Dear Ye: We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together.

If 2018 hasn’t been confusing enough for you, here’s a little conundrum to ponder: while Kanye “slavery was a choice” West is running around here in MAGA hats and supporting Donald Trump, his arch nemesis, Taylor “we still don’t know how you won that VMA over Beyonce´ but whatever” Swift is throwing her public support behind the democrats running for Congress in her home state of Tennessee. Yes folks, you read that right: that leggy loaf of Wonder Bread, who crafts an ear worm like no other; the patron saint of melanin deficient, boy-crazy basicness; the poster girl for all things vanilla pop; THAT TAYLOR SWIFT is pledging to vote blue in a red state, while Ye is supporting red pols in a blue state. What. Is. Happening.

On Sunday, October 7th, Taylor released an IG post that broke from her usual silence on politics. It was provocative! It got the people going! She denounced Republican incumbent Marsha Blackburn, stating Blackburn’s abysmal voting record as the reason they now have bad blood. And, if that wasn’t enough, Tay-Tay is also encouraging all her followers, which includes a huge chunk of 18-23 year olds, to register, vote, and follow her lead. This, of course, led to inevitable immature outbursts by racists angry, dejected fans: public displays of lighting her (already purchased and profited off of) merchandise on fire and decrying her choices.

The burning question I have, however, is this: HOW TF IS TAYLOR SWIFT MORE WOKE THAN KANYE WEST RIGHT NOW? I mean, I’m sure it has something to do with his proximity to the succubus that is Kris Kardashian Jenner and her cambion daughters (I mean, their initials *are* KKK…), along with a refusal to medicate for his Bipolar disorder, but…STILL. This is the same dude who, on national television, uttered the words “George Bush does not care about Black people” while we watched New Orleans drowning in Katrina’s waters and her people abandoned on rooftops. This is the same dude who, on his first album, said “Now n—as can’t make it to ballots to choose leadership/ But we can make it to Jacob’s and to the dealership/ Swear I hear new music and I just don’t be feelin’ it/ Racism’s still alive, they just be concealin’ it”. THE SAME DUDE that said “Meanwhile the DEA/ Teamed up with the CCA/ They tryna lock n—as up/ They tryna make new slaves/ See that’s that privately owned prison/ Get your piece today” on one of his more recent albums.
Ye went from rapping about how the government oppresses minorities, to embracing a fascist looney toon that is literally locking little brown children up in concentration camps, all the while saying he won’t be “bullied” into believing fat meat is greasy. Woof. I don’t claim to know the late Ms. Donda West’s politics, but I’m led to believe this ain’t how she raised him to be.

On the other hand, Taylor Swift, who is probably aware that a large portion of her fan base are children of (and members of) the 53 percenters, is willing to put her career aspirations to the side and stand for what is good, right and just. Taylor Swift, whose lyrics are pretty much all about boys, having fun with boys, falling in love with boys, breaking up with boys, having fun with her girls without boys, etc. etc., is using her real life voice to stand up for minorities with her vote. Taylor Swift, who (in my honest opinion) sometimes can’t hold a note in a bucket when performing live, is holding up her fist in solidarity to resist and reject those who stand with the tangerine tyrant. TAYLOR SWIFT, who was ACTUALLY BULLIED on stage by Hennessy-fueled Kanye West, is standing with people who don’t look like her, love like her, or identify gender-wise like her, because she knows that her stance has weight and can change THEIR lives for the better. She’s a very rich, very famous white woman in America—it’s safe to say she’s fine when it comes to how the government affects her personally. She doesn’t even have skin in this game, yet she’s acting more like skinfolk to minorities than a person who is actual skinfolk. We are firmly in Bizzaro world.

