by Khulia Pringle
When I wrote my last piece about the need for educators to hear black mothers and stop acting like we’re a problem instead of the solution, I didn’t expect the response it got.
It felt good to see so many black woman share it with others and give me positive feedback. I heard y’all. I am not alone. Many of us are putting in the work only to be talked about as if we are doing the parenting thing all wrong. So we have to speak up, and push back.
It was also good to see allies supporting my right to stand up for myself, and for others like me. Much appreciated.
But, truth is, not everyone was applauding. There were teachers who felt some kind of way about the suggestion they could do better with our kids. I got some messages. They wanted to school me on the difficulties in classrooms (which there are many).
Some folks asked “where are all the black teachers”? It sounded like “if us white people are getting this so wrong why aren’t your people showing up?”
There were insinuations about me and what I’m doing, or not doing, in my life.
“Why don’t you start your own family involvement program?”
“Why not have your daughter start her own black group to help in schools?”
Well, the answer is: I have and she has.
For the record, my article was not a personal attack on teachers. I believe most teachers enter the field to make a difference in the lives of children.
This next piece of information might be a real shocker, but I am currently student teaching in an alternative high school. So much for the stereotypes some of you had when reading my post.
I’m realistic about this work. If I can’t manage my classroom, or get students engaged in the content, then I’ll need to find another profession. If I am not doing my job, I don’t get to conveniently blame behavior, parents, students, the community, poverty and whatever else. Too many people downplay the power teachers have on their students, while resting on the “bad parent” crutch. I won’t be that teacher, the one full of excuses.
I know in my own K-12 experience, as well higher education, the difference some teachers made was more significant than my poverty or how hard it was for me in those rough days. Thank God I had some teachers that told me the world needed to hear what I had to say, and that my community needed me to be a leader. Hearing that from them meant everything to me. To this day I still look for approval from the professors I trust, because I value their perspective of me as a person and the work I do.
In the school where I’m student teaching the students are 94% Black, and the teacher population is 100% White. Free and reduced lunch is 100%. Yet, the suspension rate is almost non-existent. That’s important because most of the young people I work with have been labeled as “animals” at some point in their life. I ask myself daily, do I give up on them too. Hell no. My job is to figure out how to engage each and every one of them – or leave.
I’ve seen with my own eyes that teachers, whether white or black, can connect with kids who have been treated like they are disposable in other schools. I witness every day that it can happen. Our students are not thrown away because they can’t focus, instead we make a meaningful effort to get them to re-focus. The adults establish relationships so strong with the students that classroom management not an issue. It’s not easy. In fact, it’s damn hard. It would be more convenient to talk about how bad they are and how terrible their parents must be.
Social justice isn’t convenient. Either you put your back into it or admit you ain’t about that life.
As a Black parent in a world that obviously has no love for Black children (or their mothers), I’ve got challenges. Speaking truth in defense of those of us invested in our kids is no work at all.
I want the best for my child as I believe most parents want for their own. Maybe it’s foolish of me to think the education system as a whole, including its teachers, should see the brilliance I see in my daughter and the young people talk to every day.
Maybe it’s more foolish to think you can teach people that you don’t respect.