Surviving the Teacher’s Lounge

One of the more toxic places in school happens to be the teachers’ lounge. The teachers’ lounge is supposedly a safe haven for teachers to go to without fear of being pestered by students or administrators. But that safe haven often becomes a den of venting teachers. Venting can be therapeutic, however, a therapy session can go south very quickly.

While you’ll never walk into a lounge with every teacher present, multiple teachers congregate there – in the mornings before the 1st bell, during random preps, common lunchtimes and at the end of the day. The more teachers that are in a there, the greater likelihood you’ll hear some negative talk about what’s happening in the building. The negative talk could be about administration, students, parents and even your teacher colleagues. Too much negative talk creates a toxic environment. For a new teacher, toxicity can demoralize their efforts to attempt their best work for their students. For veteran teachers, toxicity heard and felt in the teachers’ lounge can make you ready to run to the hills and get out of dodge.

Now I must be honest, there are times when going into the teachers’ lounge means working with teachers and actually creating solutions to problems in the classroom and in the building. Not to mention, the copy machine is usually there along with the staff refrigerator and microwave. However, opportunities for problem-solving also happen in classrooms. Also, you can eat elsewhere after retrieving and warming your food from the teachers’ lounge. So, is the teachers’ lounge a great place or is it a dungeon of negativity? It all depends on how you treat it. Just like any classroom, you can set the tone for the type of teachers’ lounge you want for your building. However, you may not feel strong enough to assert yourself in a way that confronts toxicity of any kind. Navigating and negotiating the teachers’ lounge is very complex; there is no one specific answer and what to do when confronted with teachers’ lounge toxicity. However, there are some strategies that you can use to help make the teachers’ lounge experience better for you and your colleagues:

ACTION STEPS:

  1. Refrain from gossiping and toxic venting when in the teachers’ lounge. You shouldn’t gossip at all and your venting should be for select ears at appropriate moments. But the teacher’s lounge shouldn’t be your “go-to” to do vent or gossip. Here’s why. All teachers are struggling with students, parents, district regulations and administrative nonsense – every teacher has a story to tell. But all those stories can weigh you down and all storytellers do not have a filter. You can’t control anyone but yourself. So you must resolve to hold your piece… unless speaking yields a productive result.
  2. Speak positivity and encouragement every time you meet negativity and discouragement. Life happens… work happens. Sometimes folk will be discouraged and ready to give in to negativity. When the spirit leads you, offer a positive word of encouragement. Your words may be just the thing to change the course of one’s day.
  3. Turn venting sessions into problem-solving sessions. When discussing frustrations, pose it as an opportunity for problem-solving. There will be times when you’ll be frustrated and you’ll speak to your colleagues. However, when you do, don’t just vent. Make it an opportunity for you and your colleague(s) to problem solve on your behalf. Do the same for them.
  4. Start a group with other teachers to brighten up the teachers’ lounge. Work with your colleagues to provide treats for all faculty and make the teachers’ lounge aesthetically pleasing. You could do this by yourself but working with others splits the labor, cost and builds community. Beautifying the teachers’ lounge and offering treats and/or tokens of appreciation to teachers can change the atmosphere of the room – a change most faculty will feel. That can begin to change how faculty carries themselves when in the teachers’ lounge.
  5. Only use the lounge to accomplish a task. If you need to make copies, make copies and leave. If you need to get your lunch and warm it up, do that and leave. If you need to do anything in the teachers’ lounge, do it and leave. Visiting the lounge with a purpose will keep you with a focus in the face of conversations that walk the line between venting and complaining – about an administrator, a student or another teacher. Get in and get out.

The teachers’ lounge isn’t the worst place in a school. However, it can be one of the more toxic spaces in a school. Be sure to choose your actions and words wisely when visiting so that you leave an inspirational word while not falling prey to the negativity; of any kind. Schools are places of hope. There is no room for a space of horror.

Let’s continue to press towards the mark!

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It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year

It’s that time of year again.

It’s the time of year that falls between the holiday season and spring break. It’s that time of the year where the prescribed off days are few. It’s that time of the year where children begin to feel restless, the calendar seems to stand still and the adults are starting to lose their patience. It’s that time of the year where the realization of the end of year failures for specific students grows stronger. Yes, ladies and gentlemen; I am talking about the months of January, February, and March.