To add insult to injury, Kanye is supposed to be meeting with Pumpkin Spice Putin (you know, because he’s the gross American version…and he looks like a bloated orange gourd) YET AGAIN. To discuss what, heaven only knows. While he’s kissing up to dictators, I think I’ll remove his albums from my iTunes library and make room for an album or two from Tay-Tay. Well…maybe not a whole album, but some singles for sure. I might even dedicate one to Ye…namely WE ARE NEVER EVER GETTING BACK TOGETHER. #KanyeIsCancelled

The Encounter at the Fence

In just two months, I’ve heard the many stories that before now, I only read about via news articles and saw briefly across news stations. I’ve talked with families of students, community members, 1st and 2nd generation citizens, and students themselves about their stories of being marginalized, oppressed, discriminated against, and left out. I’ve wrestled with how to properly connect, communicate, show concern, and ultimately make an mpact. No class or textbook prepares you for this. I have no idea of the depths of their struggles, but I’m willing to learn even as I still battle with my own. But yet…even with the storytelling; there is this strong desire to want to know, to want to see.

Where would I start? Where could I go? As far as my freedom papers and my scared mind would take me-

The BORDER.

I walked to this thing trembling to this fence, this border, this place where one side represents bondage, broken families, and a mind full of hopes and dreams and the other of alleged freedom and opportunity. I watched family members cry and laugh with one another through a fence holding onto each other’s words as the aching memories they would soon become. I spoke to natives with my limited elementary Spanish. I laid hands on the fence. I bowed my own head and wept prayed to the same God that made me and made them.  I performed and shared communion with those that looked nothing like me. Talk about a moment….a heavy one, but a real one.

There aren’t even enough words.

To describe what just took place at that fence – he Border, on one side-the hopes of freedom, and the other side-the happenings of freedom.

Note to self: LaShundra-as much as people around you complain, don’t you ever let it discount your ability to walk away from that fence, tears dried, fears settled with moments of freedom to live. To some, it means nothing at all. To others, moments they long to live. Don’t ever forget that.

And….To some of my students and families-their (only) way out! *sounds familiar*

As an Educational Leader, it’s not enough for me to simply care. I must immerse myself enough to know! How could I ask of any teacher, administrator, board member, etc. to do what I hadn’t yet to do? I dare not. That process of doing, learning & knowing (for me) started today. I didn’t visit the border as a sight-seeer but as a student. Now….this is #professionaldevelopment.

Thank you, God for the encounter at the Fence.

“Celebrating the culture of others but doing more than caring, but being considerate enough to learn.”

 

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.

 

Kids Just Wanna Learn

It has been almost 10 years since I became a teacher.  I didn’t have many expectations when I began. All I knew was that I wanted to provide the tools students needed to change their life because education had done just that for me.

A poor black girl from inner-city Chicago, I was bused to a gifted center from 3rd grade to 8th grade, where I was one of seven black kids in the entire grade. It was there I learned what I needed to excel, not just in the classroom but in life. Even though we were in a gifted school with students from all over Chicago, we still took the state tests. I recall those being the worst days of the school year.

I didn’t loathe taking the state assessments because they were hard; I hated them because those were the days that I felt like we didn’t learn anything – where we had to spend hours taking a test to tell us what we already knew.

I remembered that as I read about state legislators from Nashville and Memphis for are calling for an “indefinite pause of the state’s embattled test”. (Read more here.)

When I first heard of this, I was discouraged and angry.  Yes, the last few years have been a mess in Memphis and I assume the rest of Tennessee with the state tests.  From software problems to connectivity and a plethora of other issues, the past couple of years led to it not being counted against students or teachers. As an educator who not only sets high expectations for my students but also myself, I first saw this as an excuse for sub-par educators to continue to fail our students, specifically black and brown students in the inner-city.

I say this because, even though the state test didn’t “count”, I still received a report those years for my daughter, who scored “Proficient” in all of the tested categories.  I must also say that we don’t reside in a neighborhood with a track record of failing. Thus, whether the tests counted or not, learning still happened.

I straddled the fence on this topic, seeing both sides of the argument and leaning one way or another depending on what adult I spoke to.  Many parents and educators I spoke to want the test to be halted simply because it hasn’t’ been executed correctly. There are questions about the standards and alignment and how to adequately prepare. In those conversations, my biased ears heard “I want to be able to teach to the test.”

