To my fellow educators in Charlottesville, VA, my heart is with you. We do not know why your city was chosen for this tragedy, but let’s not harp on the negative. Let’s instead say your city was chosen to be a beacon of hope. The same way that Watts, Ferguson, and Detroit was chosen before you. The events in those cities, tragic as they were, opened our eyes. Now, it is your city’s turn. It is your city that has shone a light on the bigotry and the hatred we are trying to eliminate from our country.
All weekend, we watched the horror of the events that claimed the life of a woman and two officers. Our hearts ache for their families, who will not have their loved ones anymore. My heart also aches for you, my fellow educators, and how you must now move forward in your schools and classrooms.
I cannot imagine what it must feel like to experience such a tragedy in my city. I cannot imagine having individuals whose hearts are filled with hate use my city as a rally for their racist agenda. I cannot imagine having individuals chanting racist words marching with tiki torches on a college campus we as educators hope our students will attend one day. I cannot imagine what you are dealing with in your classrooms today in response to the horrific events of this past weekend, but I hope you are dealing with these events in your classrooms. I am sure your students are going to want to discuss what happened. You owe it to them to have the open dialogue.
To my educators of Charlottesville, it is imperative you address these conversations head on. I say this because it was some school or some educator that failed to educate these white supremacists and neo-Nazis. Now, they have fallen off the path towards peace and hope and are sprinting down a cliff of hatred and violence. I’m not asking you to do something I’m not willing to do; I plan to address this with my students as well.
Our students must understand there is absolutely no place in our country for this type of hatred. Unfortunately, the individual in the White House would not acknowledge these individuals by name, but you must inform your students the cause of this pain and inform them the voices behind this hatred are white supremacists, neo-Nazis, and white nationalists. Label these individuals and do not allow your students to be confused. This was nothing more than a terror attack on our country. This was not violence by many sides, but violence from one side. Also, let them know the city they call home does not condemn this type of rhetoric or violence.
We have these conversations with our students to ensure their minds do not become corrupted with this type of hatred. Schools can help eliminate this bigotry and hatred in the minds of many people. This can only happen when we have conversations about it.
Remember, you can’t be who you don’t see. Our students do not see enough heroes. We need to show them more heroes. Show them the countless individuals who fight and fought for equal rights. Make sure your students do not forget the names of Heather D. Heyer, Lt. H Jay Cullen, and Berke M.M. Bates. Their names should be immortalized like Trayvon Martin and Michael Brown. These heroes lost their life due to the horrific events of the weekend.
To my educators in Charlottesville, we all stand with you. We will do our part to educate our scholars that this is not America. I know your job is already hard and it just became a little harder. Luckily being a teacher makes you a superhero and teaching is your superpower. Use that superpower, like you do everyday, to educate your students and spread the message of peace and love.
Sincerely a fellow educator,
I resisted my own idea of writing to you, but you are the key to the questions that are circulating in my mind:
- How could this have happened?
- How did we find ourselves in such an ugly place in 2017?
- How did you find yourself at this place, as the perpetrator of this horrific event this weekend in Charlottesville?
As a person of color, I know the answer to these questions. I have never doubted the answer. I know the historic patterns of racism and hatred in this country have not fully played out. I know they will likely continue for years to come because of the path of destruction that began with its founding. This is as simple as science—the law of cause and effect (which I call karma) and the law of motion that an object in motion tends to stay in motion. As a nation, we have been on this trajectory for a long time and we can still see the effects of slavery, Jim Crow, redlining, and other forms of institutional racism, and oppression. It was embedded into the very fabrics and ethos of our nation. On November 3, 2016, I wasn’t completely surprised. I was disappointed, afraid, disgusted, sad, but not shocked. I knew what this country has been and what it is, even though I had hoped we could be better. These same feelings have arisen many times throughout my life. They have always been there, sometimes as a gentle ebb; other times, they are like a roaring tidal wave. They have come again and again in the past few years each time I read about another Black man or Black woman shot by police. They visited again this weekend when I read about the events in Charlottesville.
