Memphis educator Armani Alexander is dedicated to social and racial justice both inside and outside of the classroom.
Armani is a Morehouse man and a 5th Grade Math teacher at Treadwell Elementary through Memphis Teacher Residency. He’s becoming known for his lessons which blend together subjects that may not seem like a natural fit.
“I always try to tie in some sort of social justice issues into the mathematics that I am teaching,” said Armani. “For example, when discussing decimal operations, we talk about a plethora of issues including minimum wage gaps, financial literacy in urban neighborhoods and unemployment rates.”
By layering real-world issues on top of the required curriculum, he hopes to broaden the worldview of his students and prepare them to be advocates. We spoke to Armani about his path to becoming a teacher, why he chose to do so in Memphis, and how he found an opportunity for even deeper impact through his calling.
Tell me about your passion for education. How do you view your role as an educator?
Teaching in Memphis has truly been a huge blessing and privilege. Growing up, I never saw myself in a classroom teaching children a subject that I hated so much. Now, I cannot see myself doing anything else. I have fallen in love with the task of educating the next generation of leaders, thinkers, dreamers, innovators, and entrepreneurs.
However, it is no easy task. This work is only for those with heart, passion, and strong conviction. Being in front of 25-30 open and enquiring minds and leading them to the future is a task never to be taken for granted. I am not just a teacher, I am an educator. An educator is one that takes the curriculum and finds a way to give social, intellectual, and political instruction. He is one that stands for what is right even in the face of opposition because he knows what is best for the students he teaches. She is one who does not just give enough instruction to last 180 days but gives masterful instruction that lasts a lifetime. Teaching is my profession, educating in my call!
You’re from Memphis and say coming back to the city from Morehouse wasn’t on your radar. What changed for you?
I had no intention of coming back to Memphis after my time at Morehouse. I had plans to go off into the corporate world and make tons of money. Well, I did the complete opposite. I found my passion for teaching while writing a research paper on black male learning styles.
In doing the research, I could not rest as the injustices that were and are present in our education system became very real to me. I kept thinking about the 5th- and 6th- grade Armani who was mistreated by certain teachers because of what they interpreted as misbehaving. I also thought about the 11th-grade Armani who had someone to look past the exterior and saw something that I did not even see in myself and took the time to cultivate the gift that was inside of me. That is when I knew that I was being called into the classroom. I found out about the Memphis Teacher Residency program that was offering a free masters…the rest is history.
Why is Memphis where you choose to invest your talent?
I thought it was best to come back to a community that is growing at a rather rapid rate. I am familiar with the city and knew that God was calling me to this place. It is easy to focus in on the what of our call but we must also pay close attention to the where of our call. I knew I was being called to teach but I had to really consider who and where I was called to teach. Memphis was the answer and here I am. Being with family and being able to get a free masters made it an easy decision as well.
You connect social justice to mathematics, which seems like a hard subject matter to connect to equality. How can Memphians connect their work to the social well-being of our city and beyond?
My mentor and I have traveled around the country presenting on this idea of Social Justice in the Mathematics Classroom. I am a math teacher who just so happens to teach about social/racial justice issues in the classroom. I am also an advocate for math education to be considered a social justice issue of our time. This is just an example of how you can take your vocation and make it your proclamation to the nation.
Once you have found what really gets your wheels turning, you can always find ways to advocate for it. I believe strongly that advocating for your truth, your call, your passion is the true definition of social justice. Our world is in deep trouble. We have so many great people with great convictions and passions. Speaking up and out and using our platforms for change is how our world becomes better.
Now the most important question: what Memphis food did you miss most during your time at Morehouse?
Honey gold chicken wings!!! I could not find these delicacies anywhere in Atlanta. I can forego Memphis BBQ as long as I always have access to honey-gold chicken wings.