Another individual I spoke to questioned how halting the test would lead to achievement.  Many times, in failing schools and even districts, the buzz words are “growth” and not “achievement,” because there are so few students who are at grade level. Since the deficits are vast in some areas and schools, it’s important to also note growth, as the levels of achievement are seemingly non-existent. (Read more about growth vs. achievement here.) She feared that halting the test would lead to a lower percentage of growth (and achievement) as the years went by.

I wonder if the legislators realized these points when they stood in agreement to halt such an important measurement. Did they think of the long-term effects of a decision such as this? How it not only impacts education but the growth of the city and state? Would parents, professionals and others desire to live in a city/state where there is no defined measurement of academic achievement?

I’m usually very clear about where I stand, yet in this case, I still waver, so I asked my 10-year old daughter for her input.

“I mean, what’s the point of taking the tests if they don’t show how smart I really am. I thought they were easy but also a waste because I just wanted to learn.”

When she spoke, I smiled. Because the desire of all kids is learning, whether they are in a gifted school or not. I wonder if we focused more on teaching and giving the love of learning to students, if we would even be in this situation?

Diversity By Design

Crosstown High School is a charter school in Memphis that was designed to be diverse in race, socioeconomics and academic achievement.  The school hopes to better represent the area and teach students how to relate to one another.

“It’s going to be ongoing work. It’s never going to be finished.”

Read more here

Where are the students? A common narrative.

It’s less than a week away from school starting and according to SCS officials and floating news reports, there are a whopping 20,000 children who still have not registered for school.

Some schools started as early as last Wednesday, a few started on this past Wednesday, and Shelby County Schools officially went back on Monday,August 6, 2018.

Even with very rigorous and intentional pre-registration efforts by the district, the number of non-registered students is still astronomically high, though not surprising.

In recent years, there have been similar reports and discussion around “Where are the children?” and more directly, “Where are the parents?” These children, of course, can’t register themselves.

It speaks to a bigger problem that leads to late registration of students, inaccurate resource counts from school leaders and the inability to properly plan when the numbers are so low, imbalanced, and inaccurate. It goes to the frustration of having to play catch up and/or just not being certain as to who and how many will show up for the first day.

The question lingers around how more convenient can the process. Currently, there’s both the option of online and in-school registration and multiple times in which both pre-registration and enrollment can occur. So if time is not the issue or convenience, then what exactly keeps parents from registering their children before the first day of school?

I reached out to a few parents and community leaders and asked them the simple question, “What do you think caused 20,000 students from being registered for school?“

Below are a few of the responses:

No sense of urgency from families/parent/guardians; No connection between school/community/families. The process itself is difficult, having to have proof of residency; No deadline is required to have a child registered which means no consequence for not being registered; if the district doesn’t take it seriously, why would the parent? Also, you have some families who may be in fear of deportation…

-Ashley Johnson, Community Member

ICE, maybe!! I got a text today from someone who said immigration came to their job a couple of weeks ago to interview all of the Hispanic employees and today they found out everyone has to leave but two!

So if Hispanic adults are losing their job then I’m sure they’re fearful for their kids.

What I don’t understand is why haven’t the media asked what is the demographics of those students that have not registered yet for school? That’s endless media hits for them if they uncover it’s related to ICE.

-TJ Jefferson, Community Member

Lack of access to computers even though there are libraries everywhere. 2. Using someone else’s address and getting that proof to the school. 3. Not able to get to the school because of work schedule. 4. Just bad parenting decisions.

-April Terrell, Community Member

Lack of Parental Concern. I have asked and some have the registered their child was told nope very nonchalant. They’re more focused on social media and other nonfactors and the new parents who wouldn’t even vote really hurting our babies.

