Months ago, the Education Trust released a report titled Through Our Eyes which detailed the experiences and feelings of Black teachers in American public schools. The revelations that Black teachers made in the report echoes many of the thoughts and feelings that I experienced while in the classroom. Most of my Black colleagues shared similar sentiments as I did and the teachers shared in this report. Much of the discussion surrounding Black teachers has to do with their importance, how to recruit more of them and how to retain more of them. I tend to focus on the last of those ideas because if you cannot keep Black teachers in the classroom, recruiting more of them really doesn’t matter and admitting their importance to students is lip service at best. According to a 2012-2013 National Center for Education Statistics report, the highest percentage of teachers who moved or left the profession when race was considered was Black teachers, followed by Latino teachers when compared to all other racial groups. One way to keep Black teachers is to know who Black teachers are and who they are not. As non-Black practitioners prepare for the next school year, there are some things that must be understood about Black teachers – it is not about capitulation but rather sensitivity to roles, responsibilities and vocation. Consider these truths about Black teachers in your building and live these truths each day as a sign of respect for your Black teacher colleagues.
- I am not the de-facto disciplinarian. I can offer you pointers on classroom management, but it is not my responsibility to get your students to behave. There isn’t any code that I’ve cracked for managing a student who you find to be a terror. To be a good classroom manager, you must grow. Again, I can give you tips, but I can’t do your job.
- I am not necessarily from the neighborhood. Just because I am Black and share a familiarity with some student experiences, it isn’t necessarily because I am from the “hood,” so don’t assume. Rather recognize that the skin color that I share with students facilitates an unspoken bond shaped by the experience of being a person of color in America; consider what that means.
- My going above and beyond doesn’t absolve you from going above and beyond. By simply caring for a child, you can do something that moves beyond the school day to impact a student. Teaching is a caring business. If you care enough, you will see the needs of kids that extend beyond the classroom. If the spirit leads, join the village and serve. My presence and passion don’t mean you can simply clock in and clock out.
- My going above and beyond is not to compensate for any incompetence. There is no incompetence with me. I can do the job: I worked like you to earn the degree(s) and acquire the credentials to be an instructional leader. While my love for children of color leads me to minister to my children outside the classroom, it doesn’t replace my knowledge, skill set, and presence that I offer in the classroom. I am an expert too. I am an instructional expert. My spirit is what extends my impact beyond the classroom.
- My going above and beyond doesn’t give you the right to assume my role is surrogate parent first and teacher second. I am aware that students may see me as a parent and I may be fatherly or motherly to reach and teach students, but I am not their parent – I am their teacher. They have parents and my role is to assist them by loving their children when in my presence. It is no one’s place but my own to take on the burden of
- I am not leaving my Blackness at the door. I am not going to separate my truth and the reality my students face from the classroom. I may break the curriculum to speak about violence in the neighborhood, fears of the deportation of family members and unarmed Black people being killed by police. I understand teaching to meet academic objectives but my job is to speak life and liberation.
- I am not here for just Black students. I am here for White students, Latino students, Asian students… I am here for all students. Unfortunately, Black people do not always receive the most accurate portrayals by various forms of media. It is good for all groups of students to see a positive example of a Black person who is leading and imparting knowledge. We do desire to teach our people. We also desire to extend our reach to teaching ALL children.
- I will not bash students and parents with you during a “friendly” vent session nor am I here to listen to any bashing of students and parents. We can talk about challenges and finding solutions, but I am not here for victim blaming, pathology promoting or pseudo-cultural affirming axioms you believe apply to all students.
Remember, the classroom (and the school system) is a traditionally White institutional space. Keeping these items in mind isn’t about acquiescing power to the demands of diversity. Rather understanding these items are about understanding the truth Black teachers live daily and what that means for their practice… and yours.
Let’s continue to press towards the mark!
 Much more than a mere geographical designation, the concept “white institutional space” elucidates how institutions become normatively white in policy and practice by explicitly accounting for the intersecting mechanisms—structure, culture, ideology, and discourse—that justify and reproduce white privilege, power, and accumulation of resources in these institutions (Moore 2008)