You’ve now watched the umpteenth version of a person receiving unwarranted capital punishment for their pigmentation. These videos autoplay on your TV screen and your social media timelines. You’re inundated with rage in the form of speeches and blogs. You’ve read up on the latest resource offered by Teaching for Change, Teaching Tolerance, and Facing History, even as America refuses to do any of these three. You’re faced with the perilous task of negotiating the mandates of your districts with your mandates as a human being whose life experiences resonate with the victim in the videos you’ve watched repeatedly.
It’s midway through the year, but you feel like every shooting is another beginning for you.
You work at a private school. Teachers are already leaning on your door, hoping to get a reaction from you because they can sympathize, but not empathize. You’re done explaining and brush them off with “I got work to do. I suggest you do the same.” The kids are looking at you as the pledge of allegiance goes off in the announcements. You put your hand on your heart. You have too many eyeballs big and small on you. Some are genuinely curious, but the adults standing right outside hope you don’t become the outrageous runaway you have every right to be.
No, wait. You work at a charter school. You’re constantly asked to follow company line. Your school’s founder hasn’t said a word about the outrage out there, but has just the right amount of messianic presence in and out of their schools to demand compliance from everyone involved. You get into teacher meetings and suggest the faculty address these issues with open ears. Instead, you’re told to come up with a plan by yourself because every school is mandated to stay in lock step according to the pre-designed curricula. Your school has some faculty of color, but, by any measure, still falls in lockstep with what the plethora of visitors have invested in.
No, wait. You’re at a public school with majority students of color. Your scores aren’t high enough according to a bunch of papers you tossed out weeks ago. You’ve done everything you can to straddle the line between compliance and defiance. Your bulletin boards have the proper assignments and rubrics to deflect critique, and your heroes from yesteryear look at you through posters you’ve printed. You’re evaluated by a framework that only abstractly addresses cultural competence, and your students are already programmed to respond to loud stimuli as a means of attention.
You’ve only taught half your students by lunchtime. You shed a few tears. You shake them off. Fifth period is coming.
At any given moment in and out of work, your expertise is only valued to a point. You’re asked to control kids who look like you, but don’t get too good at it because you’ll look like you have more power than the person in charge does. You’re asked to tell kids they shouldn’t feel anger and hurt over racist incidents that happened to them in plain sight. Instead, you’re asked to put them in an auditorium and tell them they misremembered it all, and every agent of the state works in their best interest. You’re asked to stick to the script, sometimes figuratively because the test scores are low and your staff needs work, or literally because your district lead thought it best to buy a curriculum-in-a-box from a company that obviously didn’t consult many current teachers. Your school’s feet are always a few steps away from getting a management company to come in and hand you a reassignment slip. You inherit the current education lingo because it’s the mark of your craft, but you can’t use the new language to tell your higher-ups how their policies continue to hurt children in your classes or else you don’t get to be the chosen one anymore.
You looked into dozens of children’s eyes today and told them that they’re allowed to dream because one of your heroes said so. This hero met a similar fate to the victims in the videos you’ve been watching.
By the time the day is through, the crust on your hands doesn’t allow you to move your fingers much. You’re OK with that because you’re shell-shocked because of the trauma. You’re asked to keep your composure because our state holds its teachers to higher public standards than people with exponentially more money and power. You barely picked up your phone when a notification reads “Another black person was lynched today by the people sworn to protect and serve you.” You’re an educator, but the world around you is giving you an education, too.
You swore off watching these videos after the last time. You watch this one, though. You look at your school, your neighborhood, and your country. You are not in that video yet. You are not in that paper yet. You are not in that hashtag yet. You exhaust yourself at night by grading papers, lesson planning, and reading again. You wake up after six hours of sleep.
You’re awake and you’re woke. The system knows this well. Now keep rising for the pledge. Whatever that means.