On May 15, 2016, the Minnesota Teacher of the Year program announced that Abdul Wright, a language arts teacher at Best Academy in North Minneapolis, was selected as Minnesota Teacher of the Year. Wright is the 52nd recipient of this prestigious award and makes history as the first African American male, as well as the first charter school teacher, ever selected.
Best Academy, where Wright has taught for five years, is one of the Harvest Network of Schools, which includes Harvest Preparatory, Seed Academy and the Mastery School. Wright just received his master’s degree in education from Hamline University and holds a bachelor’s degree from Concordia University, both in St. Paul
The Minnesota Teacher of the Year is selected by an independent committee made up of various Minnesota leaders in business, education and government. Meghan Roegge is quoted as saying in her nomination letter, “Mr. Wright embodies what it means to be a transformational teacher. He impacts and changes lives every day that he comes to work.”
Wright’s impact is widely felt among the students at Best Academy. MSR spoke with him just as the 16 students in his classroom were preparing1 to take a picture with their favorite teacher. When students were asked what makes Wright so great in their opinion, different responses came out from the group all at once.
“He’s funny, fun and loving,” someone said.
“He’s like a father, brother and a friend,” said another.
“He’s inspirational, and we love him,” responded Jermaine.
“Why? Because he’s humble, brilliant and speaks his mind,” said Jacory.
When the MSR asked the students why they love him, Tierrnie responded, “Because he loves us.”
According to Wright, respect is at the center of his values and beliefs as an educator.
“I try to teach my students that we have to be a model of excellence for the community we want, not the community we see,” said Wright. “The reason I decided to become a teacher is that there [are] people in my corner that loved me and saw past my mistakes. They believed in me, gave me grace and taught me how to believe in myself.
“Belief is so important,” said Wright. “If we can instill belief in our young people, then we can emphasize the importance of critical thinking in the way they live their lives. If we continue to pace forward through the importance of belief, love and patience, we are doing our jobs as educators, community members, parents and mentors.”
Asked if receiving the Teacher of the Year award came as a shock, Wright said, “Yes, of course, because I couldn’t imagine or envision it before. I didn’t know I was nominated until I received the letters.”
Wright sees himself as a teacher of language arts and a teacher of critical thinking as well. It was his preference to teach young people from low-income communities. Wright is also involved with many activities with his students, including coaching both boys’ and girls’ eighh-grade basketball.
In the middle of speaking with the MSR, Wright was asked to rehearse his lines for a play with three girls doing a scene where they are dancing inappropriately to music. Wright is playing the role of a teacher who delivers a voice of reason about what’s wrong with their actions.
After giving the girls five minutes of his time, he continued our interview.
“My connection to these students is great, and they get my communication style and understand my messages,” explained Wright. “But my messages are universal in nature for young people from any background. I chose to target young people that grew up like I did. I grew up on the Southside of Chicago, in a Section 8 community that was infested with gang violence and murders.”
He wants young people from any background to know that if they don’t play sports or become a famous rapper or entertainer, they still have value.
As the Minnesota Teacher of the Year, Wright will be in the running, along with other teachers nominated across the U.S., for National Teacher of the Year. The decision will be announce in July.
James L. Stroud, Jr. welcomes reader responses to firstname.lastname@example.org.
James L. Stroud, Jr. is a contributing writer and photographer at the Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder.