If you can’t teach my black children, admit it and move on
October 30, 2015
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by Khulia Pringle

Every morning I woke up and got my kids dressed, ready for school. They knew I was serious as a heart attack when it comes to education. I realize this isn’t what the world believes happens when they think of me. As a black mother living in an urban area I’m supposed to be disengaged. I’m supposed to be uncaring or out of touch. That’s the official story about me and others like me. I hear it from so many sources. We’re supposed to be struggling so much that we can’t be trusted to do at home what middle-class America wants us to do.

Message received. Duly noted.

For the record, that nonsense doesn’t fit me. I find it insulting and it sounds like a cheap way to ignore the problems my kids encounter in public schools. Not problems with the kids, but problems with the adults.

Now that there is a video going around showing a black girl being attacked by a white police officer, for being defiant, there should be a conversation about how hostile the environment is for kids and parents. But, watch what happens, there will be another round of  statements like “if only they would act right they wouldn’t get in trouble.”

I’m used to that kind of talk. Here in Saint Paul Public Schools it’s fashionable for teachers to talk about black and poor students as if they’re nothing but trouble. If you believe what they say our kids just aren’t disciplined (as if any group of American teenagers are models of discipline).

Earlier this year a large group of teachers went to the St. Paul school board to complain about the district’s equity policies. They said that mainstreaming kids who were previously stuck in special education was increasing the number of students who have no respect for school or teachers.

One teacher from an exclusive magnet school program complained about these students “infecting” good students.

Another one of the teachers who spoke that night had previously told reporters black children got suspended more often because they are involved in “thuggery.” That type of talk landed him a nationwide bullhorn on FOX News for a segment called “Chaos in American Public Schools.”

I’m learning just how much the media loves tales about black dysfunction. Deep down I know they’re blaming me and black women collectively. I feel the judgement, but I reject it.

A story in City Pages gave a free platform for teachers at one of our high schools to talk about kids in the worst way. They call the school conditions “anarchy” and by the time you finish reading it you’ll be convinced the kids are animals. The teachers of course are martyrs.

The idea that there are teachers who believe our children cannot learn because of how they are being raised at home is so hypocritical to me. I wonder, why the hell are you teaching then?

These teachers who believe that public schools are not safe and chaotic have a point. From what I’ve seen they could do a lot better job of managing behavior, including their own. But blaming the district’s equity work and plan to reduce suspensions makes me suspicious. To have teachers go to the school board demanding a “zero excuses discipline policy” while they also send me mailers about how much they believe in ending the school-to-prison pipeline is talking out both sides of the neck.

Teachers have tough words for us, so here’s mine for them: If they cannot stand the heat, then get of the classroom and make room for someone who can. Quit blaming our kids and their families. Figure out a way to do your job better or quit.

That might sound harsh, but it’s no harsher than the way they talk about my kids.

Maybe it’s different in other places, but here in Minnesota 96% of teachers are white, mostly women. I truly believe they feel kids can’t succeed if they come from from homes like mine. It’s sad because they share that view with the public. And when they speak people take it as the gospel. So when they publicly talk about black kids as if they’re animals, it has an impact.

Who listens to me? Who asks black moms about what really goes down? Where is our platform? When will people listen to us and take our words as the Kings James version?

I’m doing my job at home. It isn’t always perfect, but I’m putting in the work.

No I don’t want to participate in your whitewashed parent groups or associations. Let’s be honest, by the way you act when moms like me get involved, you don’t want me to participate.

That does not mean I don’t want to be involved in my child’s education. The sooner you figure that out, the better off we’ll all be.

27 Comments

  1. Sara

    Though I agree with all the points presented in this article, I feel as though you may not be giving these teachers enough credit. Racism undoubtedly plays a role in why teachers treat students of color who act out unfairly, but inclusion is a tricky business–no matter the race of the child. Having to meet the needs of many students, and having one child who is in a different place academically, emotionally/socially is tough. The reason doesn’t matter as much as the fact as they need more from the teacher than they are able to provide.
    Is the system broken? Yes. Do those racist, awful conversations take place? Absolutely. But most teachers, especially those in special Ed, really are doing the best they can.

