As a black woman who grew up in a 96 percent white suburban school in Long Island, New York, it was hard not to notice me—a member of the “only one club”.
The only one who the teacher wouldn’t make eye contact with when discussing slavery, the only one who challenged my teachers on their lessons regarding the Black Panthers, the only one who held the school board accountable for a more inclusive history curriculum.
The only one who would dare call the superintendent of schools as the student representative to discuss diversity—only for him to say on the phone “oh, you’re black” because my voice didn’t betray a certain inflection he was looking for.
Regardless of whether some teenagers want to be nurtured or not, our role as the adults in the room is to guide them into who they aspire to be, not cut short their aspiration on life...
Like many of you I went into education because I wanted to have a positive impact on the next generation of leaders. I wanted to be the person they could count on to help mold their dreams into a tangible reality—especially when I could see, that if not for my attention, there may have been no one else invested in them.
The classroom is often times, as you know, the first microcosm of the world that a child will enter into. It’s designed as a safe space to learn, question and develop.
What does it say then that we are only creating that safe space for “some students”?
What I’ve learned from working with a variety of other teachers is that very few people were taught in their programs how to not only engage with students from varying backgrounds (race, socio-economics, religion, sexual orientation/ gender identity etc.,) but also their families and/or caretakers.
Far too many teachers have only been taught how to teach to the test and not the student. So, instead of engaging with students we may deem “difficult”, like most things in America we’ve outsourced that responsibility to someone else — resource officers and former cops who don’t know our students or worse, who we as their teachers don’t know at all.
When the video surfaced of the assault of a black girl at Spring Valley High School my heart sank. It sank because this black child was yanked from her place of learning—her desk—and thrown onto the floor like a common criminal.
She was brutalized in a place that is supposed to keep her safe and nurture her spirit. Regardless of whether some teenagers want to be nurtured or not, our role as the adults in the room is to guide them into who they aspire to be, not cut short their aspiration on life before they’ve even reached senior year.
Ask yourself why some children — namely white students — get to be children, which means not always answering to “authority” or responding the way we want, while others, namely black children are seen first and foremost as adults or as a threat?
Far too many teachers have only been taught how to teach to the test and not the student.
Isn’t school supposed to be a place where we cultivate the best out of all our kids? Not just the ones that are deemed “worthy”?
As a former teacher who used to work with children with emotional disorders and other students, it never occurred to me to address a student in a way I wouldn’t want to be spoken to. It would never occur to me to humiliate them and demean them as if they don’t matter—and call that brutal act, discipline.
Teachers, you have an important role in a child’s life—and if you don’t know— all are considered children until they leave high school, regardless of how they may “appear”.
You can either have a hand in shaping them for the better, being that bright spot in their day, in their life, or not.
If your goals, like the “resource officer” at Spring Valley High School, are to go into the classroom to flex your authority instead of your capacity to care—then maybe it’s time you should find a new job.
Our future excellence as a nation depends greatly on our current capacity to raise the next generation of trailblazers—and if this latest assault on black children is any indication—we won’t need shades, for our bright future—we’ll need a hope and a prayer.
A Former Colleague