These first two questions are on my mind not because I do not have the answers, but because I think you do not James. I don’t believe you have any understanding of the horrors that white people have committed against Native Americans and African-Americans. Assuming you are capable of empathy, I imagine if you truly understood, you would see how the effects of slavery and genocide have continued on throughout the years and how they have left their imprints on the lives and psyche of your fellow brothers and sisters even today. I fault our culture and our education system for this. America is too immature in the way we want to move on, grow quickly, and not look back or think too far ahead. We are a teenager of a country, unwilling to look deeply at our actions and their consequences.
In Germany, there are thousands of cobblestone-sized memorials on the sidewalks throughout the city. They mark where Jews and other Holocaust victims were murdered or taken away, never to be seen again. There are also numerous larger monuments that express guilt, grief, and sorrow over the Holocaust. At the former concentration camp Dahau, there is a monument with the words, “Never Again.” These monuments are not just symbolic of an acknowledgment of the wrongs, but of a determination to never repeat them. This is public education. I can only imagine what they teach in their schools to have each and every student fully understand the horrors of what happened. Of course, there are still consequences of the past and still hate and Nazism in different forms in Germany, but there are also more opportunities to overcome this hatred as a collective.
I also imagine, James, that you have no concept of the way this ideology of hatred, dehumanization, and inhumanity was instilled in our institutions as well as those monuments you sought to protect at the rally in Charlottesville. I have listened to Richard Spencer, the alt-right leader from whom you likely seek wisdom and guidance. He has neither of these. Wisdom is in compassion and compassion comes from understanding. He has neither compassion nor understanding of the marginalization and suffering of communities of color in the U.S. He is locked in fear and anger that comes from his belief that America is trying to annihilate him and his way of life as a white man, and to force him to give up his identity. He is so caught in his own fear and his own narrative he’s unable to see that his identity, his whiteness, was a fiction that was created and that must be discarded if we are to move forward together as a nation. At its simplest, white is not about race, but access to wealth.
I’m guessing you feel this fear too James. I was genuinely shocked by a poll that showed Trump supporters believe that average, working-class white Americans are getting less than their fair share and that Black Americans have gotten a bit too much. Yet, as a woman of color, on a very deep level, I understood this feeling of disempowerment. I have often felt my identity is under attack. It feels like the threat of death. In this mode of thinking, one suffers tremendously. There is no space for joy, love, and compassion. I myself wasted a lot of my life, a lot of my time, energy, and thoughts on feeding this fear and anger when I could have been putting that energy into becoming more fully myself. For you, the consequences of your lack of understanding and compassion were much higher. You have now taken the life of another, injured others, and wasted your own life in the process.
What surprises me about Richard Spencer, white nationalists, and so probably you, is that you do not want us to live together, all the races united. White nationalists want to conquer, to dominate, to rule. I also see that even those who do not directly express this wish in their speech, do so in their actions. I find this sad because one must be in a state of fear and greed to believe this is necessary. One must see the world in terms of lack instead of abundance. What we often do not discuss is when this nation’s forefathers bought and sold people, the price these white owners paid was their own humanity. In dehumanizing another, one dehumanizes one’s self. Many of our wise elders, including Martin Luther King Jr., have reminded us that, “hate destroys the hater.” It is sad to see that your path of self-destruction has led to the taking of a beautiful life, a young woman who wanted us to live together united in love and compassion.
What is also sad to me is that you do not see that you and many others like you are simply pawns. That these white nationalist groups, Richard Spencer, and even our President are playing upon your fear and anger to achieve their own goals. It’s always about money and power and they do not plan to give you either. They simply feed your negative emotions and your righteous story for their own benefit. So while President Trump gives a subtle nod to your side, when he tells the nation, “there is hatred and bigotry ‘on many sides’ you may want to ask yourself, “What are you really achieving by blaming others? Does it help you get a job? Does it help you pay the hospital bills? Does it help you buy a birthday present for your child?”
In a very ironic way, Trump is right that there is hate on many sides, but certainly not in the way he has in mind or that you have in mind. He is right that we all have hate and violence in us. If you look very closely at history and present-day facts, you cannot ignore which groups have been systematically and institutionally privileged and oppressed and how that privilege was gained through genocide, slavery, and other forms of oppression.
