by Sierra Watson
“I hope I can show The Outsiders movie virtually through zoom this year!” Teacher A remarked at the meeting. “I know, that is the highlight of our kids’ year; they absolutely love reading this book and watching the movie,” Teacher B replied. My two colleagues (white females) discussed a book read by our middle school students in English Language Arts—The Outsiders. They were ecstatic about being able to show the movie after their students were finished reading the book. On the other hand, I was a little less reluctant to have my students read the book or watch the movie in class.
The Outsiders is a fiction book, written in 1983, and details the lives of five white boys from a small, rural town. The author, a white female, wrote this book to reflect her experiences with gangs and highschool life while growing up in rural Oklahoma. She also includes many references to cultural icons during that era: Hanks Williams, Elvis Presley, and Paul Newman. Needless to say, The Outsiders book does not exactly fit the “culturally responsive curriculum” framework, given that the majority of our students in the school are Black and Latino. I had so many objections about this book running through my mind:
-“Why are we still reading a book that does not even include a single black or brown person as a character.”
– So, how are these kids going to connect to all of these white cultural references? -The author does not even try to include any of the black artists and musicians during the 1980s as if they did not exist.
What I wanted to do was give a passionate speech about the damage of our current “eurocentric” curriculum, emphasize the importance of “mirrors” in our books and discuss how the recent social unrest in our nation should have changed the way in which we were even choosing to educate our students this year. Instead, I remained quiet and chose not to voice any of my concerns to the team.
I attributed my cowardice in the meeting to my introverted personality (I am always an internal processor), lack of tenure (I am currently a 2nd-year teacher), and the sudden transition to online learning (prioritize your battles amidst virtual learning). Feeling “guilt-ridden” for not challenging the curriculum, I silently vowed to myself that I would be more vocal in the meetings. On the other hand, I also reflected on the structural factors that made me, a black woman, hesitant to give my honest opinion in the school meetings at my school.
I am one of three black educators in my middle school, which roughly employs 25 academic teachers (22 are white). Teachers of Color represent a small minority, while over three-quarters of our students are Latino and Black. And in my brief time in the school district, I have witnessed how Teachers of Color experience subtle microaggression and are seen as a threat if they choose to speak up about issues as it pertains to equity, diversity, and inclusion in predominantly white educational spaces.
I have witnessed how Teachers of Color experience subtle microaggression and are seen as a threat if they choose to speak up about issues as it pertains to equity, diversity, and inclusion in predominantly white educational spaces. Click To Tweet
One instance of this happened to a coworker who was ridiculed by her white colleagues in a professional development meeting. Last month, teachers were placed in groups and tasked with discussing our district’s equity statement. The fellow teachers in her particular group commented, “We already know how she feels about this equity stuff.” In fact, they even wanted group changes because they did not want to continue to hear her perspective. Another fellow Teacher of Color was told by an administrator (Black male) that she needed to “assimilate” into the school culture in order to avoid confrontation with her other white colleagues. Mind you, this teacher has been actively involved in the district’s equity leadership work for years and was a strong advocate for students in her building. A lack of administrative support and after years of feeling “unheard,” she has decided to leave the school district.
Furthermore, these circumstances do not change, even if a teacher of color happens to be in an educational leadership role. In a meeting held for teachers of color in our district, an elementary school principal confessed that she experienced an increased level of insubordination from white teachers in her school. They were less reluctant to comply with her leadership, and in her words, “uncomfortable taking orders from a Black woman over them.” The list does not end here, I have known many other teachers who have faced mistreatment by their white colleagues and have felt isolated and overall unwanted in these environments.
If we seek to have more equitable practices towards students in educational settings, it must first begin with embracing the ideas, voices, and leadership of teachers of color. Teachers of color who choose to raise their voices should not be looked upon as a threat in white educational spaces. We have a critical perspective that will nonetheless challenge and disrupt the “status quo” educational system, a system that has not positioned them for success-historically or currently. Moreover, we have ideas, gifts, and solutions that can meet the learning gaps for our black and brown students given the “right” environment.
So, I am here to first affirm my teachers of color in predominantly white spaces -you ARE ENOUGH, your voice DOES MATTER, and you are VALUABLE in your school buildings and to your students. Now, to my white educators, I challenge you to observe how teachers of color (and administrators) are treated in your building. Do they feel comfortable challenging your school’s predominant white culture? Or are teachers of color usually quiet or compliant in school meetings? Lastly, has your school/district been receptive to diverse perspectives? Nevertheless, we cannot begin to tackle the educational disparities of our black and brown students but overlook one of the groups that matter the most-teachers of color.
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