There are cycles to the school year. Some people think of extracurricular activities when they think of the yearly cycles. Some people think of the marking periods when they think of the yearly cycles. But I tend to think of the yearly cycles in a different way. September and October are the beginnings of the year. It’s too early to call anything, teachers and students are still getting into the habit of teaching and learning, and the foundations of the school year are just being laid. November and December represent the holiday season. Everybody looks forward to Thanksgiving break and Christmas break. While those months are also the transition from the first marking period to the second, everything surrounds the four-day weekend in November and the week-plus off during Christmas and New Year’s.

The month of April is the last serious month of the school year. Standardized testing either has already happened or is about to happen. The months of May and June are the close of the school year; pretty much the school year is over. Very little in the way of new material is being introduced to students. Teachers are reviewing and prepping for finals at this point. Also, student and teacher levels of classroom fatigue are at an all-time high. The last day of school maybe in June but most people, teachers, and students included mentally departed school in April. The months of January, February, and March, however, are the dog days of the school year. They feel like they’ll never ever end. These are the crucial days that as a teacher, you must show your strongest resolve.

I don’t have the numbers or scientific research to back up what I’m about to tell you – all I have are my experiences. More fights, conflicts, and punishments happen during these three months than at any point in the school year. Students become both restless and apathetic. As a teacher, you are mandated to succeed in spite of student restlessness and apathy. So how do you do it? How do you succeed in spite of the students’ fatigue, and your own? How do you keep your fire burning to teach and how do you keep the engagement level high for students? Unfortunately, there’s no full proof answer. However, there are some things that you can do to help make these months not so tough.

ACTION STEPS:

  1. Reserve any of your desired field trips for the months of January, February and or March. Use those anticipated field trips to break the monotony of the time of year. A good time to go on a field trip is during the month of January.
  2. Take advantage of the opportunities to do outside of the box teaching and learning during Black history month. Black history month is a time for assemblies, guest speakers, the introduction of new content, current events discussions and field trips that will break up the monotony and also teach some powerful lessons to students.
  3. Incentivize their learning. Now is a great time to establish a learning objective and offer prizes, awards or a classroom pizza party. The focus on the end goal for students will be a good motivator – if the prize is worth it. Make sure you give a good gift for reaching the goal to sustain engagement.
  4. Create a continuous service learning project by forging a partnership with the local nonprofit. Any opportunity to work with a community organization is good. Getting the opportunity to apply learning outside the classroom is great. Create a partnership with an organization and get your kids out the classroom to engage in service once a month. This can help break the monotony.
  5. Plan a Spring pep rally. This is different from the pizza party. This would require you to get permission from the principal and to collaborate with your fellow teachers, but it could be worth doing. High schools do nights of games and activities. Elementary and middle schools could do the same thing during the school day. If not the full day, maybe a half day can be dedicated to school-wide competitions – academic and athletic – with prizes and rewards for winners. This is a nice event to have in the middle of the year to break things up. Instituting such an event may be a start to a new tradition.

January, February, and March are tough days to get through during any school year. However, choosing to just “get through them” rather than making the most of those days could make the days longer for you. Make sure that you do what you can to render those days as most enjoyable as possible – because the kids might make them unenjoyable if you don’t.

Let’s continue to press towards the mark!

Teaching Slavery Properly

American public schools do a poor job teaching the history of American slavery to children. That is probably true of private schools too.

I would also say that the majority of history teachers and administrators, the majority of whom are White, lack a comprehensive knowledge of American slavery. They may have read an article here and watch a movie there, but their comprehensive knowledge is limited. If that weren’t true, the case for slave reparations for Black people would be discussed more (The United Nations called for Black reparations from the United States), and you’d hear greater consideration given to the impact American slavery has had on the shaping of our current dispensation. If nothing else, all children would be empowered because they would be less ignorant. I don’t need a study to tell me that. However, there is a study that tells me that.

