a calling from a higher purpose.

De’Shawn Washington provides valuable insights into the world of Black male teachers and the incredible work inside and outside the classroom. Journeys like his showcase the transformative power of teaching as a calling and the importance of authentic connections, mentorship, and cultural awareness in education. De’Shawn’s impact is a testament to the profound difference that dedicated educators can make in the lives of their students and communities.

As we celebrate and honor the contributions of Black male teachers like De’Shawn, we recognize that their work goes far beyond teaching subjects; it’s about nurturing future leaders, breaking down barriers, and inspiring generations to come.