After I wrote my last blog I realized that I wasn’t done writing. Lately I’ve been feeling really pensive about the teaching profession and have been re-evaluating where I fit into the big scheme of things. My writing is where I flesh those thoughts out. When I first started teaching seven years ago, I saw myself as one of those teachers who would keep teaching English in the same classroom, at the same school, at times teaching both parents and children from the same family, and then retiring after 30 years of heartfelt, diligent service to my community. I used to get all warm and fuzzy inside just thinking about it.
I have a very different vision and feeling as I write to you today.
As my years of teaching began to accrue, I was encouraged by many to take the next logical step and transition into the administrative role of assistant principal and then eventually, become a principal myself. That didn’t appeal to me, though — it still doesn’t, to be honest. I have no desire to be away from my students. They are my heartbeat. They keep me on the pulse of what’s really going on in the trenches and on the front lines of education. They add authority to my voice. They are why I got into this field and I would never dream of jumping ship and abandoning them.
However, more and more I’m realizing that in order to affect the change that I know is needed to truly help my students achieve the successes that they desire and deserve, I may have to, at some point, expand not only my voice but my physical presence outside of the classroom. I feel so conflicted. If I’m not part of the solution, then I’m part of the problem. So much of what is purported by our educational system to be for the betterment of the student is bureaucratic malarkey. It’s all about keeping up appearances. We are like hamsters on a wheel going round and round with this “initiative” and that “new program,” yet not only is nothing changing but, and more egregiously, the students and teachers who are most in need remain behind the proverbial eight ball. It’s all talk.
I feel like the system that I work within and my core beliefs are at odds with one another. I feel like who I am is other than the mold of what our educational system wants its teachers to be. I’m too outspoken. Too forthright. Too inquisitive. Too challenging. Too knowledgeable. Too informed and informative. I find that these qualities are perceived by others as being even more dangerous because I am a Black woman.
It’s just so ironic. That “amazing classroom management” that I have and am consistently rated highly-effective in is directly correlated with me being just that: a Black woman. That nurturing, loving rapport that I have with my students is also deeply rooted in me being a Black woman. Administrators love that about me — as long as I keep it in the classroom and keep it “contained”. The minute that “get ya behind into this classroom, Bobby!” tone of mine spills over into the hallway, it becomes a problem.
More and more this message is being subtly conveyed that I need to relax. Maybe one day I’ll be able to do so. But as long as more money is spent on the mass incarceration of black and brown children than on educating them; as long as US school systems remain separate and unequal along racial and social-economic lines; as long as lower expectations of black and brown children lend themselves to less opportunities offered to them and thereby perpetuate generational poverty and lack, I can not and will not relax. My students need me. Truth be told, I need them just as much, if not more. I know I’m not alone in this so to all my fellow teachers out there, I’m just here to remind you today that, despite the opposition that we repeatedly face, our students need us to advocate for them on many varied levels. For many, the reality is that we are all they have. If not us, who? If not now, when?