11 Apr “It Takes A Certain Kind of Man To Teach” A sit-down convo with one of America’s Best
“I’m not the exception; I’m just the one who has the ability to change the perception.”
-Who is Van Phillips, Jr.?
Van Phillips, Jr. is first, a child of God, second, a loving husband and father, and last, but not least, an educator and philanthropist for youth and youth empowerment.
-How did you become interested in elementary education?
Initially, I didn’t have a passion for elementary education. I wanted to teach on the middle and high school levels. I played college football, and the day before I was supposed to meet with the NFL scouts, my football coach told me that the scouts only wanted to see certain players and my name was not on the list. At that time, I didn’t have a job, so I began working at a boys’ home from 11 P.M. – 7 A.M. After that shift, I went to work with my mother-in-law as a teacher’s aide from 7 A.M. – noon. Unfortunately, I wasn’t making enough money, so I began to search for substitute teaching jobs. After visiting every school in the county, the last school offered me a job as a paraprofessional, along with an assistant coaching position as well. When I started, I was still working at the boys’ home from 11-7; so on top of that, I was teaching, assistant coaching boys’ and girls’ basketball, and head coaching baseball. After doing this for four months, I saw that I was really passionate about it, mainly due to the impact. I saw my impact at the boys’ home, but I really blossomed in the school system. I was in the midst of studying for the LSAT, and mid-semester, I realized I wanted to be a teacher. My dad is a principal, so I called him and shared the news, and he asked me twice if I was sure! I told him I was; I realized it was God’s plan, not mine. I kept getting placed around kids, and I loved it. As the girls’ basketball coach, we won the first state championship at the school in 25 years.
-What are some of the challenges you have personally faced as far as getting into the Education field?
To be honest, I failed the entry test three times to get into the secondary education cohort for the summer. I really wanted to be a teacher, and instead of giving up and continuing as a paraprofessional, I took the test again. After three times, I finally got certified. After finally being admitted into the program, due to the dual training, I was eligible to teach special education on the K-12 levels and English language arts on the elementary level. However, because of my certification areas, I could only teach one year on the middle/high school level. The first coach that I worked with while I was a paraprofessional gave me the contact information of a principal who would take care of me. I contacted the principal and told him I had just gotten certified and was extremely eager to become a middle school teacher. He proceeded to tell me to come see him. After telling him my story, he told me to contact the school board and tell them he sent me and wanted me to teach at his school. After telling the central office the story again, they told me I would be approved. Two days later, I was. With no training and no real knowledge of the foundation I would need in order to be a successful teacher, I began teaching. After my first year on the middle school level, I had done such a wonderful job that my principal, who had an excellent relationship with the neighboring elementary school, referred me to the elementary school’s principal. She welcomed me with open arms because she had an elementary school teacher who wanted to teach middle school; so we swapped positions.
During my third year of teaching, I was doing so well in the classroom that I was asked to be an administrative assistant to focus on strengthening the areas in which our more challenging students were struggling. Over the next two years, I had to pass two more certification tests in order to remain a classroom teacher; mind you, I had already taken the test six times and had only passed once. It seemed like the same tune was playing on a different track because I ended up taking the test six more times to pass my final two. I say all that to say this: because of my journey to become a teacher, I don’t ever see myself giving up on a kid because it will undermine my entire story and goes directly against who I am and what I stand for.
-How has your work in the education field evolved?
I finally listened to God and moved to Shreveport. Not only did I move an hour and 15 minutes to teach, but I also took a pay cut and went back to just teaching in the classroom all day. If I had not listened to God when he told me to take the demotion, I would never be in the situation I’m in now. Today, there are people as far away as the Middle East who attempt to recruit me. I’m not a boastful guy, but I have been doing a lot; I have been blessed to even win national awards.
I have a gift; I have the ability to show kids they can achieve in EVERY field of human endeavor. This gift is something not everyone can do because I can wear Jordan’s and sweats to school on Fridays and the students still have the same respect for me as they do Monday-Thursday when they see me in a shirt and tie. I do this to show them that you can be well-respected in either attire, but you must carry yourself in a way that commands that respect. When it comes to teaching, I incorporate every topic that’s popular in the world. It makes things more relatable and easier to grasp. Too me people try to box us African-American males in, but I don’t believe God put us here to just be a part of the world. I believe He put us here to change it, and I know this because we always have.
-Any advice for young African-American males who want to get into education?
My advice for other brothers who want to get into the field is to first become a substitute teacher. If you can substitute a class and make it through it with that same passion you had before you substituted, then this profession is for you. The reason I recommend substituting is because typically, when the kids find out they have a substitute teacher, their behavior declines. So if you can handle the worst behavior of a student, then you also deserve to teach the best students. I firmly believe that you don’t deserve the kids who don’t present any problems if you can’t be passionate about the kids who can’t see education is a top priority.
There are too many “teachers” who jump in the field just to pay off student loans, and it’s not fair to our future leaders. Stay out; you are selfish, and this isn’t for you! You can tell the ones who don’t love it from the ones who do love it and are here for the right reasons.
-How can readers keep up with you?
On IG and Twitter @vanjr83.
This article was written by Justin Sims, (IAMMRMENTOR), In hopes of not only inspiring entrepreneurs, but young black males to be the best and the truest version of themselves.
If you like this article and find yourself interested in more positive stories about black millennial age males, or if you would like to find stories to encourage black boys please visit www.iammrmentor.co and follow him on his social media pages IAMMRMENTOR on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.
Editing By: Ciara Dawson