    Reply
    • Tahirah B.

      This is the mindset that solves nothing…And I’m the parent of the kid who’s always been an issue in schl, but his teachers LOVE me bc I support & help them by controlling him…They have me to call. Many are NOT like me. To people who believe this, give us a week off & do our job. ONE week & then let’s talk after & start to build from there. It has nothing to do w/blame or being unqualified. The system is losing qualified teachers in mass numbers not bc they’re unqualified but bc they’re TIRED & not supported properly. There are things going on that are unimaginable & that weren’t allowed to happen even 10 yrs ago but are allowed NOW. Teachers are taught not to break up fights, to pass out or hit the floor when hit by a student, & to not respond when verbally threatened or cursed out. If you react this could mean your license & career & admin provides no support. The issue is SO much bigger than being unqualified, it’s about a flawed policy in place that NEEDS to be ratified!

      Reply
    • Diana

      Not giving teachers enough credit? I’m sorry, but these days teachers get too much credit. There is too much of a hero worship mentality with teachers, and I’m sorry but that’s a no for me. My mother was a teacher for 30 years, and I never needed to exalt her or nor did anyone have to constantly worship her as people do to teachers now, just so that they’ll do their job. Teachers in NYC and NJ are some of the highest paid in the country, yet they are the ones that complain about their jobs the most.
      The bottom line is this. You become a teacher to teach children. If you don’t like the salary, or can’t do you job, don’t be a teacher.

      Reply
  2. Louise

    There are effective and ineffective parents from all kinds of racial and ethnic backgrounds. That is the truth. Some parents push too much to the point of stressing out their children in unhealthy ways. Some parents spend money on overpriced sneakers but don’t buy school supplies. Some parents never show up to meetings at school. Some parents micromanage their children’s every utterance and action. There is a whole lot of variety out there. Are you able to admit that there are some ineffective black parents? If you can’t admit that, you are paternalistic and delusional. You should have high standards for ALL parents. And it’s true that many teachers are utterly awful in reaching, inspiring, and educating all kids. I work in schools and I see horrible teaching. I see some phenomenal teachers that blow me away with their kindness, content knowledge, organization, passion, etc, but the majority are mediocre and uninspired. The problem is that when these white women leave, teachers will be replaced with longterm substitutes. That’s not great. The solution would be to pay teachers much, much better, but to have higher standards for tenure. And you really need to get off your ass and get involved in the school culture. If you don’t like the white-washed groups, then start your own. Have high expectations for yourself, too.

    Reply
  3. R

    i’m sorry, but in defense of the teachers/educators growing up if there were ever any issues with my behavior at school i got the “I don’t care what the other kids are doing or how they’re acting, YOU need to act right, no excuses” where as today a lot of parents response is towards the teacher and more of a “HOW DARE YOU MY CHILD IS AN ANGEL YOU ARE WRONG” as opposed to “I’m sorry for my Childs behavior, it will not happen again” so when it comes down to it. I don’t think parents are doing everything they can on the home front. so when you say that the teachers talking about your kids as if they are animals….perhaps they are acting that way…. and you’re not addressing the real issue at home which is respecting their educators is just as important as getting an education.

    Reply
  4. Robert

    96% of your teachers are white women? Why aren’t more women – and men – of color entering the teaching system?

    Reply
  5. destro

    If we are serious about teachers acting on the belief that all students can learn, it is important for teachers to examine their own perceptions and the way those perceptions impact their teaching practices. If teachers need to begin where the children are in their classrooms, we also need to remember to approach students in holistic ways so that we do not fragment their minds and bodies. There needs to be a partnership between the parents and teachers. Also,I would define success for our schools when we feel that our kids are all coming to school understanding that this is a place to learn despite some of the challenges that they must face at home, That they know they are there to learn, on the other hand they also know that there are adults who care about them who will help them out with some of the challenges that they bring to school which might keep them from learning. I think we have to say student achievement when we see scores increasing I hate to measure things by test scores, but I also know that that is the reality of life today. So for us to be successful we have to see our kids learning to read and write and do math at a level that is acceptable for kids their age not just at the bare minimum. To be effective decision makers and to be able to think critically and analytical.