In the end, this is not just a letter to you, James, although you are the most extreme form of this lack of understanding. This is also a letter to all white people who do not understand that although there is hatred and bigotry “on many sides” we need to focus our attention on where it is manifesting with power and strength and the support of our institutions. Maybe then you will understand why we must continue to shout and hold up signs that, “Black Lives Matter.” To resist injustice is neither hatred nor violence; it is love.
I urge you, and all us, to really look at the roots of the hatred, the roots of this problem we are in today and how we got where we are – how you got where you are. I am sure if we look with love and compassion we will find the answers to the questions I have posed. Unfortunately, there is not much hope for us if you and other white people do not awaken to the history and reality, and to the love and compassion that must overcome wealth and greed. No matter our race, each one of us has a responsibility. Each one of us must also look at these roots within us. Then, and only then, will we begin to move forward, to erect monuments that express regret instead of glorification of the past, and to have forms of public education and an education system that teaches our nation, and our nation’s children to do and be better.
“Louisiana’s public high schools are judged in part on ACT scores. Students also get into colleges and receive TOPS scholarships based partly on those scores.”
Read more here
While attending a panel discussion on educational leadership given by the Alliance for Diversity & Excellence earlier this year, I had the distinct pleasure of hearing thoughts about the charter school movement from Dr. Howard Fuller. He said the charter movement wasn’t designed to be what it is shaping up to be in my city of New Orleans. He spoke of a charter movement that was intended to empower parents who were disenfranchised and not satisfied with the traditional public school system. He also said charter schools were to give teachers the autonomy to use methods they believed would work outside of the bureaucracy of a school board and when those teachers gained knowledge of the efficiency of those new practices and strategies, they could share that information with traditional public schools in an attempt to implement innovative and creative practices that are more beneficial to children’s learning. Imagine two entities that truly want to add to the progress of education working together for a more sufficient future in pedagogical practices.
I recently sat down and listened to a very healthy dialogue between Dr. Julian Vasquez Heilig and Dr. Howard Fuller, the conversation brought about a stance from Dr. Fuller I agreed with.
“I don’t think that charter schools are a panacea, anymore than I think the traditional school district is. My perspective is how is it that we use these various options, and I happen to be a person who supports traditional school districts, and I do agree that we should be trying to fight to make sure all of our children are fully funded. I think the problem is that we are forced into these false choices that you have to choose between charter schools and traditional schools and private schools. My view is that the three sectors should all be available to all children, particularly children from low income and working class families.”
It is that ideology of working together and not apart that speaks to me – trying something away from the beaten path and then bringing it back to advance a collective of schools and educators to benefit everyone. Those events led me to my thoughts about a recent The 74 article about charter schools making traditional schools better merely by their presence in the same building or their proximity to a traditional public school.
Temple University assistant professor Sarah Cordes researched and developed seven findings listed in 74’s article, “When Charter Schools Open, Neighboring Schools Get Better: A New Study Finds 7 Reasons Why.” However there are several quotes from the research that has me as a father and concerned education advocate asking questions of whether this study is aligned with educators in both charter and traditional schools and reform proponents and parents working toward a better education system in our communities, cities, and ultimately nationwide.
“Just the presence of an alternative does it,” Cordes told The 74 in a far-ranging interview. “It doesn’t really matter how great that alternative is — it’s just the fact that that alternative is there, it’s in the building, and people see it every day.”
Wait, what? I have literally read that quote about fifty times mulling over its meaning, dissecting it, and trying to find a single positive outcome that I could come up with about that quote and I have nothing. The quote is very unsettling to me and nearly offensive. No, your presence alone is not enough to make my child receive a better education. It also borders on the practice of experimentation that gives charters a bad image in the public’s eye. I don’t simply want the presence of something – a charter placebo – to see what effect it will have on teachers and children in low income and high poverty areas. If you are not about doing the groundwork that it is going to take to turns things around, then you should turn around and never come back into any neighborhood. If quality education is not your goal then you shouldn’t be involving yourself in the business of education.
In our communities, low income and children in poverty can and should only benefit from studies and research that describes how to make a partnership between educators from any and all sectors of education better. Newsflash – Many children don’t care about the charter vs traditional school argument. The only reason for a charter to enter the same neighborhood or building as a traditional school should be to further the educational landscape directly and not by some indirect chance occurrence.
