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Nashville teacher inspired by his summers helping kids in Wichita

Courtesy photo

In search of a new career, a Nashville man was inspired by his time teaching in Wichita to make a change.

For the last three summers, Cedric Sesley has taught high schoolers taking part in a college prep program at Wichita State University, as part of the Communication Upward Bound program. It’s something he looks forward to each year as a teacher — and as a therapist.

The experience led him to take a full-time teaching job back home in Tennessee. Sesley loves teaching. He’s been doing it for two years in a 4th-grade classroom in Nashville. This is significantly different from what his previous career as a banker. He says it was time for something new from the world of banking.

"The opportunity just kind of fell in my lap. 'You know, we need teachers, we need male teachers. Cedric, there's a position open.' And I at first said, 'Well, I'm not licensed. I have a degree, but I'm not licensed.' It's like, 'Oh, we're waving that this year. We need teachers that bad.' I hopped on it and it totally changed my life."

Not only was it different from his previous career, but the job was also more than a paycheck for him.

"I don't have any biological children, but when I enter that classroom, I step in there as a dad, as a teacher, as a role model, a disciplinarian, as a friend, as a therapist, they get all of that and I take it so seriously.

"Because we all remember that teacher that touched us. Those teachers go with us for the rest of our lives. I still remember they not only just taught education, but they taught life lessons."

He says kids are not just empty shells that come to learn math, English and social studies.

"They come with all of their problems, some of them are hungry, you know? Physically hungry," Sesley says. "Some of them come from abuse. Some of them come from broken homes, from parents who are on drugs. Some of them have learning disabilities. And so, they come to the classroom with all of their issues and some kind of way you have got to touch all of these parts of their lives."

Courtesy photo
Cedric Sesley in Wichita teaching at WSU as part of Communication Upward Bound program.

There are very few Black men who are at the helm of K-12 classrooms. Fewer than 7% of teachers in the U.S. are Black, and just 2% are Black men. Sesley says for those numbers to increase, it starts with men looking within.

"As a man, I don't think that we tap into the nurturing side of us. Most of the time, we male teachers — you'll find — are mostly in high school," he says. "They'll be okay with the older kids. But we don't realize that at a young age, how important it is for those kids to see a male, and let's take it a step further, a Black male in the classroom and how impactful it will be."

With kids having a rough time during the pandemic, Sesley began teaching a lesson on trauma. He says initially a few students raised their hands admitting they had faced trauma and he started digging deeper.

"All the students raised their hands," Sesley says. "They had experienced some type or some form of trauma, whether it was long-term or short-term, everybody has experienced some type of trauma.

"I realized there's a residual of the pandemic and it's not just the kids here in Wichita, but it's all over. Kids are struggling coming out of the pandemic. I would say about two good years. Our kids lost some important time — as far as education, as far as socially — because we had to social distance."

For students that are socially or emotionally withdrawn, have mood swings or deal with anger, Sesley says it's important — as a parent, caretaker or guardian — to listen to young people and try to be there for them.

"It’s very important that you listen from a place of no judgment; a place of not wanting to reprimand them or discipline them, but listen to them from a place of...'I’m just here to support you. I’m here to make sure that you’re well in every area of your life.' And then if it’s beyond something that you can handle, go to a professional, go to a therapist."

Sesley says you can start with your guidance counselors. Some schools even have psychologists on staff. Cedric Sesley has remained in touch with some of his students in Wichita while he teaches in Nashville. He’ll be back at WSU next summer.

Carla Eckels is Director of Organizational Culture at KMUW. She produces and hosts the R&B and gospel show Soulsations and brings stories of race and culture to The Range with the monthly segment In the Mix. Carla was inducted into The Kansas African American Museum's Trailblazers Hall of Fame in 2020 for her work in broadcast/journalism.