A Commitment to Justice: Educator to Educator

Sep 28, 2017 12:00:00 AM

by Jemelleh Coes

Recently,  I thought about what accountability looks like between educators. I thought about what I hope other educators will hold me accountable for and what I will commit to holding them accountable for, a pledge that we all take, in an effort to grow and know better. Here’s what I came up with:
I am holding you accountable for making students feel safe and supported. Honor you students' experiences by listening and learning with them. Talk to students about issues that are going on in the world around them. Support them in thinking deeper and more reflectively about a variety of issues while helping them to recognize their role and responsibility in creating a more equitable society.  I am holding you accountable for your own learning. Read, research, engage with different media sources, observe with an open mind, and then ask questions. Conversations and experiences with diverse groups of people are very important and can be very impactful, but they can fall flat if you have not done your due diligence by taking responsibility for your own learning outside of those conversations and experiences. Do your homework. It shows that you are truly investing in learning.  I am holding you accountable for calling out injustice. Silence is communication. As Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said, " In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends."  Name the injustices you see and make CLEAR that you do not support them, often. Use your voice wherever it can be heard.  I am holding you accountable for "calling-in" your colleagues who exhibit or embody racist, sexist, classist, xenophobic, heterosexist, ableistic, and otherwise intolerant ideas or behavior.  When your colleague shows prejudice, discriminatory, or stereotypical behavior, talk to them about it. Question it. Ask for clarification. Reflect back to them exactly what they are portraying. Remember that they might feel defensive because being called on your biases or bigotry can be tough. Do this in caring and thoughtful ways. And on the flip side, if you are being called in, check your ego. It's not about you. It's about the work of creating a more just society. 
This is the job we signed up to do. I once heard someone describe teachers as the guardians of the American Dream. That’s a lot. Maybe even too much. But if I believe that that idea is even half true, then I believe that we have a responsibility to uphold the following: “One nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and JUSTICE for ALL.” We must hold each other accountable to it. Our students deserve it. Humanity demands it. Our nation depends on it.

Jemelleh Coes

Jemelleh Coes is Georgia’s 2014 Teacher of the Year. She spent six years teaching English/language arts and math in both the general and special education setting at Langston Chapel Middle School. While there, she also worked as the site supervisor for the 21st Century Learning Community Afterschool/Summer Program. She is currently working on her Ph.D. in educational theory and practice with certificates in interdisciplinary law and policy, disability studies, and qualitative research at the University of Georgia. She currently works as a field instructor for teacher candidates at the University of Georgia in the middle grades teacher preparation program. She also serves as a teacher mentor for classroom teachers throughout the state. In this capacity, she supports teachers with career development and special projects. While pursuing her terminal degree, Jemelleh serves as the education co-chair for Georgia’s National Association of the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) Chapter, president-elect of the Georgia Teachers of the Year Association, advisory councilman for the Georgia Partnership of Excellence in Education, board member for the Georgia Cyber Academy, advisory councilman of Georgia’s Network for Transforming Educator Preparation, and board member for Georgia Southern University Alumni Association. She is also a very active member of  the National Network of State Teachers of the Year and Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc. She travels nationwide to give keynote addresses and workshops for schools, districts, policymakers, businesses, communities, and service organizations to discuss hot topics in  education and to keep them engaged in how everyone can work together to ensure a bright for all students. She is the daughter of immigrant parents from Guyana and a first-generation college graduate. She was born in Brooklyn, New York and raised in Decatur, Georgia. She received her bachelor’s and master’s degree in education from Georgia Southern University. She lives in Athens, Georgia with her husband Alvie Coes, III and three-year-old daughter, Gabrielle.

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