    Reply
  6. Dr. McEwen

    I am a 17 year veteran educator and you are 100% correct. There is much work to be done. Thank you for your concern and advocacy. We hear you and stand with you.

    Reply
  7. Alexis

    Khulia is writing about her experience as a mom. Her righteous anger is trained at the racism she’s experienced in the school system and from the teaching force. Once the unrestrained racism against Black kids and parents abates, more conversations can follow about teaching techniques. But please, for the sake of sanity, don’t critique this post by calling for nuanced discussions about teachers struggles and teachers rights. This a story about PARENTS and KIDS who are being abjectly failed by a system. First teachers, and everyone engaged in public education has to know this is how Black parents and students are treated, and stop abiding this behavior. It can start with St. Paul Public Schools teachers standing up and calling for the censure and dismissal of their colleagues who call students “thugs,” “animals,” “dysfunctional” etc.

    Reply
    • Barbara

      Thank you for recognizing this mother’s truth and not discounting her feelings.

      Reply
    • Shawn

      I agree, Alexis. My husband and I are very involved in our children’s education. Unfortunately, we are in a private school and this school fits the textbook definition of the abused black children suffer in independent schools. I have run into both great and terrible teachers. I appreciate your acknowledgement that this is a problem and truly frustrating for some parents and children alike.

      Reply
  8. Jon

    “Who listens to me? Who asks black moms about what really goes down? Where is our platform? When will people listen to us and take our words as the Kings James version?”

    Powerful piece. Some folks are concerned that this article isn’t giving enough credit to teachers, but that’s not what this article is about. Yes, there are great teachers who are actively fighting against this line of thinking, but Ms. Pringle is pointing out that there is some generally accepted notion that black children can’t succeed, or are out of control, or their family background will prevent them from learning. That mindset is unacceptable, and teachers who believe that should absolutely leave the classroom. Kids like Ms. Pringles didn’t ask for an adult with low expectations to waste their time. There’s learning to do. They show up ready to learn and they deserve someone who believes in them.

    Amazing piece. Keep fighting this fight. We stand with you!

    Reply
  9. Jamie

    Quote:”Teachers have tough words for us, so here’s mine for them: If they cannot stand the heat, then get of the classroom and make room for someone who can. Quit blaming our kids and their families. Figure out a way to do your job better or quit.”

    This is EXACTLY the opposite of reality and 100% off the mark. I entered teaching at 40 years old. At 38 I returned to college, completed two masters degrees, certification in 2 subjects, a principal certification, and I have lived in the USA, India and South America. I am male and non-African-American and teach diversity and culture in my classes daily.

    That said, the misconception is that teachers have a major role in motivating kids to learn and teaching them behavior and social skills. FALSE! At the high school level, the major role that teachers sign up for, is to share the love of the subject(s) the teacher has chosen as their profession. A math teacher’s role is to share their love of math each day, with kids who have been prepared OUTSIDE of school to come each day and learn it. Same with Science, Social Studies, History, etc.

    Society has (erroneously) come to believe teachers are supposed to motivate kids who have none; teach social skills to kids lacking them; be the surrogate that these kids don’t have at home. No. No. No. No. No.

    The job of the teacher is to present the material required to be successful in life, with students who understand and appreciated the value of that privilege. In so many other countries, students understand that having an education is the difference between starvation or survival, unfortunately in this country, too often students think education is a burden, a cramp in their lifestyle.

    Do many teachers go above and beyond to be that surrogate parent, mentor, fill-in role model – of course, but these teachers should be the exception to the rule and not mistaken as the job title for all teachers.

    Parents and guardians have a responsibility to send students to school prepared to behave according to the expected norms, and prepared to learn and appreciate what the teacher has to offer.

    Quit? That’s what most teachers already do, in far too many numbers, because they were tricked into thinking they were actually being hired to teach. Boy were they wrong.

