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Martin Luther King Jr. by Marvin Koner

Martin Luther King Jr. by Marvin Koner

Moments like this make me want to ask, “Who ASKED you?!”

Some of my frustration lately stems from the perception that making something look easy equates to the task actually being easy.

Especially as it pertains to the site and everything surrounding it. The design, the content, the schedule, the photos, and the accompanying branding come together as pieces to a greater vision, one that hopefully pushes others to also seek success by any means necessary (with the people I represent in mind, of course).

In this plan, however, I always have to anticipate the negative feedback, the hostilities of working in environments where social media is seen as a venue for negative exposure or as a potential threat. As many opportunities as I’ve been afforded in this space, I get that other people prefer I not succeed, that I stay within my space as a teacher, as if teachers, like the children they taught, should be seen and not heard.

Then I have to wonder if it’s a side effect of my race, and people’s own perceptions of what I bring to the table with it.

Here are three things you don’t say to a male educator of color (or any man of color, really):

  • “You don’t always come to school early.”
  • “You already have a leg up because you’re a man of color.”
  • “You look like you need something else to do.”

Let’s forget for a second that I get to school at around 7:15am on average when the school bell rings at 8am. The perception that, as a Black man, I get to work late already tells me more about you than it does about me. You already perceive us as a problem to fix, a glob to mold, or a stereotype to break. As far as I can tell, we’re none of those.

Anytime we get to work early, it’s usually to finish planning lessons, grade student work, or simply get our minds and hearts ready for the day. If we look like we’re not working, chances are that we’re actually working, and you’ve already perceived us as lazy or incompetent. When passionate teachers have a prep, they usually use it to prepare for the next class, to tweak a lesson, or dot all the i’s before they talk to their next period class. That’s how it works.

Furthermore, let us let everyone in on a secret: some of us have learned to distrust anyone who want someone else to communicate more often, especially in non-family situations. The term “snitches get stitches” didn’t come from nowhere, so to speak. Honesty has a price far too high to bear in financial times like these. Also, when people of color jump into the workforce, we have to read a few extra articles about trusting others, using a certain voice, or truncating names for us to fit in or stand out less.

Whether people realize it or not, their perceptions of us keep us from doing the best job possible, like a 21st century glass ceiling.

You’re right, though. Maybe a man of color has a slight advantage in terms of relating to children who identify with us or look like us in the classroom, but that’s never (EVER) a given. Some men of color might deserve the ire of others, especially those who hop on national news espousing views of those who seek to hurt our communities. The men I associate with have to work twice as hard just to stay on top of things.

For, while our jobs with our “customers” remains the same as the next person, the perception against us means we have to do that work twice: once to do it right, twice to disprove the doubters. Assuming responsibility only works when both parties reflect on their own biases.

Hope that helps.

Jose, who realizes this could also apply to women of color, but I prefer a woman of color speak to this …

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Supreme Sonia Sotomayor on Sesame Street

Supreme Sonia Sotomayor on Sesame Street

This week, I’m releasing some of the pieces I’ve written that never saw the light of day for different reasons. Here’s the second.

Release Date: 12/03/2012

Dear New Teacher,

A few questions to ask now that you’ve gotten your feet wet at your job:

  1. How many friends of color do you have in your circle?
  2. How often have you interacted with one, and not in a I-follow-Diddy-on-Twitter sorta way?
  3. Are you frustrated because you feel like the one or two teachers of color in your cohort are having more success than you are in a classroom with certain types of kids?
  4. If so, do you then assume the other ones also don’t have any issues with teaching certain kids?

    OK, OK, one more.

  5. Do you work under the same assumptions the rest of society does about race and intellect?

Recently, I posted an article on race in the classroom that’s handy for people who don’t know how to handle this discussion on race, but before you read it, please know: the way you enter into the conversation depends heavily on how you perceive others’ intelligence, not just with children but also adults.

For instance, if a doo-rag and baggy pants indicates to you that a student has no idea what they’re talking about, then that’s an issue. If your goal for a student’s grade has to do with what she wears and how she speaks, then that’s an issue. If you find yourself trying to speak their language without any conceptual development and without context, then that’s an issue.

In other words, Erin Grunwell ain’t walking through that door.

Based on what some of my colleagues have said about the school in question, the kids themselves didn’t feel they were that bad, but, because of these movies and the societal images we’ve thrown into the zeitgeist, White teachers walking into a classroom with kids of color already feel they’re going to war rather than trying to build a team. We have entire networks of schools that demand certain rituals and routines be in place for the sake of codifying and assuaging the fears of Whites hoping the kids of color won’t act out.

But it doesn’t stop at students. New teachers are often told to look at teachers of color as less capable or intellectually inferior because of their approach or their unwillingness to use the mumbled jargon of the current-day administration. Some administrators (regardless of color) put forth and favor teachers who only want to talk about their middle-class White existences and ingrain children of color to act like them, leaving teachers of color, veteran or otherwise, to the side. This becomes rather obvious in teacher meetings where, in front of the administrators, only one voice gets highlighted as “correct,” “thoughtful,” or, more directly, “perfect for what the school needs going forward.”

In the education world as a whole, this plays itself out very frequently, from the people who participate in education conferences to the educators who somehow find their way towards the top of some edu-Twitter-blogger-examplar-endorsed-by-so-and-so-well-resourced-out-the-wazoo list.

That’s a little much for you right now, though. All I’m asking you to do is consider the way you approach your students and colleagues as you walk in. Consider that, just because the student can’t quite articulate what they’re saying doesn’t mean that they don’t have the concept. Also consider the numerous opportunities thrown your way even when, upon some reflection, you may not have earned it. Take note when your colleagues don’t feel like saying anything after you’ve said it, or feel like when they do voice something, they get a reproach that you don’t necessarily get.

