It’s true that our perceptions are a collection of experiences lived through our concepts of reality. What we “see” can vary from person to person, even in the same family. Perception is the reason why two siblings can have the same parents but have very different experiences. Perceptions are also the lenses in which we see others and how we treat them. Saying that, I wrote a short letter to white teachers who work in “the hood”.
Dear White Teachers,
If you work in an underserved, habitually and systemically deprived neighborhood as a teacher, you are not a savior. You do not wear a superhero cape that is invisible to everyone but you. Thus, it is not a part of your “calling” to save the little black and brown children. I’m sorry, but Jesus already did that.
I’m not speaking on anyone’s intentions because intentions can be good and still result in unfavorable outcomes. Neither am I devaluing the work you do, getting up each day and teaching can indeed be hard. I’m specifically speaking to the part of you, many times unintentional, that feels “good” about your work, the self-rewarding aspect of your internal makeup that doesn’t see that we don’t need your type of help. Honestly, we don’t need your help at all.
It doesn’t matter if you think you can relate, being an ally in this cause doesn’t mean you understand the depths of the generational effects of a white society. We weren’t emphatically taught of our importance and value by society. Not in the last couple of lifetimes. We consistently see images of us in every sector of media, here and abroad, as less educated, lesser civilized and less human. Our daughters still have a sliver of choices in the dolls that depict us. We have a section of books at the library, and an even smaller sliver of curriculum that we can identify with in our schools.
More often than not, my white counterparts struggle with classroom management. Whether they are “from” the area or not. Each year, I’ve encountered Referral Randy and Send-Out Susan, teachers who have no concept of the perception they had to the children they served, the entitlement that they exhibited when they entered a classroom that echoed an air of insistence in which students had to listen to them just because they were white. Let’s not forget to mention the desire to listen to hip hop and rap music during the day to connect, or even being the teacher who stays after-school to run a gender specific group. I have consistently sat in data meetings of these teachers who believe that any growth is good, that they are the best teacher since sliced bread, when their actual data is sub-par.
I personally take offense to the ways in which their efforts are seen as adequate when growth will most likely occur when an adult is consistently present. In education, there shouldn’t be a consolation prize for simply showing up. Yet, their unperceived entitlement results in a belief that their lower standard of excellence was good enough. To be completely honest, I can’t just blame them.
Society has consistently shown us that white mediocrity is acceptable, most times even rewarded. George Bush was a mediocre student – and he became President. I’ve repeatedly seen my white counterparts, both male and female, perform at a lower standard in the classroom and get promoted. I once worked in an organization whose head of curriculum couldn’t pass the Praxis teaching certification exam and only had a Bachelor’s degree – in music. I constantly witness white teachers have sub-par achievement and growth data and return the next year to teach the same subject. In what other professions can you continually fail and continue practicing?
I recognize you may believe there is fallacy in my argument, however I write this from a place of personal truth. The essence of truth isn’t facts but lies in the pursuit of what is absolute. We absolutely don’t need ineffective teachers educating those students who have habitually been underserved, both intentionally and unintentionally. We absolutely don’t need your help in perpetuating the stigmas that exist on us by not reflecting on us in our entirety, while not placing undue emphasis on our current circumstance. And we most certainly, absolutely, don’t need your pity nor do we appreciate that you feel “good” about your work after teaching us for a day, week, months, or years.
What we do need is for you to operate in the spirit of excellence – our bar, not yours. The same level of excellence that we’ve operated in for decades and even centuries (check our scoreboard). We need you to do more, especially for those who are playing catch-up in the classroom.
Concerned Black Teachers Everywhere
This post was written by Marlena Little and originally ran on the Memphis K12 Education Blog.