I never asked to be a disciplinarian when I taught. But I was often thrusted into the role.
To be honest however, I was good at it; very good at it. I took on a fatherly persona as a teacher. So, when it came to managing student behavior, I had relatively few problems. My colleagues, especially my administrators, knew that also. I was often the “go to” person. “Mr. Miller can handle those students.” I cannot tell you how many times I’ve been left in lunch duty by myself – by accident and on purpose – because it was understood that I could “handle” the students.
But that wasn’t my job. I was hired and desired to teach; not tell kids to stop because someone else is ineffective at discipline or because administration wants the rules of the building constantly reinforced. I had a decision to make; either accept the role that was being forced on me or engage in some self-care by both standing up for myself while remaining strategic.
If you are a Black teacher, specifically a Black male teacher, looking to figure out how not to be defaulted into the role of disciplinarian by your colleagues and administrators at your school, here are some tips that worked for me that may work for you.
- Politely Decline. Sometimes, colleagues among the faculty will request assistance. They’ll tax you over and over. When a teacher asked me to assist, and that assistance required more than a simple backing up the teacher, I would simply refer them to the principal, vice principal or the main office. Disciplinarian was not my job and it is not your job. Sometimes you’ve got to remind folks. It may piss some off, but oh well. That’s a part of your self-care.
- Quid Pro Quo. This may sound bad but, if anyone, particularly an administrator requested my assistance, I would oblige them and use the request as currency for something I needed. No matter where you work, office politics is major. Sometimes you have to play along to get along. Play the game strategically to position your impact with a building as well as your career.
- Tell on Folks and Document the Evidence. Whenever I was left to hold the bag a.k.a. run cafeteria duty by myself, I would tell on folks. If a teacher failed to show up consecutive times for duty, I would tell on them. If an administrator leaned on me too much as a disciplinarian, I called them out on it – at worse, I informed the union and in the case where there was no union, I documented what happened through a email memo to the administrator.
- Get Paid For It. If folks want you in the role of disciplinarian (and you see your ministry as a Black educator in that role), parlay your skills into an administrative role that will increase your salary, specifically a vice principal position. Once upon a time, I took that course of action.
- Turn It Into a PD Opportunity. As folks looked to me, I requested (demanded really) time to teach the teachers about culturally competent teaching so they could be better with classroom management and discipline. It helped some. But it also showed off my skills a presenter, facilitator and teacher. My colleagues got to see me as someone other than a disciplinarian of Black children. They got to see me as a knowledgeable member of the school community.
- Show Off Your Data Skills. Meaning, I’ve collected data from my students and when I was able to openly display the impact I was having academically, some of my conversation shifted from me as the disciplinarian to me as the instructional coach. Data is big in schools right now. Use that to your advantage.
- Get Another Teaching Job and Tell Them Why. Sometimes, you just have to leave a place. It may be unfortunate for the students, but better to go to another school than leave the profession altogether. When you do walk away from that school, be sure to lay out why during the exit interview. Hat you say may help them when they hire the next Black teacher.
- Don’t Volunteer to be the Disciplinarian. If you don’t advertise your willingness and ability to “redirect” student behavior, you may not be leaned on to do it. However, the catch 22 is that maybe you are the right person for it because of your passion and care for the students compared to the other folks who may or may not care about children that are in charge of discipline. In any case, always do the job of modeling the student behavior you want to see and monitor student behavior in your classroom.
These things are no guarantee for preventing you from the typecast. But they can help offset the pressure and demands folks put on your blackness. But always remember to be steadfast in who you are, what you are at the school to do and what foolishness you will not participate in.
Let’s continue to press towards the mark!