Escaping the Typecast

One of my favorite actors is Samuel L. Jackson. Sam Jackson’s resume is extensive. He’s been in such movies as Pulp Fiction, Jungle Fever, Coming to America, 187, a Time to Kill, Coach Carter and Django. Unfortunately, Sam Jackson has been victim of the Hollywood typecast. A typecast is when an actor or actress is redundantly assigned a similar role in different movies. In Sam Jackson’s case, what is the similarity in almost all of his on screen roles: most times, he’s the angry Black man who curses more than the average sailor. I honestly cannot think of a movie where Sam Jackson smiled regularly. I guess angry Black men sell more movie tickets than happy ones. Black men have much more emotional depth to them than what they are portrayed as, but I digress.

Unfortunately, many actors and actresses of color are often typecast and unless there is a “role” for them, they may be excluded from roles. The same is true for many teachers of color. Sure, you may have been hired formally as a social studies teacher but you are a Black male who can “control” Black students where others can’t. You may have been hired as the school psychologist but actually you’re needed to speak to Spanish speaking parents because you are one of two people in the whole school who can speak Spanish. Teachers of color often get typecast whenever they enter a school building. No matter if they are assumed to be a specific “type” by administration, colleagues or students, teachers of color work very hard daily to show their competence for the actual job they were hired for without compromising the very versatility that schools misuse, underutilized and take for granted.

You may be typecast as a particular type of teacher of color. How do you escape the typecast? What will it take for you to been seen as a content leader and strong instructional talent in your building? First you must understand the various “types” and then you must do the necessary things to ensure that you break the intellectual (and prejudicial) cocoon that traps many of your colleagues where you work.

Different Typecasting Roles for Teachers of Color in the Schools:

  1. Big Momma – you are the woman who is mother to everyone. Whenever a student or young teacher has a problem, they’re sent to you to fix it – no matter what it is. You are the person the principal leans on to get everyone to go along with whatever it is they want to do because no one will want to disappoint you. But you’re just Big Momma; too “important” to be promoted to do something different.
  2. The Cool Mentor – you are the person who may be younger, maybe or may have been an athlete and maybe from the neighborhood where the school is located. All the students love you and so you are called upon to get the kids to listen to you and you are used as a threat to do the same. You are an afterthought unless the administration needs student buy-in or student compliance.
  3. The Token – you are the person who is unlike any perceived person of color. You are highly intelligent in an academic sense and everyone knows it. Unfortunately, people do not see you as versatile enough to be a person who can have the type of influence to get students to do as the school wishes like Big Momma or the Cool Mentor. So you are used for your certification and as a resource for and over teachers who aren’t as academic as you.
  4. The Enforcer/Tough Lover – you are the individual seen as the 1 person who can get students in line. You are the person all the students are afraid of; they maybe more afraid of you then their own parent(s). You are in the building to do one thing… keep students in check doing anything to them with the exception of physical harm. This is your life purpose according to everyone else in your building: those who can’t manage a classroom and even those who can.
  5. The Graduate – you are the young (or middle aged) person who graduated from where you are currently teaching. You have a familiar intimacy with the school community. You know students and their families. Your emotional intelligence is seen as a major asset for mobilizing families, engaging with parents and tapping into students. Unfortunately, the ties that you have are only utilized for district/building initiative. It is one of the only times when you are utilized as well. You tend to only be seen as a graduate of the school who is certified to teach.
  6. The Bilingual – you speak both English and Spanish and tend to be called upon to speak to, reach and teach bilingual students and parents. You are underutilized by the administration aside from doing you’re the job you were hired for.
  7. The Man of the House – you are probably one of the only men in your entire school. Whenever a student gets out of hand, you are the person called to either calm them down or escort them out of the classroom. It doesn’t matter what you are doing, if a man is needed, you will be called. Don’t worry, classroom coverage will always be found for you.

Action Steps:

  1. Become a Thought Leader (RRWP)
    1. Read – stay current in education and in your content area. If you teach in a suburb, stay current on issues that touch your population of students. If you are an urban educator who teaches history, understand how history has created the conditions that underscore the life of your students. Be informed and share that info with your students.
    2. Research – ask questions about how you educate and how your students learn. Question everything that is of interest to you that will help students grow. Test those questions through inquiry and research. Use that research to inform your decision making, your teaching methods and your philosophy of education. Share your research with other practitioners to keep them informed and to make them aware of how to improve their practice also.
    3. Write – blog, write commentaries for local newspapers and for periodical magazines. Share, share and share. Spread your thoughts to a wide audience and grow your brand. Use your experience, what you’ve read and your research to inform your writing.
    4. Present – present your thoughts, accomplishments and research at conferences both regionally and nationally. Share what you know. Don’t be afraid of the spotlight.
  2. Become a Teacher Leader
    1. Apply for Teacher Leader Positions In Your School
    2. Run for Union President or Become a Union Representative
  3. Define Your Role; Don’t Have It Dictated To You – you set your own course for the educator you want to become. Don’t let district/building objectives and administrator “needs” prevent you from being who you want to be for the students you teach.
  4. Protect Your Brand – as you mature and develop as a teacher, you create a brand, whether you realize it or not. Be a person of integrity, accountability and transparency. Never compromise who you are as a professional and as a resource for students.
  5. Become a Mentor – find a teacher in need within your building or district and offer to mentor them; either formally or informally.

Your administrators and teaching colleagues may assume that you fit one of the “roles” that I listed above. They very well may typecast you as soon as you walk in your building at the beginning of the year. But those typecast can be shed by you when you continue in your professionalism to remind people that you are more than the perception they have of you. You save and improve lives daily inside the classroom.

Let’s continue to press towards the mark!


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