Microaggressions in School Culture

Kelly Wickham Hurst Featured, Guest Posts

About Kelly Wickham Hurst

Kelly Wickham Hurst is a former teacher and assistant principal and guidance dean for a public school in Springfield, IL. She is the founder and CEO of Being Black at School, an initiative to help parents raising Black children navigate the systemic racism inherent in school systems. She’s the married mother of 6.

I’m well aware that my role as an administrator took me directly out of conversations in the teacher’s lounge. My friends, who watched me take on this new role, joked that I’d “gone to the dark side.” Teachers and administrators are often pitted against one another in the education world and it’s never to the betterment of what’s good for students. Yet, it’s a part of the culture we rarely discuss in terms of being constructive in creating collegiality and professionalism.

That’s where we get stuck with microaggressions in school culture.

During my first ten years in the classroom I recall feeling like nothing I did could please the superiors in charge of evaluating me. Many novice teachers have felt like we had to fake it until we made it, but that comes naturally with any career in the beginning.

The first time I stood up to an administrator they had just embarrassed me in front of my classroom by belittling me and saying I didn’t have any control over the kids. The fact that they had free time while we waited to be called down to an assembly seemed to escape him and said all this while speaking to the entire class from the speaker system set up in the office.

Horrified, I turned toward my class and put my finger to my lips to signify I needed them to be silent. They complied quickly and many of them felt I had been wronged by the looks of confusion on their faces. After confronting that assistant principal, a job I would have some 10 years later myself, his response was, “I’m sorry you felt that way.”

I did not take his faux apology lightly.

“You’re sorry I ‘feel a way’? No, that’s not an apology. You did something wrong and that’s what you should apologize for here. No one is in charge of my feelings but me.”

He did not take that well, either, and we waded through a messy confrontation that culminated in a 3-page typed apology the following week. That moment, for me, didn’t feel as much of a microaggression towards me as a Black teacher as it did because the class was almost entirely Black and he was slamming both parties at once.

While he never saw it that way, I was given ample evidence to the contrary throughout the rest of my school career. Whether it was arguing with a history teacher about why Black History Month was important due to our Eurocentric and mostly white history curriculum or watching Black and Latino students account for the majority of discipline in a school that was mostly white, these are likely stories with which educators of color can, unfortunately, relate.

I’ll be continuing this theme in my next guest post here partially because I’m dedicating my new career to help Black students at school where they, as well as their Latino counterparts, are unfairly suspended and expelled. But, I want to highlight that those of us who are also “of color” who teach and lead schools desperately require the support of places like EduColor to help us navigate the difficulties of working in mostly-white institutions.

Sadly, I have too many stories to tell.

photo credit: Classrooms 1 and 2 via photopin (license)