The Jose Vilson - Educator - Writer - Activist - Father

 

donquixote1

Last week, I delved a little deeper into this issue of teachers of color, hoping to sow some of the prevailing narratives up and construct something more cogent.

Yet, when it comes down to it, the lack of teachers of color is a symptom and not a cause of the education gaps we currently see.

Time and again, we get reports from former teachers of color about why they leave, and often, it’s the same symptoms for why teachers in general leave: lack of empowerment and autonomy, working conditions, and low pay. With teacher of color, education systems only exacerbate this problem because many teachers of color come back so they could give back to similar communities that they grew up in. Yet, they see some of the same deficiencies from their childhoods manifest in teachers’ lounges and observations about their colleagues. Because many teachers of color who come from similar neighborhoods they’re serving don’t have a family-established wealth to fall back on, they tend to leave at faster rates than the average teacher, too.

But there’s more. This research by Ivory Toldson done on this topic suggests that lack of teachers of color isn’t for lack of want, and that systemic elements of our education system will continue to put people of color at odds with their education system, regardless of whether it’s public, private, or hybrid (charter).

I’d take it one step further and say, why bring in more teachers of color into a system that continually ostracized the already disenfranchised? If teachers of color want to “give back” to the places they grow up in, then we have to consider why the neediest schools consistently get shut down, “turned around,” or transformed into a charter school, replete with uncertified teachers. If teachers of color want to go to schools where the children have similar experiences to them, then we have to wonder why we don’t make all teachers, regardless of race, culture, or gender, take cultural competency classes so teachers of color don’t have to teach both their students and their peers.

Because even the prospect of having more teachers of color threatens the status quo in a way that those who currently staff our schools aren’t prepared for. Too many folks think TOCs might take “seats” (see this comment by Renee Moore here). We aren’t. We can create more seats.

Because “education progressives” are perfectly OK with diversity as long as it doesn’t affect their specific school. Then, it’s a question about “dynamics.” Uh yeah. You should hope so.

Because some folks get mad at the new-found attention teachers of color have garnered, so someone quips, “Teachers of color are equally capable of being assholes.” If so, then why bring it up unless you’re nervous someone will take your seat?

Because we can’t address any of the shortcuts to equity without actually addressing the pillars of race, gender, and class across our education system. Without those honest conversations, I don’t see policies as anything more than a “We’re doing something for the sake of doing something” scheme.Because the symptomatic failures of our education system often doubly affect teachers of color: as the students they once were and the teacher they wish they could become. We can do better. Jose

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TeacherOfColor

This morning, I came across this article on Huffington Post (I know, I know, hear me out, though) and thought I should ask questions about President Obama’s initiative to enforce former President George W. Bush’s mandates for “excellent teachers” to stay in the highest-need communities. Read this:

President Barack Obama’s new initiative, titled “Excellent Educators For All,” seeks to ensure that states comply with the George W. Bush-era No Child Left Behind mandate by asking state officials to submit “comprehensive educator equity plans” that detail how states plan to put quality educators in classrooms with disadvantaged students. The Department of Education also plans to pour millions of dollars into a “Education Equity Support Network” and publish profiles of states and districts that have succeeded in promoting teacher equity.

For one, I’m usually skeptical about any initiative that attempts excellence when we haven’t defined (or even characterized) what actual excellence is. For instance, people often describe an excellent teacher as “caring,” but isolating “caring” as a characteristic would be short-sighted in terms of identifying the best teachers. Even something like the Danielson Framework can’t quite pinpoint because numbers aren’t always facts.

Secondly, I often see people who talk up teacher quality not address the issue of working conditions. People too often make working conditions and teacher quality a chicken and an egg argument. There were presumably eggs before chickens, and so it goes that working conditions of a school generally support good teachers and keep them. Of course, there will be special cases that don’t fit the mold, but that tends to be the way it goes.

Here’s the thing: in my observations, teachers of color will stay in underserved communities where others won’t.

If you look at the graphs for the full picture, you’re basically seeing that richer, whiter schools get more experienced, more educated (at least in number of degrees) and more certified teachers, which seems to contradict a few narratives, mainly that the number of years and degrees don’t matter in terms of student performance. While this might have some external validity, I don’t see how anyone would choose a school that doesn’t have at least some experienced, educated, and certified staff. Unless they’re in a private or charter school, where restrictions on degrees or certifications are more lenient, at least in most urban areas.