    Reply
    • Linda M.

      Well said. I just left teaching this year after 24 years for exactly what you describe. Teachers are being asked to do everything except TEACH. It’s the only profession in which one is evaluated for numerous job except the job he/she was hired to do.

      Don’t get me wrong, I am not negating the writer’s concerns. There are some perception issues in schools. However, there is a bigger picture that is being overlooked.

      Reply
      • Louise

        Jamie – You don’t have to be a surrogate mother or father, nurse, psychologist, after-school tutor, nutritionist, athletic coach, etc, but you ABSOLUTELY must attempt to inspire learning and increasing prosocial behaviors (if, indeed, there is an absence of these things). If a majority of the students are bored, it’s on you. If a majority of the students don’t understand, it’s on you. If this is happening often, you are in the wrong profession and you don’t have what it takes. Do what the rest of the ineffective or burnt out people do and take a district job coaching others and pretending that you were great at it. Or you should teach in an entirely different community such as a boarding school or a private school wherein the study habits and conventions of intellectual engagement are already in place.

        Reply
    • Black Teacher

      I started teaching at 37…I’m 39 now and mannnnn forget it. It’s an impossible job. For me. I don’t think I can keep doing it feeling as ineffective as I feel.

      Reply
      • Christine

        Exactly. Somehow, there is very little understanding of how frustrating every day is when you bust your @@@ and see that it is fruitless and unappreciated. But you do get the bonus of national vilification!

        Reply
  10. Matthew

    You may be very correct that teachers who cannot manage discipline need to go home or find another job. My question is “where are all the black teachers?” I mean not to ask this is a smart alec way, but in order to start an honest dialogue. You’ve pointed out that the teachers in Minnesota schools are disproportionately white. What needs to happen to cultivate increased participation in teacher education programs? What is it going to take to help the whole process of schooling become something that builds our urban students up instead of tearing them down? As an avid reader of Kunjufu, I’m well aware of the friction between predominately white female teachers and predominately black students. Raising up more black teachers is critical to the process. Finding ways to engage parents in the schools is also critical. I hope that you find a way to participate in the school through volunteering and PTA/PTSO kinds of events. If that makes the “whitewashed parent organizations” uncomfortable, I think you’re doing your job right. There should be shame when parents and students are alienated from the process.

    Reply
  11. Karen

    This piece needs to be amplified. It is spot on.

    And for those of you who are writing in decent above, what you are doing is deflecting an important — nay essential — message. Rather that shushing that voice inside your head that demands airing, the “ya but” voice, you shout over a message and miss the point.

    That’s a white culture habit, btw. And a culture shift won’t happen without us hearing how others experience us.

    I for one am grateful for this writer putting her neck out despite the fact that she likely lnows the bulk of us who really need to spend time with her words will talk over her and tell her why she’s wrong instead.

    Challenge: if you read this and want to tell the writer above why she is wrong, reread her and wait and consider her experience. Overwrite your ‘teachers are amazing’ and consider that she is telling you that in her experience that greatness is not evident and she is telling you why. It is a gift.

    Reply
  12. Jamila

    This is such an honest and powerful piece! Judging by the range of comments, your words needed to be heard. Thank you for sharing your experience.

    Reply
  13. Louise

    It’s paternalistic to state that all parents are doing just fine at parenting. You may think this issue is only tangentially related to the author’s concerns, but that is not so. All of these topics and assertions are intertwined inside a messy web of interdependence. There are, absolutely, countless SHITTY teachers. This might mean that they don’t have strong content area knowledge. It might mean that they don’t even like kids. It might mean that they don’t do any preparation at all before instruction. There are many ways for teachers to be ineffective. There are also many ways for parents to be ineffective. To have a true, “pro-child” stance, you have to be courageous enough to critique both.

    This poster is complaining about the conventional parent groups, but this is a pathetic complaint. Start your own. Get involved. Who are you waiting to save your community? Do it yourself. Demand that the principal start observing and writing up the ineffective teachers. Inspire your child to start a Black Student Union at school. Try to recruit recent Black college graduates into teaching. What are you doing to help yourself? Writing this wonderful post is one thing, but what else? Try to educate other parents (be they White, Asian, Latino, or Mixed) about effective parenting strategies. Share your knowledge with parents who need it.

