Greg Michie and Why He’s a White Teacher Who Gets It (Whereas You May Not)

Jose Vilson Education, Jose, Race

Kendall, Teaching

In an effort to actually read the books people give me, I finally finished the book Holler If You Hear Me by Gregory Michie. When I first looked at it, I rolled my eyes hard beause a White teacher was using the obvious Tupac reference. When some White people want to get Black people involved, they use a reference from a rap lyric. But, knowing who it came from, I shut my inner hater up and gave the book a chance.

After reading the book, I felt like someone actually wrote my book for me (which only means I need to re-think the book I was supposed to write). For every victory he had or mistake he committed, I’d wince with flashbacks from my years as an educator. Everything he speaks to said so much about the character he eventually developed through his experience. In other words, he lives and learns right in front of us via the text.

More importantly, he lets the kids in the story speak as much as he does, and goes into his writing (and teaching) with a different mentality than many White teachers I’ve seen. When he taught a culture that wasn’t his own or literacy of a generation after his, he did it without much prejudice. You can still teach things outside of a student’s comfort zone without making them look inferior for having theirs.

I find two mentalities equally destructive to kids of all backgrounds, though this seems to afflict those of lower socioeconomic status (poor Whites included!):

  1. “These children can’t learn anything, so why bother?”
  2. “These children need to be saved from their desperate conditions.”

To paraphrase Three Six Mafia, don’t save them: they don’t wanna be saved. They tend to prefer that their teachers equip with them with the tools to succeed and let them decide for themselves. Often, “saving” entails any or all of the following: speaking / writing the King’s English, walking straight, listening to whatever the teacher says is good music, moving out of one’s neighborhood, abandoning one’s culture in favor of the dominant White culture, etc. It’s another reason why so many real teachers hate teacher movies: they make it seem the teacher is more a lion tamer, de-beasting the uncouth minds of those students in front of them.

We don’t need our best and brightest to leave our hoods. We need them to create an influence that rebuilds the self-images of their peers and brethren, to keep their distinct cultures vibrant, and to keep themselves alive and healthy, armed with the ability to seek the pseudo-American dream. And yet, if you’re one of those teachers who persists in trying to “save” the children, you’re worse than those who have no faith in any kids in front of you.

Whereas teachers who have no faith in the future of those students are usually upfront about their distrust of the students, the “save the children” crowds are so covert about it, you might mistake them as teachers who care.

It’s probably why I laugh when people say they care about educating students and head directly to the district offices or the non-profit org that never visits classrooms, communities, teachers, or students in any of their work. And when they do, it’s always at some function where only the select and talented few students of a teacher who graduated from a prestigious program. In other words, it’s a filter of the reality we face daily.

But that’s how I knew Michie was different. He entered the job with some naivete, which most of us do, ingrained in the culture or not. The difference is that he went in with an open mind and heart. When either of these is too closed, the hate lives insidiously.

Jose, who just hollered …