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‘Teachers are Everyday Superheroes’

By L'Oreal Payton
February 17, 2020

The age-old adage “you can’t be what you don’t see” doesn’t always ring true. For instance, there wasn’t a Black female astronaut before Mae Jemison and there wasn’t a Black president before Barack Obama. But they both believed in themselves —and what their accomplishments could signify to others— enough to make their dreams come true.

In the same way, Sean Bethune hopes to inspire his students at Daniel McLaughlin Therrell High School in Atlanta, where he wears many hats: OneGoal Program Director; social studies master teacher leader; social emotional learning liaison; virtual school program coordinator; and fellow in the Aspiring Assistant Principal Program for Atlanta Public Schools. 

“I believe teachers are everyday superheroes,” he shares. “I view myself as an edutainer, a combination of an educator and an entertainer. I believe it’s our duty to find ways to make learning real and relevant while continuing to engage our students.”

Just like every superhero, Bethune has an origin story. The decorated teacher and father of three sons graduated from Georgia Southern University, where he earned a bachelor’s degree in political science and a minor in Africana studies. 

Two years later, he earned his master’s degree in educational leadership and is now completing his doctorate in education from Carson-Newman University, where his dissertation is titled “A Phenomenological Analysis of Social Emotional Learning to Teacher Retention in Urban Secondary Educational Settings.” Bethune, who likens his tenure to that of an athlete, is in his “12th season” as a teacher.

“It all started back in 2007-2008 when I was planning on going to law school, but education was always in the periphery,” he shares. “I enrolled in a master’s program and accepted a role teaching at a juvenile center. Today, I earmark this experience as the foundation of what education is and can be. In essence, student success mirrors the teacher’s ability to remove barriers, provide support, and cultivate a positive relationship.”

After five years of teaching in the juvenile system, Bethune went “pro,” as he calls it, and was transferred to Nashville to teach social studies.

“It was my first time teaching in public schools and on my first week on the job, a student was shot and killed at the bus stop,” he recalls. “I was teaching freshman seminar at the time and put away the books to talk about the bigger issues we’re dealing with and help the students cope.”

A member of Alpha Phi Alpha fraternity and Emerging 100 of Atlanta, Bethune is a two-time Teacher of the Year honoree and received the Blue Ribbon Teacher Award in 2016.

“Black men, whether we’re coaches or administrators, have a unique perspective. So to go out there and make a change is an incredible opportunity,” he offers. “I feel really built for this moment as a father, an educator, and a regular man.”

Bethune became a OneGoal Program Director nearly three years ago and has supported more than 80 Fellows since then.

“It’s beautiful, it’s dope to be able to talk to kids and connect with them and share our story with them,” he shares. “OneGoal allows Program Directors to be themselves at another level and it teaches students you already have the skills and abilities to live out your dreams.”

In his teaching, Bethune leans on culturally relevant pedagogy, a framework that is based on the premise that all students bring valuable knowledge and experiences to their education. It strives to build academic excellence, cultural competence, and sociopolitical consciousness in both students and teachers.

“You have to talk about what’s going on, so we discuss current events, such as #BlackLivesMatter. I give my students the space to have real conversations and share their highlights and lowlights,” he reflects. “There’s a tendency to only talk about the good things. I want our students to be in tune with how they feel. Black boys hold that hurt inside them … we have to do a better job of breaking down that barrier and talking about our emotions.”

An Upward Bound alum who’s now part of the Ronald E. McNair Post-baccalaureate Achievement Program, Bethune is committed to helping students see the bigger picture when it comes to postsecondary success.

“Education has limitless opportunities,” he says. “Each day, I remain thankful for mine and realize it is my obligation to give back as those before did to me. I tell our students all the time: the keys to success are there for you to follow your dreams and transform your families’ legacies. Let’s go make this happen, together.”

Learn more about becoming a OneGoal Program Director here.