I entered the teaching profession to impact students of color.
I wanted them to see education the way that I saw it. For me, education was an escape. An escape from whatever life you are living. Education is also a gateway. It is a gateway to a brighter future filled with possibilities you might not currently believe are possible. There was a point where I was that young student of color sitting in a classroom, listening to a white teacher trying to teach me and not understanding who I was as a person, what my interests were, or what I wanted. I do not think any of them knew I wanted to be a teacher. I wonder sometimes if they would have treated me differently if they knew I wanted to be a teacher. Not a teacher like them, but a teacher, nonetheless.
The past ten years of racial tension in this country makes teaching children of color even more important. It is as important to educate children of color now as it has been at any point in the history of this country. Recent years have seen unarmed black people killed by police, specifically by white police officers. Shootings of black people by the police see no age, gender, or socioeconomics. Even now, as a principal of children of color, ensuring they have the best education possible continues to be “my why.”
In schools across the country, children of color are under attack. Children of color are experimented on with new curriculum and new school models. They are under attack from those that want to keep them in the same underperforming schools that have been failing for decades. They are under attack from the teachers who stand in front of them, only there to add a section to their resume or get forgiveness on their college loans. For some, like myself, teaching children of color is the only thing we wanted to do. It is the reason we are in this profession. We want to teach children of color so that society sees them like every other child in school.
Lately, I have wondered and asked people that I see teaching children of color, “Do you care?” Do you care about what happens to them when they leave your classroom or leave your school? If you do not care about what happens after they leave, how can you care about what happens while they are here?
When teaching children of color, I notice many of these teachers come off as mean, strict, and extra tough because they feel that is the only way they can get students of color to comply. Society has people confused that children of color are always from homes that lack love and affection. The idea of a teacher acting tough is more about them than it is about the student. Teaching children of color requires teaching them from the right mindset, providing them with ideas and behaviors of the rich instead of the poor. Some of my students may not be rich in things of the world, but I try to ensure they are rich with hope and the desire to see, do, and have more.
When students of color learn differently, do not take their method of learning as a sign they do not want to learn. Teachers that do not understand this fall victim to the idea that they do not care or are not interested in learning. The problem is how you are attempting to deliver the instruction; it does not stick and does not work for them. There is often a simple truth when teaching that should apply to those teaching children of color: It doesn’t matter what we teach, only what they learn. If the students aren’t learning, then the teacher who is supposed to be the expert has the responsibility to teach them, not make a sad excuse about why they cannot learn.
Many often ask, “What difference I can make in the lives of students?” I always answer, “A lot more than you can make if you weren’t in their lives.” If you care and have good intentions, then your impact can be monumental. If you have never been a student of color, then you have no idea what it is like to be in their shoes. It is often rare to have people who honestly care about your learning. When people do come in your life that care, it means something, and it sticks. I read a piece by Richard Curwin, which inspired me to write this post. He said:
No student can learn without hope.” Academic hope comes from believing that what you learn will make your life better than it is now. For some socially disadvantaged students, hope is in short supply. It doesn’t matter if we have a student for a day, an hour, or ten minutes. Inspiration and hope come from unlikely places.
This sums up the difference you can make. The difference is not made up in one eight-hour school day, but every day and moment you get to stand in front of them and teach.
I challenge those teaching students of color to care just a little bit more. Care about what they are doing and why they are doing it.
An earlier version of this post ran on the Indy K12 Education blog.