With a new teacher comes a new course

Introducing Mr. Brian Hicks, who will teach a new African American studies class at the school

M-i-s-s-i-s-s-i-p-p-i is famous, or rather infamous, for its spelling. It also happens to be the homestate of new teacher Mr. Brian Hicks, who will teach African American studies and world history. He spent the first two years of his teaching career in Mississippi and his third year will be here at the school, where there are definite cultural differences.

“Some differences [here in comparison to Mississippi] that I’m still getting used to are that no one really calls their colleagues Mr., Ms. or Principal, and if you do, it’s definitely really, really weird,” Mr. Hicks said. “Also, I always would have to take my students to lunch for high school and middle school, so it’s definitely going to be an adjustment the first couple of days. Mississippi in general tends to be a lot more traditional than here in teaching methods.”

However, Mr. Hicks said he wanted the change of pace. 

“I came to the D.C. area because I wanted a place that was growing,” Hicks said. “I was born in Jackson, Mississippi, and grew up and then taught there, and I wanted something different. I wanted to move during a more flexible time in my life, and was looking at a couple places other than D.C., but the cards really fell for me to end up here. I’m very happy to be at a school like W-L.”

Some may assume, due to data on vaccination and COVID rates, that during the pandemic teaching in Mississippi may have been unsafe, but Mr. Hicks would disagree. 

“Over 80 percent of the students in the school I taught at in Mississippi opted to stay virtual instead of going to hybrid, so I really only saw just four kids in person the entire year,” Mr. Hicks said. “Three of them ended up going back to virtual after a week, but the limited number of students I did see were very good about social-distancing.”

In the coming year, Mr. Hicks hopes to help his students seamlessly transition back to school. 

“Some of my students probably haven’t seen their friends in over a year and a half,” Mr. Hicks said. “It’s tough, because school is not only a place where you learn, but a social place as well… I plan on giving work that’s more tangible, like pen-pencil-paper activities, since for the past year, all the work they’ve been doing has been online. It will probably be a bit of a shock, but I think it’ll help create some normalcy for being back at school.” 

Mr. Hicks also noted the importance of mask wearing at school this year. 

“The coronavirus still hasn’t fully disappeared, even though in Mississippi and the deep south not everyone thinks it’s a thing,” Mr. Hicks said. “My hope is that by the 2022-2023 school year, we’re pretty much completely back to normal.” 

During ‘normal’ school years, Mr. Hicks has had some memorable teaching moments. 

“When I taught world geography, we would teach about the Netherlands, and how they’re essentially able to make land out of water, and every time I taught that lesson, students would just have this glow on their faces,” Mr. Hicks said. “In the school district I taught at, a lot of kids probably didn’t know about the Netherlands before that lesson, so I loved watching them learn about it.” 

However, another one of his strongest memories teaching was of a darker nature. 

“One of the most powerful moments I’ve had in my classroom was teaching about the Holocaust,” Mr. Hicks said. “A lot of my students hadn’t heard of it before, so watching them really soak it in as they were doing a gallery walk is one of my top memories. I love to teach the lighthearted history stuff, but also the darker aspects of history to my students, because they guide the world to being what it is today. Those two things have to be what I appreciate most about my job.”

Mr. Hicks’ favorite part of teaching, though, is his students. 

“The reason I’m going to be teaching forever is because you get to be a part of somewhere between 60 to 120 kids’ lives,” Mr. Hicks said. “Obviously, not all of my students are going to say ‘yeah, that Mr. Hicks, he was a really good teacher,’ but for just half of my students to say something like ‘yeah, he helped me prepare for college, or do something good,’ that’s why I do it.”

However, teaching was not what Mr. Hicks always thought he was going to do. 

“My whole life, I’ve always wanted to help people,” Mr. Hicks said. “For a while, I thought I was going to be a medical researcher, but when I got to college, I realized that I didn’t want to spend my time sitting in a lab for eight to 12 hours a day. I ended up being a political science and history major, and always tutored people in history, and it was just my thing.” 

This year, Mr. Hicks is teaching world history and African American studies, a new course being offered at W-L. 

“I really jumped at the opportunity to teach this class,” Mr. Hicks said. “I was doing a lot of African-American based learning in my classes in Mississippi, especially since the Black population there is much more prevalent than the rest of the country, as 38 percent of Mississippians are Black. To be able to teach a class exclusively about the African American experience is just so exciting.” 

Mr. Hicks shared some of the topics the class will cover. 

“In the course, I plan to essentially cover African-American experiences throughout time, Africa before colonization, and also things like African-American music and sports,” Mr. Hicks said. “We’re going to talk about the good, the bad, both the easy and the controversial parts of the African-American experience.”

He also stressed the necessity of the class. 

“African-Americans make up around 11 percent of the country, so showing their experiences, without comparing it to that of other groups, I think will be really interesting and important for students to learn, as it’s different from a eurocentric point of view,” Mr. Hicks said. “It’s going to really highlight the effects of what African-Americans experienced as a result of colonization,” 

Mr. Hicks has other hopes for the class, and for other minority groups as well. 

“I hope it doesn’t become a situation where I have exclusively Black students taking the African-American studies class, as I want everyone to take it and learn from it,” Mr. Hicks said. “I also really hope that in the next couple of years, they’ll offer an Asian studies class, or Latin American studies class as well, since everyone deserves to be represented.” 

Outside of teaching, Mr. Hicks enjoys reading, listening to music, going to the gym, and playing chess. He is also excited to become involved at the school and the D.C. area in other ways than his job. 

“I want to adapt to the W-L culture, and get to be a positive part of it, because the culture is so strong here, which I love,” Mr. Hicks said. “I’m also excited to experience the area, because there are so many great restaurants here, so I’m really looking forward to the food. Along with that, I’m a big sports guy, so I can’t wait to watch the school sports teams play throughout the year.” 

Mr. Hicks has a strong idea of what he wants from this year of teaching. 

“At the end of the day, I want my kids to learn something,” Mr. Hicks said. “They’re obviously not going to remember every word that comes out of my mouth, because that’s impossible. However, I do hope they acquire some more skills and knowledge from the classes I teach, because everything I do is to help prepare them for their future… I want my students to take away that the world would be a much better place if everyone just listened to and supported one another.”