So, I’m in month 3 of my first year of teaching. It’s still challenging, frustrating and very rewarding at times. I still have my battles with the Reading and Writing Workshop Model, but I am slowly starting to see the benefits of it–even if I’m not always sure what they are.
But, there is one issue I still have problems with. At the school I work at, I’m one of a few teachers who are male, and of those male teachers, I can count on one hand how many of them are black men. There are 100 teachers on staff at my school apparently, and educators of color are in the minority at my school. In my particular academy, I’m the only black literacy teacher…PERIOD. There are other black literacy teachers, but in my particular academy a big deal has (and still is) being made because I’m the only black male working there this year.
At times, it doesn’t bother me: I have always been used to being “the only one” or “one of a few.” I was one of a handful of students of color at both my undergraduate and graduate schools–the grad school touting itself as being a bastion of diversity and equality. It reallly wasn’t, But, that is another post in and of itself. Yet, there are times when it does bother me. Specifically, it bothers me because some of my white colleagues tend to use that as a kind of “fall back” when trying to explain to me how I have such an easy time teaching.
I have been trying to tell people that I have been struggling and screwing up left and right. I have had my second observation by my assistant principal, and it was WAY better than the first one. I still have a lot of improvements to make. But, of course, no one sees that since I teach in the honors academy. The honors academy I work at is known for hiring either Ivy League grads OR students from very prestigious schools of education. But, it doesn’t mean that I am any better than anyone else. I have always wanted to be a teacher, and I am committed to education and all that it offers the students I teach, etc.
But, there was one particular episode that really made me question how ignorant and disturbing people can be when it comes to dealing with a colleague who isn’t white. The situation in question happened a week before the holidays. During one of my free periods, I was walking the halls of an academy on another floor of my school. I was hoping to speak to a friend of mine who teaches there, but she wasn’t in her room. So, I decided I wanted to check the floor out. I was told that the kids on this floor were extremely unruly and evil. Yet, the ones I met from the floor were very kind and respectful to me, since I started teaching there in September (I think it has a lot to do with the fact that I’m cool with their teacher, who everyone loves to death.) On this particular day, I was walking past a room where there was complete chaos. Kids were screaming at each other, throwing paper and pencils at one another–it was scary. The teacher, a NYC Teaching Fellow in her first year–like me, was completely frustrated. So, I walked into her class and asked her if she needed help with calming her class down. She said yes, and I helped her out with doing something I do in my classes every day: There were students who were quietly waiting for class to start. I went over and thanked them and told them to take out their materials for class and gave them a sticker for their behavior (Who knew that middle school kids like stickers so much? It was a class of 6th graders.) I did this for two other tables in the classroom.
The other kids who were talking loudly and acting up stopped. They wanted to know why the other kids got stickers. I smiled, and told them: “It’s very simple. The kids who got stickers were quiet, followed the teacher’s directions and waited for class to begin. Yet, because the rest of you don’t know how to act and checked your manners at the door, you won’t get a sticker from me. Now, what you need to do is to take out your pen or pencil, open your reader’s response notebook and copy the directions on the board. Once you do that, you will wait for Ms. — to begin.” The class was quiet. Now, mind you, it has taken me a couple of months to be able to calm my classes down. My biggest strength is not yelling. I can get my point across by being firm and raising my voice to make a point. I’m still working on this as a classroom management technique, but it is one that works for me.
The class quieted down and the teacher proceeded with class. I thought things would be fine then. But, they weren’t. I finally got to the teacher’s lounge for lunch and ran into the teacher and her friends. The teacher was happy I helped her with managing her class, but she killed the entire comment with one of the most irritating replies one could give me: “Oh, it must be so easy for you. You’re black, and they look up to you. They connect with you immediately. I’m a white woman, and they don’t respect me at all. You must understand their situation completely….”
I just looked at her. Seriously? Since I am a black man, I connect with black and latino kids quickly? OKAY….I don’t think so. It would be easy to say that!