DETROIT (WXYZ) — A role model making a difference in the lives of children has been named Detroit Teacher of the Year by the Michigan Department of Education.
Carl Brownley has been a schoolteacher for more than 20 years. In that time, he’s established a lifelong bond with many of his students. It’s part of the reason he’s now being considered for a statewide honor.
As a seventh and eighth grade social studies teacher at Fisher Magnet Upper Academy in Detroit, Brownley wears many hats.
At times, it means offering a listening ear or leading a virtual field trip to other countries, along with providing life lessons.
In today’s world, he says students often face incredible adversity.
“We’ve never had as many students as this year who’ve lost a parent. It’s been very traumatic,” Brownley said.
Brownley invited 7 Action News to his school, where students — both past and present — gave him credit for being a mentor.
“He teaches us extraordinary things and life learning things,” seventh grader Diane Swillings said.
Former student Lavele Smith has kept in touch for roughly 20 years, and he’s not alone. Brownley is often asked to attend family events and celebrations in place of a parent or loved one who can’t be there.
“Detroit needs a teacher like Mr. Brownley as much as anyone else. I grew up without a father and Mr. Brownley was that father figure to hold us accountable and taught us responsibility,” Smith said.
But how did these incredible relationships form?
“I think children don’t care what you say until they see you care. That’s the big thing. Then whatever you say, they acknowledge and are more receptive,” Brownley said.
Brownley points out he’s campaigning hard for more African American men to become teachers. He says more than being named Detroit Teacher of the Year, his greatest joy is simply seeing his students succeed.
Years later, he’s still a part of his former students’ milestones.
“I’ve been blown away by young people who invite me to prom send-offs, weddings, baby showers — It’s just a special feeling,” Brownley said.
Acknowledging men who helped shape his own path, Brownley sees his work as a calling. Being there for his students is both a remarkable responsibility and reward.
“He is hard on you to get work done and wants you to be something in life,” seventh grader Allan Caston Jr. said.
Eighth grade student Aaliyah Palmer said, “He puts himself in your shoes. He knows what’s going on and won’t just jump to conclusions.”
Brownley knows the importance of good mentorship.
“Being a product of DPS, I had men who told me, ‘You can do this’ and same in the Marine Corps saying, ‘You can achieve.’ It helped me out,” Brownley said.
Brownley will be in Lansing Wednesday for interviews with educators as part of his consideration for Michigan Teacher of the Year.