According to the Southern Poverty Law Center report:

“Schools are not adequately teaching the history of American slavery, educators are not sufficiently prepared to teach it, textbooks do not have enough material about it, and – as a result – students lack a basic knowledge of the important role it played in shaping the United States and the impact it continues to have on race relations in America.[1]

Here are some major highlights of the report:

  • Only 8 percent of high school seniors surveyed can identify slavery as the central cause of the Civil War.
  • Two-thirds (68 percent) don’t know that it took a constitutional amendment to formally end slavery.
  • Fewer than 1 in 4 students (22 percent) can correctly identify how provisions in the Constitution gave advantages to slaveholders.
  • Teachers are serious about teaching slavery, but there’s a lack of deep coverage of the subject in the classroom.
  • Although teachers overwhelmingly (over 90 percent) claim they feel “comfortable” discussing slavery in their classrooms, their responses to open-ended questions reveal profound unease around the topic.
  • Fifty-eight percent of teachers find their textbooks inadequate. Popular textbooks fail to provide comprehensive coverage of slavery and enslaved peoples.
  • The best textbook achieved a score of 70 percent against our rubric of what should be included in the study of American slavery; the average score was 46 percent.
  • States fail to set appropriately high expectations with their content standards. In a word, the standards are timid.
  • Of the 15 sets of state standards we analyzed, none addresses how the ideology of white supremacy rose to justify the institution of slavery; most fail to lay out meaningful requirements for learning about slavery, about the lives of the millions of enslaved people, or about how their labor was essential to the American economy.

It is no wonder that we hear Whites, and even some Blacks, say that slavery wasn’t a big deal. When you fail to learn the truth, you promote lies. School districts officials and teachers have lied to students for decades about American slavery and White supremacy. Some of it was intentional; much of it was ignorance. In a previous post, I argue against using textbooks; particularly for teaching history and literature. I looked at a number of U.S. history textbooks and I can tell you that they are exactly as represented in the SPLC report. In another post, I gave steps on how to go about teaching history that may be uncomfortable (but necessary) to teach all children. In this post, I’d like to point you to specific books to read and teach from specific to the topic of slavery.

Before I provide the materials to help you teach slavery, I must offer you a framework on what must be taught. Of course, there is only so much time during the school year to teach slavery. Unless the course is one on American slavery, your time is limited. However, you must focus on a few key areas when teaching American slavery. Please refer to the chart below:

Dynamics of American Slavery

A lot of topics run together when you consider slavery in American history. However, you must focus on the economics of slavery (how free Black labor made the United States wealthy and White people privileged), the life of slaves (how slavery impacted Black existence in America along with the way society around them reacted to the institution), Black resistance to slavery (how Black people chose to resist against their enslavement and that Black resistance as a major part of how Blacks responded to their enslavement), and the transition from the institution of slavery to the institution of separate and unequal (how Whites reluctantly abandoned on set of laws for another, yet never compromised their power and privilege during the switch). A focus on these four areas can provide you with a guideline on how to travel historically while offering students with a more comprehensive view of slavery’s impact on the economics and psychology of the United States.

There are so many great books to read that detail the peculiar institution; too many books to mention in one blog. These books that I name are some favorites of mine and also these are books that I have taught U.S. History from. You may find other books that help you teach slavery and American history. But in case you don’t have any recommendations or any idea on where to start, use this list. If you’re not a history teacher, pass it on to a friend who is. Regardless what you teach, these are books you should read anyway to gain knowledge and understanding.

TEXT RESOURCES:

