It doesn’t mean all the people in their lives have to do that mirroring, but they should have some. And we know that in the teaching profession, there really are not enough mirrors.”
-Lecturer Sarah Leibel
I recently had the humbling privilege of reading, “Where Are All the Teachers of Color?” by Josh Moss (2016). This quote caught my attention enough to want to expound on it. As I maneuvered through the other reading, I kept this one line/ quote in my head but it later made its way to my heart. As I’ve gone along conducting empathy interviews this past week which is a central part of my current graduate study, I kept this quote close. As I walked through the hallways of my current school, this quote resonated. As I thought about our class session this past Tuesday, the quote kept lingering and burning. As I reflected upon my own K-12 schooling, I thought about the faces that had greeted me at doors.
Not enough mirrors…Not enough of me seeing the possibilities, the opportunities and even an adequate representation of a majority of those that looked just like me. Many years later, here were are, having to face this reality that there are still not enough mirrors. Where the population of the minority has now become the majority, still no mirrors. As we briefly discussed during last Tuesday’s class, one can only wonder if the intentionality will ever be there?
We continue to talk about the initiatives to attract teachers of color to the classroom and even with these initiatives, the data is still startling. What about this system doesn’t appeal to teachers of color? I actually can answer that question by sharing my own perspective and truth. I made a personal and later public vow (after I resigned from teaching) that I would never (willingly) be apart of the problem. I wouldn’t lie to students via final grades reflecting their allegedly learned skills and competencies and then pass them on. For students that couldn’t read, I wouldn’t simply excuse it. I would move beyond calling it out but help that student learn to do what other sometimes seem to brush easily past. I will not look into the eyes of innocent faces and not try my best to properly equip them for futures that await them. So for this particular teacher of color, no amount of money and/or incentive could ever get me back into a classroom to pass on those lies and such inequitable practices that I had to witness daily and I still sadly observe in schools across this country.
The numbers will continue to be what they are if that’s a part of the argument of any teacher of color, and I do not pass any blame. I totally empathize with their stance. Regardless, it’s indeed mine. There is another mirror that one is forced to see and that is the one that looks back at you. At the end of it all, the journey, after the bell rings, one has to look back at themselves in the mirror of truth and own everything he or she has done morally or immorally.
Why the turnover? Because maybe teachers of color can’t bear what comes with the harsh realities of that mirror. I am not sure there will ever be enough mirrors.
After submitting these thoughts and my reflections from the empathy interview, one of my Caucasian colleagues shared these thoughts followed by a question:
I also found the image of the mirror to be very moving and profound. I very much appreciate hearing your story of why you’ve stepped out of teaching. My questions is what can we do in our process of designing our schools to create systems and environments that make educators’ reflections less harsh at the end of the day?
In what I hope to be a continual discussion, this is how I responded, “I think it starts with morale and buy-in. And just as we’re creating/designing schools for, and not with the community, we do the same intentionally with staff and more specifically teachers.”
This post was written by LaShundra Richmond and originally ran on the Memphis K12 Education Blog.