    By the way, there are teachers who don’t even realize that a part of their job is to motivate and inspire. Evidence is one of the commenters above. This person is clueless. IF students aren’t motivated, a teacher MUST help change this. You have to at least try. It is sad that this person doesn’t realize this. I guess I am not surprised.

    Reply
  14. Louise

    These white women who aren’t wiling to learn and to adapt and to connect and to inspire, WHO will REPLACE them? Can someone please answer this? It’s not a sarcastic question. What’s the plan?

    Reply
  15. Black Teacher

    It’s a crisis. Unfortunately this article Only addresses half of the issue. There is a crisis in the schools. There’s extreme prejudice and stereotyping as well. I got into education more so to protect our kids from being categorized and labeled as “troubled” by a system that typically has other plans for them. From my experience though, I also have to say that there is only so much a teacher can do, and the ones who are more prone to trying to engage students, or reach them in a genuine way don’t last. So you don’t have to worry about them leaving, they do that. Nobody stays in that profession long anymore. There’s just nothing attractive about it. I’m not coming back next year. I will always work with children, but not as a public school teacher. You can’t do much of anything and nobody really even appreciates the effort. I was willing to take the pay the hours the mindless meetings. It’s just not a profession that’s respected and I don’t feel the least bit effective. Students like me, but I can’t get them to listen to me deliver content no matter how creative I try to be. There are simply a lot of kids who don’t have to listen to anybody and they know it. If there’s a way to do it o would like to see it modeled. I’m throwing in the towel.

    Reply
  16. Tahirah B.

    This is the mindset that solves nothing…And I’m the parent of the kid who’s always been an issue in schl, but his teachers LOVE me bc I support & help them by controlling him…They have me to call. Many are NOT like me. To people who believe this, give us a week off & do our job. ONE week & then let’s talk after & start to build from there. It has nothing to do w/blame or being unqualified. The system is losing qualified teachers in mass numbers not bc they’re unqualified but bc they’re TIRED & not supported properly. There are things going on that are unimaginable & that weren’t allowed to happen even 10 yrs ago but are allowed NOW. Teachers are taught not to break up fights, to pass out or hit the floor when hit by a student, & to not respond when verbally threatened or cursed out. If you react this could mean your license & career & admin provides no support. The issue is SO much bigger than being unqualified, it’s about a flawed policy in place that NEEDS to be ratified! I’m s qualified teacher of color and I’m am TIRED & ready for a career change, bc we get little support or respect!

    Reply
  17. Christine

    How is what’s she’s doing any different from what she claims the teachers are doing?? Some teacher are racist, some don’t care about certain kids, some even intentionally sabotage kids. that doesn’t make the problems any less real, and it doesn’t change the fact that parental involvement is the single most important factor in a child’s education. Teachers are right to speak on the problems that keep their students from success, and the problem is not usually a deficiency in the teacher. If I’m a mason, and my bricks are showing up with cracks in them, yea,I can patch many of them with mortar, but 1 my wall isn’t going to be up as fast..or straight-not a reflection if my masonry skill, and 2 it would be nearly negligent for me to never speak up about the cracks in the bricks. In the case of working with humans, it IS negligent not to speak in the issue.
    My kids spent the majority of their school daze in a back woods district, but I didn’t worry about racist teachers or administration bc *I* was there to ensure they were educated. That’s not to say “no issues” but it’s to say, no issues would cheat my kids out of their education.

    Reply
  18. Barb Macon

    Thank you for broadcasting your perspective. With the nationwide push to mainstream more special ed students, who have disproportionately been students of color, we are seeing some valid concerns about safety and some non-valid concerns about safety which are coming from nebulous, unsubstantiated suspicions based on conscious or unconscious racist beliefs. Putting this out there will help people to see the perspective of a black mom. We need your voice so thank you.

    Reply

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