5 Books

  1. INTRODUCTION: Africa’s Gift to AmericaJoel Augustus Rogers – I recommend this book for everyone to read (I recommend all of these books truthfully). This is a great account of American (and world) history offered by the preeminent historian J.A. Rogers. In this text, Rogers speaks of the economics of slavery, slave life, slave resistance, the civil war, the revolutionary war, and reconstruction. Rogers also speaks to the history of the Greeks traveling to Egypt and taking information back to Greece, claiming it as their own.
  2. ECONOMIC: The Half Has Never Been ToldEdward E. Baptist – Baptist opens the door to the foundation of American capitalism: slavery. This text gives a very thorough account of how the economics of slavery shaped the United States in various ways. An important aspect of this text is Baptist’s detail of how both the North and South worked hand-in-hand to benefit from African enslavement. This text is essential for understanding the interplay of politics, economics and international affairs where slavery is concerned. As with the previous title, this book is an absolute must-read.
  3. SLAVE LIFE: The Slave CommunityJohn W. Blassingame – Blassingame does detailed work in exposing the life of slaves and the foundations of African American culture; a culture which has its origins in the pain of and triumph over slavery. Blassingame offers the bad, the ugly and the resourcefulness slaves found in life on the plantation. This text also offers details of resistance and the social norms established by Whites in the context of the Black experience. Another goodie found in this book are quotes from slaves – these quotes not only offer insight into slave life, but they offer a look into the foundations of the African-American Vernacular English (AAVE); a dialect used by many Black people today, including Black students.
  4. RESISTANCE: The Encyclopedia of Slave Resistance & RebellionJunius P. Rodriguez – This is a great resource for detailing the many instances of slave rebellions and revolts. We hear of Nat Turner and Gabriel Prosser (maybe), but there are so many more rebellions and acts of resistance that never get told. This text provides you with an opportunity to tell more of those instances and explore them in greater detail. You may not explore or teach all that is laid out here. However, you can teach more than what is traditionally offered and this text also serves as a resource for your students to dive into when they wish to seek more information on Black rebellion in the United States. This encyclopedia also mentions resistance in Central America, South American, and the Caribbean; although the book focuses heavily on North American Black resistance efforts.
  5. TRANSITION: Black ReconstructionW.E.B. DuBois – Black Reconstruction is a masterpiece; a great explanation of the condition of the slave, the master, and the working White. It also explains the division of proletariat factions and the return to slavery via Jim Crow. This book is not a quick read. However, it is well worth diving into. The information DuBois lays out here sets the course for 20th century America and beyond. There are many titles by DuBois worth purchasing: Philadelphia Negro, Souls of Black Folk… Black Reconstruction also belongs in the canon of texts by Black authors and in the canon of American history.

Again, as I said there are more texts that one can use to help teach slavery. However, these texts offer a good place to start. Warning: don’t expect to read these during a jammed packed school year the week before your unit on slavery – you won’t. If you attempt to do that you will find these text overwhelming and you will abandon them. Take between now and the end of the school year to purchase each text (either you personally or your school/district). During the summer, take a month to read these and take notes. Use the summer to think about how to construct lessons. Begin planning lessons and refer to my previous post for help with implementing those lessons. Formal and thoughtful teaching happens in the classroom. You will only be comfortable teaching slavery properly as you grow comfortable learning these hard truths yourself. However, these texts provide a safe space to learn and learn from preeminent scholars. Take the plunge and tell the truth.

Let’s continue to press towards the mark!

 

 

[1] You can download the full SPLC report here: https://www.splcenter.org/sites/default/files/tt_hard_history_american_slavery.pdf

From Wakanda With Love

There has been much fanfare surrounding the latest Marvel comic, turned movie Black Panther. Black people across the diaspora are excited about this movie, what it means and what it represents. Black Panther proves that an all-Black cast with a Black director can put together a quality film from head to toe, that can be a major winner at the box office – the movie is staring down $1 billion at the box office worldwide. This movie has something for everybody; Black people (of course), comic nerds (we love y’all too), and also educators… yes, educators too.

A teacher recently created a Wakanda curriculum for her middle school students as a lesson and teaching companion to the movie. It’s a well-developed piece of teaching that I recommend all educators implement; whether their students see the movie or not. With that said, many Black people believe that Black children need to see this movie; that black children need to powerful images of people who look like them who happen to be heroes from the continent of Africa. Many celebrities and good-natured folk who paid for Black children to see the movie. I believe that educators, particularly non-Black educators should to see this movie. It’s a great movie, but what I believe is important for educators to grab from the film are the messages concerning Black students that are vital if we really want to end the school to prison pipeline and help Black children be all they can be both academically and personally. Here are my five major takeaways from the film that educators must consider when educating Black children (I apologize for the spoilers, however by now, you should have seen the movie):

ACTION STEPS:

