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Darrell Anane used to run a shoe business. Then he applied and was accepted to law school. Last year, though, he put that off to join a one-year accelerated teaching program through Boston Public Schools.
Now, at the age of 36, Darrell Anane is a first-year teacher at Madison Park Technical Vocational High School.
BPS started the program in response to a diversity problem. Eighty-six percent of students who attend the district's schools are black, Latino or Asian — compared with just over 35 percent of its teachers and guidance counselors.
The district is now working to attract, build and retain minority teachers through several fast-track teaching programs, including the one Anane chose.
He deliberately chose Madison Park, too.
"This was the only place that I applied to," Anane says. "Because it was the only place that I was gonna come."
Why Madison Park?
Madison Park is a behemoth of a school, an endless span of concrete that fills an entire city block. There are more than 900 students — 50 percent Latino, just over 40 percent black.
More than half of the students live below the poverty line. The school is chronically underperforming and has gone through five leaders in five years.
But to understand why Anane chose Madison, you first have to understand where he’s coming from.
Darrell Anane is the only child of a white mother; his father is from Africa. He grew up in Shrewsbury — a tough place, he says, to be a black kid.
Anane still remembers the name of the “other” black student in his graduating class. Only a handful of his teachers were minorities.
"My classroom experience, not seeing my peers that look like me and sharing my experience, is very different from my experience here," Anane says, "where they have a classroom where it might be entirely black and brown students."
So while he could have chosen to teach in one of the high-performing high schools, Anane believes the kids here, at this school, need to see someone who looks like them leading a class.
It's nearly two months into the school year, and Anane and his students are still getting to know each other.
On this day, 10th graders stream into Anane's U.S. History class. Some speak; others plop down into their chairs, tired before the class has even begun. The hall pass to use the restroom is a valuable commodity.
Asked how the kids are relating to him so far, Anane replies simply: "Colorfully."
"I mean," he goes on, "you never — what is that Forrest Gump? 'You never know what you’re going to get.'"
Many of Anane's students are English Language Learners. And their backgrounds are varied. He's still learning about the complicated worlds many of them come from.
But Anane is connecting. A few weeks ago, the students were assigned a “tell us about you” project, and they were excited to share their heritage, hailing from places like Puerto Rico, Barbados, Haiti and Trinidad. And Anane thinks they enjoyed hearing about his heritage too.
The walls in his room are sparsely covered with posters of black leaders: Martin Luther King Jr., Cornel West, Malcolm X.
There are uplifting quotes, like this one from Andy Warhol: "The idea is not to live forever, but to create something that will."
Anane never realized until now how hard it is to decorate an entire classroom.
"I have a big — increasing every day — respect for the work that the educators do," he says, "coming in as a first-year teacher, starting everything from scratch and seeing what’s established in the other classrooms and what I have to get towards myself."
Today, he tells the class, they'll be talking about the bloody backlash against a steelworkers' strike in Homestead, Pennsylvania, in 1892, and what it can teach them about evidence-based claims.
Anane pulls out an old-style projector to show the students a clip of a documentary on the Homestead strike.
Earlier in the day, he put up pieces of cloth he'd found to cover the windows, so that his students could see the images without the harsh glare of light coming in. It's still hard to make out; Anane doesn't have a projector screen, so the images play over the chalkboard.
It is a glimpse into the challenges of teaching at an urban school.
"OK, so what do you guys see in that?" Anane asks the class. "What do you guys see in the video?"
"Um, the steelworkers was furious at Frick," a student offers. Anane agrees.
The piercing shriek of the alarm clock wakes Anane from a deep sleep.
It's a rough way to wake up — especially at this hour.
“It’s now 4:50 in the morning," the alarm reports. "Time to get started.”
Anane quietly slips past his sleeping fiancée and their 11-month-old daughter.
It’s the start of his daily routine: a rush to beat the morning traffic from Worcester to Roxbury — an hour-and-a-half commute, one way.
As Anane sorts out his new role, he's quick to say he has no regrets about choosing teaching over law school. The biggest challenge right now, he says, is managing his work/life balance. He spends every Sunday mapping out lesson plans and sorting through paperwork.
But those are little things, he says, because overall he's happy.
"You know, it puts me in a place where I can be the best father for my daughter, I can be the best man when I get home," he says, "because I bring that positivity I get from work home with me."
His goals this year?
To figure out his teaching style, find a way to manage all of the paperwork — and cut down his three-hour round-trip commute by finding a home closer to Madison Park.
Most of all, Anane wants to build a deeper connection with his students. To show his students that black men can be, and are, teachers.
We'll be checking in with Darrell Anane throughout the school year.
This segment aired on November 14, 2016.
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