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When They Go Low, We Go High: Why Black Teachers Are A Necessity, Not An Option

I didn’t know that there was a researched title for the kind of teacher I am. I just thought it was me being me and, while that’s true, I recently learned that the role I bring to the classroom every day is called being a “warm demander.”

According to esteemed scholar Dr. Diedre Houchen, “warm demander” is a term given to teachers of students of color who consistently maintain high expectations, demonstrate care and concern, and [expertly] manage the classroom environment” (Ware, 2006). First used as a term to describe effective teaching of Hawaiian students, “warm demander” captures a teacher’s ability to create a classroom environment and structure that is nurturing, safe, authoritative, and achievement-oriented (Bondy & Ross, 2008; Kleinfeld, 1975; Ross, Bondy, Gallingane, & Hambacher, 2008; Ware, 2006). Warm demanding pedagogy and culturally-relevant pedagogy also focus on expressions of teacher care and respect of students, their home communities, and their well-being.

It has long been my position that hiring new teachers who naturally exhibit the characteristics of warm demanders, as well as training those who are already hired but are in need of warm demander training, is required not just in New York but in every school district.

It’s no coincidence that as I was writing this particular blog post about the necessity for teachers to be warm demanders, a teacher said about a student in my presence that he “needs to be put in jail,” while another teacher had a student write a statement admitting to “losing sense of what was right and wrong.” Those are very damaging statements to the student — a young Black male who now has a “frail” White female for a teacher!

I’ve said it before and I continue to say: If you can’t deal with our students’ gamut of social-emotional needs, don’t teach them! If you find yourself complaining every day about teaching, being a teacher, the teaching profession, the students you teach — do us all a favor and bounce right on out of here. The presence of such teachers leaves a educationally toxic stench in the nostrils of everyone with whom they come in contact in the school building — most of all the students for whom such disdain is exuded and felt. There’s nothing warm about this.

This is all part of educational equity. In her article Dr. Diedre Houchen reminds us that,

Achieving equity requires taking into account what we know about race, culture, socioeconomic status and marginalization within our policies, procedures and practices. To transform into an equitable school system requires that the principle of equity is woven through our decisions on school finance, school leadership, zoning and programs, discipline, teaching and learning, and all other facets of schooling.

You think that affluent White kids or their parents would allow teachers who don’t think much of them to stand in front of themselves or their children each day? I think not. I know not. Yet Black and Brown students — particularly those who are poor – get this sub-standard teaching regularly.

Administrators hold their share of culpability in this matter, as too many of them are far-removed from the students who fill the schools they run. They lack cultural competence and hire teachers who are not a good fit for their school community. This idea that “White is right” prevails in education. It needs to end.

What do you think?

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