I reached out to some of the other parents in my circle and we had good dialogue and conversation about this article. We believe, as earlier described, a charter system that is intended to advance education, work with children and families as well as educators from traditional schools is the only way to empower parents. We agree having better schools and education is a true benefit, but we disagree with sending institutions into our communities that don’t come to be great from the onset and honestly we have seen many charter schools this article seems to describe. This “Savior Mentality” that is described in that study and research is exactly what education is not about and I nominate that we bury that mentality once and for all.
Summer vacations are a time for teachers to relax, attend professional development, and prepare for the upcoming school year. Summer should also be a time of reflection to identify what changes to make to ensure the upcoming school year is better than the last. Here are five tips for teachers returning to the classroom this school year.
1. Put your cape away.
Times are hard, and many educators teach students who live in poverty. Unfortunately, some teachers are not prepared or equipped with the skills to support these students. They come riding into the classroom on a white horse wearing a cape with lofty dreams of snatching these poor children out of their situations. They become so overwhelmed with details of their students’ lives, they lose focus. They lower standards and expectations because their life is hard. Instead of feeling sorry for students, the best action an educator can take is to improve him/herself as an educator and learn how to teach students using trauma-informed best practices. An educator with high expectations and a well-managed classroom is an educator who can truly, ‘save the day’ and help change the trajectory of child’s future.
2. Build strong relationships.
The root of most dysfunction in classrooms is poor relationships. A strong relationship with a child is an important lever a teacher can use to his or her advantage to help a student. There are students who will be in class with one teacher and have no problems, but once they are with another teacher, there is chaos. This is because the teacher did not take the time to get to know his or her students and build a safe and positive community in his or her classroom. When I was teaching in a secondary school, I would have my students participate in classroom connections every week. These were activities that helped us get to know each other. It helped my students bond with each other and with me. When I switched to elementary, I participated in morning meetings, a time for students to gather typically in a circle to have a discussion and share their feelings, in various classrooms. The teachers who consistently had morning meetings had fewer classroom issues than teachers who did not.
3. Apply professional development.
It is important not to let those fancy binders we receive during professional development collect dust on a shelf or cabinet in our classroom. When I am attending a professional development (yes, even the mandatory ones I would not have chosen to attend otherwise), I try to identify something I could use in my classroom. As an educator, it is not only important for our students to grow, but we should also grow as professionals. We should not be the same teacher we were years ago.
4. Support new and struggling teachers.
Early on in my career, I was only worried about what was taking place within the four walls of my classroom. I decided I didn’t have time to help other educators. The reality was I had the wrong attitude. Helping out your colleagues ultimately helps students in your building, whether that is being willed to listen to concerns, staying after to plan lessons, or giving classroom management suggestions. Once I shifted my mindset to helping all students, it was easy for me to help my colleagues.
5. Attend school events.
Teachers should attend school events. Yes, you can abide strictly by the hours of your contract; it is your right. Depending on the stage of your life, it may be the best balance for your work and personal life. When I had my twin boys and returned back to work, I rarely attended any extra events unless it was mandatory. Now, that my boys are older, I make an effort to attend events throughout the school year. Sometimes, my husband and boys will attend with me. It shows students you care about them, and it is another opportunity to strengthen your relationship.
This school year is my 12th year as an educator. I hope once this year ends, I can look back and say I improved as an educator and made a difference.
Thinking back to the start of last school year, I witnessed new teachers, a few from New Orleans and many who relocated to our city, embark upon what they hoped would be the start of a promising teaching career. Unfortunately, longevity in teaching has been an issue in our city. Some teachers decide to take their pursuits elsewhere and others don’t make the cut to be asked to return. I’ve been blessed to maintain my position, but If this were my experience, I have to admit I’d feel pretty crappy and grumpy about having to possibly relocate once again because things didn’t work out like I had hoped.
I’m left to wonder why it happens and how often this happens. I am especially curious about educators who are members of teacher recruitment programs such as AmeriCorps and Teach For America who enter classrooms with a degree in a field other than education. The New York Times describes Teach for America as, “the education powerhouse that has sent thousands of handpicked college graduates to teach in some of the nation’s most troubled schools.”