-Wanlisha Hawkins, Parent

I honestly think it’s related to a computer glitch. I’m getting system generated emails. Taelor was registered back in March. I received that email back in March. I have no clue why I’ve received two more emails since then, a few calls and text messages AND an email from the PTA president. And that’s something they wouldn’t dare disclose to the public. They need to have more proactive measures: a child needs to be registered and approved for the next school yet prior to receiving their last report card. Heck, make it earlier than that! Any changes to addresses or transfers need to be received and processed by August 1st.

-Crystal Sawyer, Parent

Interesting perspectives from both community members and parents. They even added some insightful suggestions too. I do believe the number has to be more streamlined and figuring out more who those 20,000 students are. Are these numbers reflective of students who are in fear of being deported? If so, what measures are in place to assist with this reality for families? Is this more of a city-wide issue than just the school district?

The school year’s start is right around the corner. For the sake of the academic and social success of students, let’s hope this number significantly decreases soon. Whatever the actual issues, they should be revealed and addressed so that as a community we can solve why students not being registered.

Dear White Teachers

It’s true that our perceptions are a collection of experiences lived through our concepts of reality.  What we “see” can vary from person to person, even in the same family. Perception is the reason why two siblings can have the same parents but have very different experiences. Perceptions are also the lenses in which we see others and how we treat them. Saying that, I wrote a short letter to white teachers who work in “the hood”.

Dear White Teachers,

If you work in an underserved, habitually and systemically deprived neighborhood as a teacher, you are not a savior. You do not wear a superhero cape that is invisible to everyone but you. Thus, it is not a part of your “calling” to save the little black and brown children. I’m sorry, but Jesus already did that.

I’m not speaking on anyone’s intentions because intentions can be good and still result in unfavorable outcomes. Neither am I devaluing the work you do, getting up each day and teaching can indeed be hard. I’m specifically speaking to the part of you, many times unintentional, that feels “good” about your work, the self-rewarding aspect of your internal makeup that doesn’t see that we don’t need your type of help. Honestly, we don’t need your help at all.

It doesn’t matter if you think you can relate, being an ally in this cause doesn’t mean you understand the depths of the generational effects of a white society. We weren’t emphatically taught of our importance and value by society. Not in the last couple of lifetimes. We consistently see images of us in every sector of media, here and abroad, as less educated, lesser civilized and less human. Our daughters still have a sliver of choices in the dolls that depict us. We have a section of books at the library, and an even smaller sliver of curriculum that we can identify with in our schools.

More often than not, my white counterparts struggle with classroom management. Whether they are “from” the area or not. Each year, I’ve encountered Referral Randy and Send-Out Susan, teachers who have no concept of the perception they had to the children they served, the entitlement that they exhibited when they entered a classroom that echoed an air of insistence in which students had to listen to them just because they were white. Let’s not forget to mention the desire to listen to hip hop and rap music during the day to connect, or even being the teacher who stays after-school to run a gender specific group. I have consistently sat in data meetings of these teachers who believe that any growth is good, that they are the best teacher since sliced bread, when their actual data is sub-par.

I personally take offense to the ways in which their efforts are seen as adequate when growth will most likely occur when an adult is consistently present. In education, there shouldn’t be a consolation prize for simply showing up. Yet, their unperceived entitlement results in a belief that their lower standard of excellence was good enough. To be completely honest, I can’t just blame them.

Society has consistently shown us that white mediocrity is acceptable, most times even rewarded. George Bush was a mediocre student – and he became President. I’ve repeatedly seen my white counterparts, both male and female, perform at a lower standard in the classroom and get promoted. I once worked in an organization whose head of curriculum couldn’t pass the Praxis teaching certification exam and only had a Bachelor’s degree – in music. I constantly witness white teachers have sub-par achievement and growth data and return the next year to teach the same subject.  In what other professions can you continually fail and continue practicing?

I recognize you may believe there is fallacy in my argument, however I write this from a place of personal truth. The essence of truth isn’t facts but lies in the pursuit of what is absolute. We absolutely don’t need ineffective teachers educating those students who have habitually been underserved, both intentionally and unintentionally. We absolutely don’t need your help in perpetuating the stigmas that exist on us by not reflecting on us in our entirety, while not placing undue emphasis on our current circumstance. And we most certainly, absolutely, don’t need your pity nor do we appreciate that you feel “good” about your work after teaching us for a day, week, months, or years.