Start grappling with your privilege. It’s the smartest thing you can do right now.

Best,

Jose, who wishes he did release this at the time …

 

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Scene from Lean On Me

Scene from Lean On Me

This week, I’m releasing some of the pieces I’ve written that never saw the light of day for different reasons. Here’s the first.

Date: 5/10/12

Someone told me recently, “I think these kids respond better to males than females, especially as teachers.”

That hasn’t been my experience, but I let them proceed. “It’s like, some of these kids need guidance or someone to look up to in school, and there’s a lot of women in school already.” Usually, I let them keep talking because it usually leads to a discussion about becoming an administrator (i.e. me). Thanks to a few conversations I’ve had with some important people in my life, I don’t see myself going into administration yet.

Part of my hesitation stems from the plethora of popular examples of administrators of color. People within certain circles always have to consider the question: do administrators of color sell out or buy in?

The caricature of administrators of color comes from the movie Lean on Me, the story of the cantankerous autocrat Joe Louis Clark, then-principal of Eastside High School in Paterson, NJ played by Morgan Freeman. Many use the images of the bat-wielding bullhorn-blaring authoritarian as inspiration for how they would choose to run their school. The teaching profession is plagued with the White savior complex of movies Dangerous Minds and The Ron Clark Story, but it pales in comparison to the movies like Lean on Me. Where you might think an administrator of color would seek to set positive examples for children bereft of such models, we have people who proffer the Joe Clarks of the world as the paragon.

Unnecessary.

Outside of the movies, administrators of color aren’t recruited to just be themselves. Not only do they have to work twice as hard to prove their viability, they have to adopt an image of callousness in some form. Some administrators crack down on students, particularly their children of color. Emphasis on crack, like a whip, if you will. Districts presumably allowed principals to treat students as they pleased so long as they controlled them and put their butts in the seats of class, no matter their situations. These principals would not make it past October of their first year in a school with a predominantly White student population, but in these schools, accountability reigns, and by accountability, I mean hammering down on discipline without regards to their academics and passions.

Other administrators have to act tough on teachers and their “status-quo” unions (read: Dr. Steve Perry). Those unionized teachers always come by the clock and punch out punctually. The only teachers in their eyes worth a contract are those that work beyond the means of their union contract (whatever that means). In order to promote their own agenda, they can simultaneously speak well of their own achievements and how good they are for kids while ostracizing the school community that makes school happen. While they profit off the caricature of a small segment of teachers (many of whom made those principals successful), children suffer.

Those are adult problems.

These models all center around developing a callous demeanor towards any one critical entity of our school community. This also benefits districts willing to hire them because they can assuage parents seeking traditional, Civil Rights ideals while never fixing the system that undoes these children. It often works to further the current education reform agenda, too. They can use the same intonations that Civil Rights leaders did as smoke-and-mirror techniques for messages that actually hurt our communities.

Using President Barack Obama’s image and Race To The Top policies for opening and shutting down schools and reopening them under the same conditions, administrators are often implored to buy in. Too bad some of them sell out.

For instance, when people first found out Brooke Harris was fired for teaching her students about the tragedy of Trayvon Martin, they presumed the administrators were White. They aren’t. To wit, the superintendent said she had no problem with the lesson, but the timing hurt Ms. Harris’ cause. The astute reader can deduce two things from this sentiment: the only curriculum that matters is the one prescribed by the district no matter the current events that affect our children and the teacher had to be fired so the other people of color could keep their jobs. If we want to talk about “adult problems,” let’s talk about the fact that a teacher just tried to prepare her students for a world still not ready for true equality and her superiors thwarted it for the sake of a world still not ready for true equality.

It’s a major failure, and a dilemma unresolved by those who go into higher positions of education.

Credit belongs to those who seek to ingrain themselves in the communities they represent. Some principals actually understand that the only way to change the system that sets up our least empowered to fail is to show them caring and respect, both for their intellect and emotions. They work twice as hard for their reputation, and learn how to bob and weave past the oft-constricting regulations of their district for the benefit of their students. In the new century, we need the type of leader that can inspire children to greatness selflessly.

Originally, principals were considered the teacher of teachers. That’s a tradition we can all buy.

Jose, who wonders where Brooke Harris went …

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The Latino Namesake

July 8, 2012 Jose

I landed in Orlando / Cocoa Beach a few hours ago, and had the fortune of getting a van all to myself to escort me to the hotel. On such occasions, I usually don’t think about the privilege I have to work in an environment where my boss places cultural barriers on my person. As […]

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U Black, Maybe [AfroLatino, Part Two]

September 19, 2011 Jose

When we talk about black maybe We talk about situations Of people of color and because you are that color You endure obstacles and opposition And not all the time from … from other nationalities Sometimes it comes from your own kind Or maybe even your own mind You get judged … you get laughed […]

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On Ridiculous Assertions By [Some] White Liberals

August 3, 2011 Jose
blacksuperman

Oh well-meaning “liberals,” you sound ridiculous even when you don’t realize it. I’d be more offended if I didn’t hear some of the nonsense from Black people, too. Whenever you say things like, What we need is more vocational schools and alternative schools so that our lower functioning kids can at least have a chance […]

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Living Quisqueya

April 19, 2011 Jose
dress

This past weekend, I spent some time with my Dominican parents. To be specific, my Dominican mother and stepfather, both of whom enjoy the Dominican satellite channels offered on Time Warner Cable. They’ll watch shows rooted in guttural comedy, scantily-clad voluptuous women, and nationalism sprinkled throughout the programming. They laugh, shake, dance, and yell at […]

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