“Step into a classroom. Put your talents to work disrupting equity.” -TFA
We need warriors in our classrooms. We are grateful for the commitment from those who step up to the plate, but the preparation: mentally, physically, spiritually, needs to be solid and the ongoing nurturance and support from administrators, needs to be just as comprehensive. While it’s easy to make proclamations of righting injustices and reducing achievement gaps, the task isn’t as easy and carefree as it’s sometimes made out to seem.
Working within a school is hard work. Working within schools like those in NOLA is probably even harder work. What does it really take to get the job done? Mantras have their place and while these positive mindsets are of importance and have a place, they do not capture all that is necessary. Let’s face it; we are up against the monsters of poverty, violence, and other cultural beasts that make New Orleans and it’s families unique. A positive attitude alone won’t outlast the stressors that are associated with the work.
As mentioned in an article from the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development (ASCD):
Countless homeless, foster, low-income, and abused students are enrolled in K–12 schools nationwide. When students with special needs, English language learners (ELLs), and students who’ve been suspended from school are added in, it’s apparent that being a teacher isn’t easy, especially now when teachers are expected to raise test scores at all costs. In fact, today teacher morale—particularly in high-needs schools—is at a 20-year low (MetLife, 2012).
Although controversial, Dr. Christopher Emdin stated the following during an interview with NEA Today:
I just want new educators to understand just how deeply honored they should be to be able to do this work. Once they understand the severity of the work and what they’ve been charged to do, it will be a wonderful place. They must make sure they are going in for the right reasons first.
Additionally, because there is no denying our work is challenging, the ASCD offers the following list on how to support urban teachers:
Be an Involved Administrator
- Make daily connections. Learn every teacher’s first and last name, shake hands when you first meet and greet teachers as they begin and end the school day.
- Have an open door policy so teachers feel comfortable dropping by your office to share ideas.
- Observe new teachers regularly, take notes, and share constructive feedback.
- Recognize new teachers as professionals. Share open and honest conversation about teaching, ask for new teachers’ opinions, and praise their efforts.
Foster New Teachers’ Connections
- Provide preparation time for new teachers to jointly plan curriculum and share ideas.
- Establish an e-mail discussion list, blog, or another discussion forum for new teachers.
- Assign new teachers classrooms in close proximity to one another.
- Inform teachers of readings, workshops, presentations, and continuing education opportunities to support their practice, and encourage teachers from your school to attend together.
Click here to read more of Emdin’s interview regarding his thoughts on education in America.
To read more from ASDC, click here.
“A child does not grow up
only in a single home.”
When I think of family, the words support and foundation jump into my thoughts. These are the individuals who offer unequivocal help and guide you through your developing years with strength and guidance and guide you from a young person into adulthood.
There has to be an honest realization about what family has been and has evolved into over the past few decades. The family structure and core has taken a significant hit in the form of quality in recent years. Although I do believe in the traditional family structure of a man, woman, and children, I do accept and respect any form of family that is presented today. Family structure is a personal and individual choice. Today, I call on you to utilize your family in a more efficient way.
For many of our young people from Pre-K to 12th grade, school is about to be in full swing and it seems to begin sooner each year. My children return to school on August 9th and August 11th and I have heard many parents welcome the early start. I have seen many media ads that push the cause of staying in school longer and preach against dropping out of school. In our communities, we talk a great game about earning your education, staying in school and how education is the key to the future. A solid education is a great equalizer, a notion that I wholeheartedly stand behind. Which is why I am calling for a ramping up of the family support as it relates to academics.
For most of our boys before school starts in August or September, they are engaged in summer football practices. In many communities, football is king. We can’t wait to see our star players out there on the gridiron running, passing, and tackling their way to a productive season in pursuit of a state championship. Football is perhaps the king because it incorporates so many other extracurricular activities. Of course the band has to be in the stands cranking it up and many bands have intensive summer sessions as well. The band can’t be in the building without the cheerleaders, dance team, color guard, and a host of support as well.
Between the football team, the band, and it’s auxiliary support groups, there are many parents, guardians, aunts, uncles, cousins, and friends who are present in the stands. They are wearing shirts with the players’ numbers on them. They are saying, “That’s my baby out there cheerleading.” They are bragging on the crisp and booming sounds of the band with their baby in the drum section. They are taking pictures of those young ladies who are on the dance team and the flag twirlers and according to these supportive parents, “Ain’t nobody ready for what these young ladies are about to show the world.”
