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He Comes From a Family of Teachers. Does He Want That for the Next Generation?

Alfred “Shivy” Brooks II, an economics and government teacher at Charles Drew High School in Clayton County, Ga., turns 40 March 9.

On the cusp of middle age, Brooks already has worn far more professional hats than most people do in a lifetime. Some of his many jobs have included swim instructor, legislative aide, rapper, entrepreneur, and, most recently, the first active teacher to win a seat on the Atlanta Board of Education in its 150-year history. While each of his experiences has informed his teaching career in some way, Brooks suggests that his relatives who’ve proudly served as teachers before him—including several aunts and, most importantly, his father—have been an even bigger influence.

This may come as no surprise. Historically, teaching among family members tends to be a multi-generational affair, according to both research and anecdotal evidence. But that tradition seems precarious right now. In an October 2023 national survey of K-12 teachers conducted by the EdWeek Research Center, an overwhelming 79 percent of respondents agreed that they were not likely to advise their own children, or those of close friends or family members, to pursue a career in K-12 teaching.

Education Week spoke to Brooks about his foray into teaching, his father’s influence on his career, whether he would recommend the profession to his 7-year-old son, and more.

The conversation, told below in his own words, was edited for length and clarity.

Growing up around educators

Growing up, I was surrounded by a family of educators. My dad taught at the high school I attended, Montclair High School in New Jersey. For me, I think it made the decision to teach more organic and innate than anything else. It was less of an ‘I want to be like them’ thing and more like, ‘you’re nurtured and raised by these people who do this work,’ so the thought to do it becomes more normalized.

My father never lets me live down the criticisms I used to make, things I’d say to him like: I don’t know if I ever want to be a teacher because you don’t make enough money. Then, sure enough, I ended up going into the field.

My dad was the proverbial cool teacher. He was well respected by all the popular kids. He came to school driving a Jaguar, wearing nice suits. He was an inspirational person in the community. My dad made teaching look cool and look different, and that was a big influence in how I show up in the classroom.

Authenticity on display

I’m always wearing sneakers. Some folks would say I probably dress more like a rapper than a teacher. The irony is that I was a rapper in my past, past life. I was on a show called “106 & Park” on BET; I was a freestyle Friday Hall of Famer. I had a large reputation, coming from that field, before I did other things. The hip hop culture is innately who I am and has a lot to do with how I show up in the classroom, and why I’m so impassioned about culturally responsive pedagogy.

I’m my own person. My students know me. They’re like: There’s my teacher who’s an elected official, he knows all of these people. To my students, I’m an aspirational person because of my successes as an entrepreneur and in the education space. To them, I’m the teacher riding a one-wheel electric board through the school and who wears hats all the time and is breaking the rules. To them, I feed authenticity, and I think that’s what’s appreciated.

That’s who my dad was to his students; my dad was authentic to who he was. That high level of authenticity is the thing that kids value and respect the most about their teachers, no matter who you are. If you’re a professional clog dancer, and that’s genuinely who you are, and you bring the clogs in the classroom and get clickety-clacking with the clogs, the kids are going to love you for being excellent in what makes you who you are.

On the future of multi-generational teaching families

Last year in January, I had an opportunity to interview Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona. Also at the event was a mom, who was a teacher. Her son was about to graduate from college and was aspiring to be a teacher. She was in tears talking to Secretary Cardona about how her son wanted to be a teacher and how she did not want that life for him. You would have thought she was talking about a son who was about to be drafted to go into the military and step into an active war.

My surviving son is 7 years old. (Brooks’ 16-year-old son, Bryce, drowned last spring while attempting to rescue struggling swimmers caught in strong currents off the Florida Panhandle). A few weeks ago, he told me that he wants to be a teacher when he grows up.

That came as a shock to me.

It was something that I was proud of, but I also know that when he thinks about what a teacher looks like or what a teacher is, he’s seeing it from the perspective of being my son. My teacher life is not the average teacher’s life. I think for him, the perception of being a teacher is not synonymous with financial hardship, or struggle.

The economic feasibility question of teaching

For a lot of teachers, to make teaching work, you almost have to have a side hustle. From the male perspective, it’s even tougher because you think about: How can I be a man, a husband, a father, a breadwinner, and a teacher all at the same time? That proposition in itself makes it more challenging for us to commit to the field.

I have lots of side hustles. I own a clothing line that focuses on teacher advocacy statements, alfredslaundry.com. I sell a lot of merch, especially to teachers. I do keynote speaking around the country with Getyourteachon.com. I do consultation with schools and districts around the country on school branding, social media, marketing. I’m on the school board here in Atlanta.

Teachers in Atlanta were barred from being on the school board and in the classroom at the same time. That’s how the Atlanta public schools’ charter was set up. We advocated at the state legislature to change the charter. We got the charter changed last year. Then I entered the race and won. I was just elected in December, sworn in in January. I have had several educators around the country in places where they’re not blocked from serving on school boards say: You have inspired me to want to run.

It’s about growth and impact

So far, I’ve been able to redefine what it looks like to be a teacher. I think that’s the most important thing I could ever do. Less than 1.3 percent of all public school teachers are Black males. For students to see a Black man show up in the classroom, and also in the community, run for office, win the seat, still show up in the classroom, go through hardships like losing my 16-year-old son last year and still show up to teach—for them to see that resilience, I think, is the greatest impact I’ve had on my students.

I just signed my contract with my school to return next year. I’m looking forward to being back in the classroom. I’m going to stay as long as I can.

When your impact is stymied by your commitments, that’s when you have to start making adjustments. For me, it’s always about growth and impact. So long as I can continue to do both, I will. But if I get the opportunity to be more impactful outside of the classroom, at that point I’ll make the decision.

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