Last night, in a fit of angst, I sent off a series of tweets:
It’s hard telling kids to pledge allegiance to a flag when its representatives barely represent us. #TerenceCrutcher
— José Luis Vilson, NBCT (@TheJLV) September 20, 2016
Without hesitation, someone decided to reply with “Why not move to a country where there isn’t white oppressors then?” It was the usual fare for folks who tweet with a social justice framework. The anonymous trolls range anywhere from 16 year olds getting their kicks from beating down “social justice warriors” to older folks touting flags, dogs, and egg avatars. I’m not fazed.
But this one made me do a double take. Because, in many ways, the current education reform movement treats longstanding educators, especially of color, as disposable. Indeed, educators of color seemingly have a choice to teach wherever they wish. They can teach at a private school with a plethora of resources, only a tint of racial diversity, and a truly safe space for kids to learn. This space won’t get shut down from test scores or incompetent adults. They can teach at a charter school and work longer hours, expertise need not apply. They may get their supplies paid for, but if they come off-script, they get their boundaries quickly redrawn for them.
Or they can teach at a public school. They might want to teach at a well-resourced and well-renowned school, but chances are, they’ll be told they’d be better off teaching at a low-income school with mostly students of color.
I’ve spoken to dozens of educators of color across the country. It’s no surprise that choice for educators is more perilous for those of us with marginalized phenotype and skin color. As I’ve documented here on numerous occasions, teaching in a school is more complicated than looking at students and delivering their content. After a year, they’re attached to the idea of teaching. After a couple of years, they’re attached to the feeling of seeing their success in the form of graduations and moving-up ceremonies. After five years, they’re attached to them coming back and thanking them for putting them on the path towards their own definition of success.
After six years, they’re attached to the school itself, and all that comes with.
But lately, the disruption we’ve allowed to take over our school has made it permissible to shuffle schools from under us, especially in public schooling. When educators invest their time and energies in a school, the various disruptive processes we have across the country can break the souls and careers of the very educators we know are willing to stay in the worst conditions and fight the good fight. For every caricature I’ve seen of a bad veteran teacher, I’ve met plenty others who, through no fault of their own, were swindled of this opportunity to emotionally invest in their school.
The descendants of the people who literally built this country on their backs are constantly asked to be displaced for the betterment of the nation, but our lot continues to be inequitable.
With all this talk about diversifying the profession, the political will isn’t truly there. We have a coalition of well-meaning folks who earnestly recruit more people of color into teaching. Unfortunately, there’s a large disconnect between the policy side of the conversation and the intangible experiences that this specific set of educators goes through. Our country refuses to take care of the major needs our schools have. Pointing the finger at any one entity makes it easy to hammer down on it, but it doesn’t get at the roots of the issue.
Even if the school is rooted in the community and has a majority of students of color in the school, the institution still doesn’t feel like it’s theirs. That’s the sort of framework that would make any educator, black or otherwise, want to divest forever.