A teacher affects eternity; he can never tell where his [her] influence stops.—Henry Adams
At the Center for Black Educator Development, we believe that the impact of a great teacher is everlasting and lifesaving.
So, to all the great Black teachers out there, know that you’re special. You’re special not solely because you choose to educate—reason enough—but because you are choosing to help bend the moral arc of the universe.
With the tools you carefully honed with intentionality, compassion, expertise, data-driven decisions and culturally-affirming mirrors, you work every day against the misguided derision that affirming aggrieved children tends to attract.
In the jewel of a book, “Fugitive Pedagogy,” Dr. Jarvis R. Givens makes clear the daring lineage we continue when we seek to teach Black children well:
Black education was a fugitive project from its inception—outlawed and defined as a criminal act…Black teachers were a distinct group of political actors. They were…set apart.
That’s because we mean to liberate education. Transcending even the lives and progeny of the children we teach, we seek to transform the reality of schools and systems that do not fully appreciate Black genius.
Know this: White educator-allies have said their best professional development doesn’t come from workshops, but from working with you. Even if it’s just in proximity to you.
They watch with awe how you build and handcraft trust. How you genuinely connect with students. How you show Black families you believe in their children’s promising futures.
You understand that trust is invaluable and inimitable.
And that trust is what materializes when educators prioritize the needs of students and families over school plans that don’t always prioritize the same concerns—something Dr. Khalifa Muhammad consistently points out.
How can trust be built when the school administration ignores the trauma, violence and police abuse in our communities? How can trust be built when the school administration ignores ICE raids and persistent health inequities that have stolen the lives of the people we love during the pandemic?
What our students struggle with, what they’re trying to navigate, what keeps them from fully healing and able to focus on their education—all of it shapes what and how they learn.
But for you, ignoring any of this is not an option, because you’re also experiencing their pain after having traversed their paths, after sitting in their seats.
As you bear witness for each student their limitless futures, as you point out to administrators their blind spots, as you try to eclipse overbearing systems, please be sure to take care of yourselves.
Teaching can trigger our past traumas. So to persevere,
- Keep creating affinity spaces where there are none.
- Keep relying on your village to inform and challenge you.
- Resist being marginalized and muted.
- Have the courage to continue wrestling with your own biases and internalized oppression.
All paradigms generally not covered in teacher prep programs, yet essential to what it means to be a great Black educator in today’s America. Precisely what fuels the revolution of teaching Black children well.
As Marilyn Cochran-Smith reminds us, the system needs teachers who see teaching as a political activity, embracing social change as integral to the job.
When racists call your anti-racist work racist, push on. When racists try to whitewash and erase Black identities in the name of a misguided colorblindness, push on.
I recognize the heavy burden you carry, though many still don’t. Black educators are still expected to be their school’s “Black child whisperer” and the in-house expert on racism, diversity, and equity—on top of instructing their students—without commensurate compensation, recognition and support for these additional responsibilities.
That’s not right. We must right this wrong.
Take heed of what Yvette Carnell says, that you are to be commended and celebrated for refusing to “acquiesce and accept conditions of terror, political disenfranchisement and powerlessness as being part and parcel of the American condition.” For refusing to be just quiet and still.
Know that you are not alone and that our fight for educational justice is a noble and necessary one. Because we are fighting for the futures of all Black children. Because we are them.
Only by training our replacements well can we justly serve our collective futures. In keeping with the Freedom Schools model, we are training our replacements in society—stronger and wiser than we could ever be—to do what we could not achieve in liberating education.