What we do need is for you to operate in the spirit of excellence – our bar, not yours. The same level of excellence that we’ve operated in for decades and even centuries (check our scoreboard). We, I, need you to do more, especially for those who are playing catch-up in the classroom.

Signed,

Concerned Black Teachers Everywhere

Ahead of the Game

Memphis students are registering for school in greater numbers this school year than they did last year.  Outreach efforts to parents are paying off tremendously.

“We’ve been trying to meet parents where they’re at. Our principals and teachers took ownership of registration.”

Read more here

Who’s to blame?

Towards the end of the school year, I received an anonymous note from one of my students. However, the identity of the student was easily recognizable by the handwriting.

M, the student from whom the note was written, was one of my top students. She is not only naturally intelligent but hardworking, passionate and meticulously organized. If I missed a beat in my lesson, she was right there to help me fill in whatever sentence I was stumbling over. Which is why I was surprised by what she wrote.

In this note, M confided that she was feeling overwhelmed by the surmounting pressure concerning the upcoming end-of-year assessments. She expressed that she was not only nervous about taking the tests, but that she felt like she was going to let her family and teachers down if she did not do well.

I was troubled by this note for obvious reasons, but after careful deliberation I responded to M’s note. I told her that I was proud of her, that I was rooting for her, and to give it her best effort. My response seems trite.

I wanted to say more though; I wanted to reassure M and tell her not to worry. I couldn’t honestly say those things  because I was worried too.

Starting around the time we returned from winter break, I began to hear the terms “testing season” and “test prep” quite frequently. By February, we were discussing test preparation strategies that we could incorporate into our daily lessons.

In meetings, we would discuss such questions as, “How can we modify our lessons to prepare students for what we they will see on the test?”

In April, we set aside a whole two weeks strictly for remediation and test preparation. We analyzed our data for deficits and weak points and intentionally lesson planned to address these areas. We diligently worked to prepare our students, taking the time to painstakingly review prior tests and work through previously wrong answered questions.

Apparently, this wasn’t enough.

TNReady, part of Tennessee’s Comprehensive Assessment Program (TCAP), released student test scores from the 2017-18 school year last Thursday, July 19, 2018. There were some areas of growth. Nevertheless, the overall results were not great—actually, far from it.

Elementary statewide proficiency in English/language arts went up to 35.7% from 33.9 in 2017; high school statewide proficiency in math went up to 22.5% from 21.5 percent in 2017. Across all other content areas and grade levels, scores either remained stagnant or went down.

It’s easy to attribute blame to large institutions; yet, if we indulge in a minute of introspection, we might be a little more hesitant to cast the first stone.

The school system is comprised of individuals—people like you and me. If we are not directly involved in the school system, we are involved indirectly—as parents, students, and at large—as members of our communities.

When I think of the challenges our school district and the public education system in general are facing, this quote by Walter Dyer from “The Richer Life” comes to mind:

“…and we endeavor to solve their problems en masse, by formulating a remedy for the ills of a group. The needs of an individual are lost sight of in contemplating the needs of society.”

We need to start being accountable in our individual roles as teachers, parents, students, policy makers, government representatives—heck, even Secretary of Education.

Memphis school board candidates speak out on what they want to change

Fifteen people are vying for four seats on the Shelby County Schools board this year. That’s much higher stakes compared to two years ago when five seats were up for election with only one contested race.

The election is Thursday, Aug. 2 with early voting starting Friday, July 13.

To learn more about these candidates and meet them in person, be sure to attend our forum 6:00 to 8:30 p.m. Thursday, July 19 at BRIDGES.

Note: School board candidates Roderic Ford, Percy Hunter, and Alvin Crook did not respond to the survey questions. We have included some general information about each of those candidates.

Read more here