The education system has the tentacles of systemic racism, inequity and bias embedded in its foundation. To counter this, we need to work together. A former colleague and I discussed ways Black and white women teachers could work together for students.
We had a rich conversation before, during and after our video. One point my former colleague mentioned was the fact that she was not afraid of bringing up uncomfortable topics.
Neither am I. As a Black woman, even if I’m not thinking about race, I have found myself accused of pulling the race card. If the students I serve are Black, then yes, race is involved. I am speaking up for them just as I would for any student.
At some point, you have to stop talking about the problems and move toward solutions. In education, there are a lot of problems. None of those problems will be fixed overnight; however, the problems will only worsen if we do nothing.
This is why Ed Post’s Jane Crow: Then and Now series is essential. This series challenges white women to become true allies and accomplices–like my colleague in the video–when it comes to educating all children.
Making Schools Work for Everyone
The reality is that most teachers in K-12 schools are white and female. They may live in the community where they teach or drive into it. Regardless, they become part of the community when they choose to teach at the school.
As a Black educator, I want to make K-12 schools the best setting possible for students, especially for students who are Black like me. Logically, the best path forward is for everyone to work together.
However, that can be thwarted by jealousy laced with racism, when a white female teacher doesn’t want a Black teacher to perform better. I have lived that experience, too. It shouldn’t be a competition between teachers. It should be every teacher getting better and being better for their students.
However, being the lonely only (which means being the only Black person) can make it hard to speak up. Having an ally/accomplice to back me or even make the request on my behalf is better for students.
Hearing All Voices
Ideally, I don’t want to have to communicate ideas through a white face. However, I care about students so much that I have taken a Malcolm X “by-any-means-necessary” approach.
One time, I was at a school with students with difficult behaviors. Teachers started coming up with incentives to bribe students to behave. The problem was the bribes were not what students wanted, and they did not get to the root of the problem of what was causing students to misbehave. This meant the behavior continued.
Several times before, I had mentioned talking to students and asking them what they needed to be successful. The idea was dismissed. I talked to a white female colleague who said she would speak up about the idea at the next meeting.
Surprise, surprise, when she proposed it, the idea was accepted. Students had an opportunity to share their feelings. Some students simply wanted to be heard, and others needed some support. The end result? The behavior issues decreased.
I have been an educator for nearly two decades. I have former students who have kids. It is a great joy to hear how a decision I pushed through with a white ally benefited former students as well as put them in a better position for their families.
I do hope that one day all educators are heard regardless of race, but as we are working toward a post-racial society, we have to do what we can while we are on the road to that future.
Shawnta (Shawn-tay) S. Barnes, also known as Educator Barnes, is a married mother of identical twin boys. She navigates education from not only the educator’s perspective but also the parent’s perspective. She has been an educator for nearly two decades. Shawnta works with K-12 schools, universities, & education adjacent organizations through her education consulting business Blazing Brilliance. ...