Before I stroll into my routine of being a habitual line stepper, let me state my usual disclaimer. Educators, I love and appreciate y’all. I think you have one of the most difficult jobs in the world in educating our kids while navigating a system that doesn’t show you the respect and, in most cases, compensation you need and deserve.
Now here comes the shade—but it's also a heartfelt and stern truth. With the impact the coronavirus has had and will have on education, I think now is a good time to admit that some of y’all just aren’t good at your jobs and head out. And yes, I said what I said.
Last week I wrote a piece where, early on, I sympathized with district administrators, school leaders and parents because figuring out how to teach our kids during a pandemic hasn’t been easy—and I extend those same sentiments to you all. But we have to be honest about where we’ve been and where we are and [pullquote]we simply cannot afford to have our Black students—the most notorious victims of an already failing system—continue to sink in these abysmal opportunity gaps.[/pullquote] Because at this point, the investment in access and quality in content and engagement around education could literally be a matter of life and death for some of them.
Now, I’m not putting an entire ecosystem of failure solely on y’all. Everyone was thrown into distance learning with very little—if any—preparation. I’ve heard many educators—especially those in low-income, under-resourced schools—complain about limited resources and access to professional development/training opportunities. And I’m fully aware that bad leadership at the school, district, state and federal levels cause a domino effect that ultimately impacts the classroom. But teachers are still part of that ecosystem—as we all are.
We live in a world where if you’re not good at your job, you lose it. Hell, I’ve had to swallow that pill a time or two. But the exception to that rule has been with teachers unions finagling their way through policies and practices for political plays and membership gains, allowing ineffective teachers to keep their jobs and checks—much like they’re doing now with some of their demands around returning to school during the pandemic.
It’s absolutely reasonable for teachers to voice their concerns about returning to classrooms in the midst of the coronavirus—essential workers have been doing it since this thing started, but they haven’t seen much grace. But for unions to go so far as to demand that teachers not return to classrooms and have stipulations around how distance learning should look, using rebuttals such as, “Many teachers have expressed anxiety over how they and their homes will look on camera during live teaching,” is ridiculous.
And [pullquote]if you’re one of these teachers whose superficial plight and privilege takes precedence over a child’s right and need to actually learn, do us and them a favor and quit.[/pullquote]
Also, if you’re a teacher who hasn't been able to overcome implicit and explicit biases and prejudices that criminalize poverty, skin color and disabilities, you need to exit left quickly. We’ve seen and had enough of our kids being over-disciplined, under-educated and overall, underestimated.
We’re living in traumatic times. In addition to fighting a deadly virus, we’re in a space of civil unrest fueled by racial tension, violence and injustice and I’m pretty damn sure all of these emotions and anxieties will find a way to manifest themselves in the classroom. We can’t have a teacher Karen sounding a false alarm and exerting her disciplinary power over a Black boy whose residual feelings over the murder of George Floyd, or maybe his own interaction with police, caused him to come to school emotional or distracted. Nor can we have anyone leading a classroom who’s decided to give up on their students because distance learning during COVID-19 put them too far behind.
Finally, and [pullquote]keeping it real, some of y’all just don’t and haven’t given a damn in a long time.[/pullquote]
I’m not a teacher—I knew a long time ago that it wasn’t a good fit for me. But I’m a diehard education activist and advocate and I believe both our missions are rooted in “passion work.” And if at any point we lose that zeal, we should remove ourselves from the work to not do a disservice to those we initially sought to support.
So on that note, if you’re unwilling to incorporate the innovation it’ll take to truly engage our kids in classrooms or virtually; if you’ve struggled with using technology but don’t care enough to learn; if you never have the time, energy or interest in developing a positive rapport with your students to better understand where they’re coming from and how they need to learn; if you checked out on them a long time ago—go ahead and fully check out now. Because it’s going to take commitment, broad and new thinking, patience and devotion to educate students in this “new normal.”
Bottom line, these kids are our future. The ones—if given the right people and resources—who can develop vaccines and cures for the coronavirus and all other ailments that plague us.
With education and civic engagement, they’re the future leaders who can ensure no one else with Donald Trump-like tendencies ends up as our president.
And with a consistent and strong support village in and outside of the school system, they can survive the systemic racism and intra-communal violence that threatens their lives daily.
So, if you know deep down inside that you haven’t done even a basic job or aren’t for real interested in cultivating their brilliance, you need not be in their classrooms. Period.
Tanesha Peeples is driven by one question in her work—“If not me, then who?” As the former Deputy Director of Activist Development for brightbeam, Tanesha merges the worlds of communications and grassroots activism to push for change in the public education system. Her passion for community and relentless mission for justice and liberation drive her in uplifting and amplifying the voices and advocacy of those that are often ignored. Tanesha wholeheartedly believes that education is the foundation for success. Her grand vision is one where everyone—regardless of ethnicity, socioeconomic status, gender or ZIP code—can have access to a comfortable quality of life and enjoy the freedoms and liberties promised to all Americans. And that's what she works towards every day.
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