Not enough mirrors….Where are all the teachers of color? A response from one of them.

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.

 

Working beyond the walls: How much are teachers collaborating?

Another school year is underway. And yes, the year might be filled with professional development opportunities, but how much of those are geared towards professionals working together?

Are we still allowing walls to separate and isolate us? I’ve had the opportunity to visit other schools and school districts outside of Shelby County. I am often intrigued by how collaborative other learning environments seem. In spending time with the High Tech High Network in San Diego where collaboration is one of the words you’ll both see and hear a lot, it made me wonder if this could be possible for my home district and how could we take the necessary steps to ensure we are maximizing the learning not just students, but also for adults.

Which led me to this question, “How do we create a culture of collaborative adults?”

In taking this journey of school design and development, it’s been refreshing sharing with the High Tech High network and watching practitioners have dialogical interviews, thinking time and moments, constant reflections and moments with team members to plan, share hopes, fears and goals for the school year and also talk through what the shared space of learning look like for kids. As many may or may not know, I am in the process of taking the journey of opening an all-girl, project-based infused charter school. The model that I am currently researching and learning more about is that of the High Tech High Organization.

Here are a few of my observations at  High Tech High:

-Grade level teams had time to think through their schedules for classroom/student coverage, possible project ideas and goals, and what each member of the team hopes to learn from another.

-Each person had the opportunity to talk through their personal and professional hopes, fears, and goals for the school year.

-Each person was transparent with their comfort level in teaching in their area of expertise and/or content.

-Teachers were able to develop a style and preference based on what’s best for students

-Teams were able to teach collaboratively and ensure equity was embedded throughout the teaching and learning.

Of course, this is a totally autonomous environment. However, I wonder how empowering it could be for our schools to adopt a more collaborative feel amongst its teachers beyond the standard grade-level team meetings, but instead have a more open canvas to think through and create what the learning environment could potentially look like for both students and adults.

I can’t say that I have an accurate insight of each school in Tennessee and the workings of each, but from what I know, I don’t see collaboration at this level and I wonder what this could potentially look like if our walls (classroom walls and professional walls) could slowly begin to come down. In an ideal world, I would do some facilitation beyond this blog.

I would personally take the time and visit as many schools as possible to see what collaboration looks like and how effective is it? How do school leaders define collaboration and if it is evident, to what extent? And if It is not, why?

I honestly think all the adults in the building should be talking. As interesting as that sounds and as uncomfortable and complex that may seem, I think there’s value in collegial relationships being formed to the highest degree to ensure the success of both adults and students.