Originally known in Austin for his rap music career and sometimes known as the Hip Hop Mayor, Bavu Blakes now teaches at Decker Middle School on the city’s East Side.
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When he’s not attending his son’s T-Ball games, or mentoring other artists, he’s earning a master’s degree in the principalship program at the University of Texas. Last year, the city officially declared April 23 Bavu Blakes Day.
“The community I teach in is the same community that hip hop came from. It’s the same community where hip hop resonates. Not on a commercial level, but in terms of what it’s all about, the whole ‘Something from nothing,’” says Blakes. Here are five tips Blakes offers teachers to help nurture student success.
Expect the best
“We’re in a school and community environment that is generally perceived to have less. My hip hop attitude calls B.S. on it and causes me to go in there passionately fighting to pull all the creativity and all the dreams out of the students that I serve. That’s hip hop unto itself. If I don’t have power, I’m gonna’ plug into the street light.”
Teach the basics“At every level, it’s important to know education builds; there are prerequisites. But at every
level, no matter who the learner is, you want to learn in a safe place. You want to feel supported, but you also want to feel challenged – at every level. But you have to have the prerequisite skills to do whatever is asked of you.”
“There’s no language in the STAAR [State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness] test that can’t be translated to the way that I talk, my normal register, or even the students’ normal register. But at the end of the day, what you’re going to need to go all the way through college is basically what one of my colleagues calls ‘the difference between talking to somebody in a suit or somebody in Jordans.’ But a lot of the kids in public schools are not automatically comfortable with their registers. The key is working academic language and literacy into your curriculum throughout the year to where that part is not that big of a deal. In trying to reconcile what I think is really important in education with not letting your kids straight up bomb it, there’s some virtue in there, too, which amounts to giving them ‘The Code’ that at least half of America speaks on a regular basis.”
The key is working academic language and literacy into your curriculum throughout the year.
Support critical thinking
“Creativity, high levels of thinking and questions, and the opportunity to explore and learn about what you want to learn about, is what smart people do. Being smart is knowing what you don’t know. Education is learning what you need to know. Allow more time for students to self-determine what they need to know and simply be supportive to do that.”
Engage students in your own unique way
“I’m in a community where some people don’t know their dad, and it bothers the crap out of them. So if you’re kind of fatherly in that way, which I think a good teacher should be, then it makes a difference. You know, most teachers are White women, in America, so that’s the norm. So it makes a difference in that way [being a male teacher of color]. But also the personality and culture that comes with it. I have a different presence and a different way of doing things; I make different faces or whatever, than the typical teachers do. Some students feel like all of their teachers are the same. So when they get somebody different it becomes a little more intriguing and just a point of engagement. There are graduate level professors who say, if you want to learn about engagement you should go to a rap concert, a Black church, or a Black barbershop. I’ve got 100,000 hours in those spaces. Including on the podium, you know what I’m saying! So it makes a difference in engagement I think, and I also think it makes a difference in breaking the monotony and adding diversity – in a good way – for those learning spaces.”
Video courtesy of KLRU-TV, Austin PBS from their American Graduate initiative honoring American Graduate Champions that are making a difference in our community.