Abdul Wright: ‘I want to pay it forward’

Minneapolis charter school teacher named state’s Teacher of the Year

Minneapolis charter school teacher Abdul Wright, the state’s new Teacher of the Year. Photo by Janet Hostetter/Education Minnesota

Abdul Wright, a language arts teacher at Best Academy in North Minneapolis, is the first black male and charter school teacher to be named the state’s Teacher of the Year.

He is the 52nd Minnesota teacher to be honored with the recognition.

“Mr. Wright embodies what it means to be a transformational teacher,” said Meghan Roegge, in her nomination letter for Wright. “He impacts and changes lives every day that he comes to work.”

He inspires his student to model excellence even as they face hardships.

“Respect is at the center of my values and beliefs as an educator,” Wright said. “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.”

Wright credits other important people in his life with helping him develop that philosophy, such as his high school teacher, Matthew Boucher — a friend and mentor.

“He held me to very high standards, but more importantly, he was very, very caring. He was really there for me,” Wright said.

Kim Soderholm of Worthington has also been an important mentor.

Wright has made it his mission to be that same force in a young person’s life: one of the many reasons why he became a teacher.

“I was really making bad decisions, but instead of [Soderholm] looking at me like this bad kid who was making bad choices, she saw something in me that I didn’t see in myself. She had hope in me, and she just loved me and she gave me grace,” Wright said. “I want to be able to give that to young people like someone gave it to me. I want to pay it forward.”

Just as Wright wants to be a positive influence in young people’s lives, he students change his life every day.

“They broaden my horizons in regards to making sure that I’m treating and understanding the perspectives of different types of learners and of different types of human beings, never making assumptions, always trying to be a voice, or that ear that listens to their voice,” he said. “That has been so important over my career, to really humble myself to the fact that I don’t know everything.”

His daughters Naomi, 5; Aubree, 4; and Sophia, 3; have also had a big impact on him. “Being a father is the most important hat because it is a blessing to have God give me three young queens to raise and send out into this world to accomplish amazing things. I want to show them that if I can accomplish what I have been able to accomplish in my life, what they will be able to do with their lives will be infinite,” he said.

The selection process for Teacher of the Year is extensive. The 86,000-member statewide educators union Education Minnesota organizes and underwrites the Teacher of the Year program. Candidates include teachers from pre-kindergarten through 12th grade from public or private schools.

A candidate is nominated and then must submit a portfolio including their philosophy on education, a short video on their mission statement and then a 30-minute interview.

Along his journey with those influential people from high school and his early college years, Wright said he’s developed a strong sense of purpose.

“I learned that with self-belief you can accomplish anything. For me, I have the opportunity to meet amazing young people every single day of my life and to work with amazing educators every single day of my life,” he said. “What fuels [my passion for teaching] is just understanding that is a huge honor. I understand how important and crucial it is for, not just my success, or not just the success of my community, but of an entire society. Through education, we have an opportunity to teach young people life, and that’s an opportunity that I never take for granted, not a single day.”