This will happen in communities and cities around our nation and later in the year, it will be basketball and then baseball along with homecoming, prom, and other school events that garner family wide support, yet honestly academics and other important meetings about our children won’t receive the same fanfare, attention or treatment as sports or events during the school year.
As a concerned father I am calling for an increased support of the things we tell our children are so important yet lack the support around the obtaining of those goals, because school is initially about receiving the best academically first and foremost. Could you imagine if we all wore t-shirts to pick-up our children’s report card and bragging “Ain’t nobody ready for what my children are about to show the world” as it relates to academics? Envision PTA meetings just as packed as the homecoming game against the rival team. What if Family Literacy night and Math/Science night had a child’s whole family there with t-shirts on and banners exclaiming, “That’s my son,” or “My nephew is the one who vividly read those chapters in that book.” High fives to the literacy and math giants. What a clear picture that would show our kids and communities that academics is paramount and at the top of the list when it comes to accomplishments.
I am asking for an increased participation across the board from family members when it comes to matters of academics in addition to other school activities. I’m looking for uncles or aunts to show up to report card conferences if mom or dad can’t make. Big brother or cousin can show up to the father/daughter dance if that family structure doesn’t have a father in the home. Grandparents and friends can volunteer in the classroom or at the fall fair. Yes, I am committing to a greater role in supporting academics and all other activities that directly support the children of our families and I invite you to join me and do the same. For our children’s future lies in the culmination of efforts from all of their loved ones from across the board in order to gain educational success today.
Having worked in policy for the last two decades, I’m cautiously optimistic about the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), which Obama signed into law in 2015 to replace the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act. The predecessor to ESSA has its roots in the civil rights movement, and this new law is another federal attempt to move toward a more equitable education system, but I also recognize the limitations of the law.
Like a tool in the hands of a carpenter, an equity law is only as good as those who are charged with implementing it. As a woman of color watching the policymaking process from the inside, I often feel frustrated and helpless when I see important decisions being made without the authority or input of anyone who looks like me. During the past year, I’ve seen a number of discussions about ESSA– which in essence is about helping underserved students– that were comprised of majority-white policymakers and Louisiana Department of Education staff. It’s hard to understand how we continue to talk about equity in policies without first addressing the policymaking process itself. And yet, this is the same scenario happening throughout the nation and on multiple levels of government.
This is why it does not surprise me that policy experts are “disappointed by some ESSA state plans.” ESSA is a law that fundamentally is meant to advance equity. However, it’s clear many of the people and processes responsible for carrying out its purpose are not fully equipped with an understanding of equity or how to achieve it. We have not yet learned how to truly engage the communities most affected by these policies in order to seek their input and give weight to their feedback. We have not achieved the significant involvement of teachers, parents, students, and community members of struggling schools in the process of creating and reviewing these types of laws and plans.
But the situation is not hopeless. Some of the policy experts reviewing the plans, such as Erika McConduit, the president and CEO of the Urban League of Louisiana, are a reason to have hope. During this past year, I’ve had the opportunity to see her and other advocates tirelessly advocating for more accountability in improving outcomes for students of color. Although there are certainly not enough men and women of color in government, whether as political leaders or part of departments’ staff, there are leaders in our communities that continue to put pressure on these systems. For the average person, it’s hard to keep up on every education law and policy or even the details of the major ones, so it is critical to have insiders who deeply know and understand both equity and policy trying to bring these two concepts into alignment in the policymaking process itself as well as within the laws and policies.
The takeaway of these “disappointing” ESSA plans is that we can’t actually force equity in education, but we can move in that direction. Achieving equity is a slow and painful process and it requires us to look deeply at race and class in America, our history, and our responsibility of deconstructing systems of privilege and oppression. That’s a tall order, and it requires a lot of patience and the realization we may not see the results of our efforts within our lifetime. This alone is a challenge. After all, in communities of color, we see the consequences of unjust laws and policies every day, and it’s heartbreaking. At the very least, ESSA has compelled state policymakers to have a conversation about equity. And while these laws can’t force states to take the needed steps, they can certainly give them a push. At the end of the day, yes, some of the state plans are disappointing, but I’m still grateful for ESSA even while I see its flaws and limits.