  1. Strongly consider teaching from an Afrocentric perspective. Black people worldwide were excited to see this movie; a movie that was a picture of Blackness that encapsulated the regaled elegance, storied culture and intellectual contributions of the diaspora since the beginning. Many of us continue to reach for Wakanda. Unfortunately, many of us were not taught about how Africa and African thought shaped much of the Western world. We weren’t taught of African explorers who traveled to the “New World” prior to Columbus. We weren’t taught that African theologians, who shaped Christianity in the West and the East, were African. A fictional dark-skinned superhero can do wonders for the self-esteem of Black children. What can do even more for Black self-esteem no matter the age is knowing the truth about the contributions of Black peoples throughout human history. Black history didn’t begin in 1619. Africa has contributed to and continues to contribute to humanity. Rather than continuing to educate through a lens of Eurocentrism, STRONGLY consider educating through the lens of Afrocentrism.
  2. Acknowledge, identify and address Black childhood trauma. It’s easy to dislike Eric Killmonger for his anger and his violent behavior in satisfying that anger. Many cite Killmonger’s character as a common trope of the angry Black man. However, Killmonger endured major trauma as a child. His father was killed and he knew that his family from Africa never checked for him. That trauma-informed his life decisions. There was no one to help him through the pain. He took it upon himself to inform his own therapy. However, that pain only led to him causing pain in the name of help a self-righteous cause. The same can potentially happen (and has happened) to Black children who’ve experienced trauma. Educators must do a better job of identifying and supporting students who have endured trauma of any sort. We must abandon the foolish idea that black children are less innocent than white children… or narratives that say, Black people, women, in particular, are so emotionally strong, or even physically strong, that they can endure anything. Our failure to identify and address Black childhood trauma may lead to children taking therapy in their own hands; coping in unhealthy ways that are assisted by a lack of psychological and cultural awareness on the part of adults.
  3. Realize that education for Black people is intrinsically linked to Black Liberation. For T’Challa and Killmonger, their missions came down to helping people. Killmonger wanted to use the resources of Wakanda to help Black people worldwide fight oppression. His education was a means to achieve that end. T’Challa went steps further than his father… he decided to use resources of Wakanda to help those areas where his father sent spies – one place, in particular, was Oakland: the foundation of Killmonger’s trauma. Knowledge has a purpose. It always has for Black people. From Blacks who learned how to read and write to escape slavery to Blacks who went to law school to fight segregation, redlining, and gerrymandering; education has always been a means to an end – Black Liberation. If you can answer the question, “how does the knowledge of this thing I seek to teach further the cause of Black Liberation?” then you can teach whatever the “this” is to Black children.
  4. Absent the right environment, Black children may conceal intelligence to protect their spirits. For fear of being colonized and exploited by the Western world, Wakanda shielded themselves to appear as a third world country. Once in Wakanda, the CIA agent couldn’t believe the advanced society Wakanda created. His bias was smacked right in his face. The same has happened to many an educator; when exposed to the intelligence of a Black child they perceived to be stupid, their ignorance and bias smacked them in the face. Schools kill the spirits of Black children every day. Schools over discipline Black children and schools undervalue the minds of Black children. Black children know when educators care or don’t care about them. When they know you don’t care about them, they don’t trust you enough to willing offer their hope, dreams, and intellect to you for fear of you exploiting them and failing to properly cultivate them. So, just because a Black child doesn’t “show” you that they are “smart” doesn’t mean they are not. Maybe, you haven’t earned the trust of that child to allow you rights to visit the Wakanda that is their spirit.
  5. There is no community without the elders. T’Challa was surrounded by elders, including his mother and the spiritual advisor. T’Chaka played an advisory role even in death. T’Challa was supported and empowered by the elders throughout the movie. The community of leaders and elders important to the key moments of Wakandan life. The same is true for Black children. You cannot teach Black children, absent the Black community. Educators love calling parents and maybe visiting homes; they enjoy calling Black men to greet children on the first day of school and inviting parents to the school on their terms. However, between the hours of 8:30am to 2:30pm (or whatever time school starts and ends), educators shut their doors and adopt a posture that says to the community, “we know what’s best, not you.” You’re six hours a day with a child isn’t enough. To make real connections in the life of a child, you must make links between the curriculum in school and the curriculum in the community. Along the lines of the education for liberation theme, you must invite community leaders and activists into the classroom to speak and to teach students. This is how you strengthen community – understanding that in the fight to educate, the community is your strongest and most staunch ally.

Educators must keep these things in mind rather than seeking the next “flavor of the month” to “close the achievement gap.” Use these takeaways to redirect your curricula, reframe professional development, rework discipline practices and reintroduce the school to the community. If educators are serious about teaching every child, particularly Black children in our nation’s cities, “get rich quick” remedies must be abandoned. The real work is in confronting White supremacy and White Male patriarchy with students and community; empowering them to, and assisting them with, dismantling it.

Let’s continue to press towards the mark!