Unless they’re in the high-need neighborhoods, which is code for schools with poor students of color.

Teachers of color aren’t only needed in these high-need neighborhoods, they are predominantly in these high-need schools. This, among other reasons I’m sure, is why, when schools get shut down in droves as they have in the last decade, teachers of color lose their jobs with those schools. From the plethora of educators of color I’ve spoken to, with various degrees, experiences, and backgrounds, they stay in certain schools because they came into teaching to serve children of color, and aren’t necessarily looking for career advancement.

Yet, because the working conditions didn’t work and the systems in place were neither conducive nor supportive of children of color and their teachers, they either stay and hope to wither the storm or, increasingly with much younger teachers of color, leave altogether to pursue other education-related professions where they can work on behalf of students without being tied to the classroom.

That’s why, by 2020, we may see a drop from 18% teachers of color to 5% teachers of color, and with male teachers of color already at 3%, this may certainly perpetuate the inequity we’re seeing in student achievement. More importantly, this threatens to make schools feel less inequitable.

But our country stays taking shortcuts to equity instead of making a real investment. More on this soon.

Jose

photo c/o

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Digital Tools As The Gateway Drug To Real Pedagogy?

by Jose Vilson on July 3, 2014

in Jose

On Sunday, I spent some time with the good folks at SMART Technologies (yeah, I can’t believe I’m saying that either, but more on that later) for the annual ISTE conference, a mega-large education conference hosted this year in Atlanta, GA. SMART Technologies asked me to give some words of wisdom to their partners around student collaboration, one of my personal passions. They neither asked me to restructure my remarks nor ignore social justice issues, which if folks invite me somewhere, they should know that’s also where my heart is.

At some point, I got the chance to go to exhibit hall, and I should have taken a motion sickness pill. The dizzying array of tech tools and labels made my eyes cross. As I walked quickly through the halls, dodging salespeople left and right, I stopped every so often when I heard a company give a presentation about their particular product.

It got me thinking, as I always do, whether educators have made any real progress when it comes to thinking about pedagogy in the 21st century. Is it really the tool that’s the driver or the teacher? If, for a second, districts think that a product ought to be the focus of the pedagogy, then we again concede that a teacher’s expertise is only second to the dazzle and pizzazz of an attractive thing when it comes to student learning.

If, on the other hand, we put these tools in the hands of expert educators with supportive school systems, then that might make the shift more real. Any tool that we put in a classroom ought to center around actual student learning, and not the tool. I often find that many so-called 21st century schools spend far more time on training students and teachers on how to use the technology than trying to integrate the tool into a well-planned school system.

Central to that system is whether the teacher can teach, and if the tool can fit with the ebb and flow of a teacher’s day. Are teachers willing to learn something if it engages more students? I’m sure. But if, after trying the tool, neither the students nor the teachers adapt well to the tech, then that’s something to consider too.

Yet, if the pedagogy is there, then teachers can keep making mistakes without … a glitch. Err, a hitch.

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You Can’t Educate With Us (On Tone-Policing When Silent)

June 24, 2014 Jose

I called someone a racist this past weekend. And a sexist for good measure. I don’t have much authoritative experience with the latter as I do the former, and I don’t go throwing around such a title lightly. I won’t go into the incident, but it was a long string of events that triggered me […]

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Father’s Day As A Healing Day

June 15, 2014 Jose

It’s weird. With the World Cup in Brazil going and Father’s Day happening all around me (and for me), I’m reminded how, once or twice a year, I’d spend hours watching my father watch soccer in my grandmother’s (his mother’s) house in Brooklyn. I didn’t get why it was so exciting, especially since the Italian […]

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Just My Imagination Running Away With Me (A Post-CCSS World)

June 8, 2014 Jose
The Temptations

I‘ve seen this article in my e-mails and feeds no less than ten times this morning. Much of this is old news for me since, if you’ve put all the pieces together for the last four years, it’s fairly obvious just how invested Bill Gates has been in getting Common Core State Standards moved across […]

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