Anybody that knows me knows that I had no intention of being an English teacher in Milwaukee. The path I paved for myself had nothing to do with children, a classroom, or grading not-so-good papers. But, God had other plans.
I legit ended up in Milwaukee by mistake. I ended up in the classroom by mistake, too. After undergrad at Fisk I went to Loyola Chicago for a Masters in Women and Gender Studies. After I finished, I fell into the rut that most #blackandhooded folk do. I was working office jobs just to stay stable, and ended up doing a program that made me sort-of a teacher’s assistant.
That was all she wrote.
The classroom became my safe haven. I applied for a teaching position midway through the year and got it. I haven’t looked back.
I moved to another city, and here I’ve been consistently looking to improve my practices and teach my kids as much as I can. But there is one thing that I have not found the answer to: why am I the only black woman teacher in each school at which I teach?
I’ve taught at three schools and all were/are led by fabulous black women. But, when it comes to the classrooms, we’re not there. I’m often also the only black woman (or black person period) in professional developments and seminars. I struggle with this for a few reasons.
Well, I teach in Urban Education and trust me, it is not a cakewalk. Kids are angry, way behind grade level, they stink (yes, they do), and they have mastered the art of standing on nerves. On top of that, teachers don’t get paid nearly as much as is deserved. So, I get it. I get that black men and women who have worked their butts off to get degrees don’t want to settle into careers that 1) don’t pay well and 2) don’t promise much when it comes to growth and promotion. But if that’s the case, why are there so many white people doing it?
Don’t get me wrong, there are some amazing teachers of all colors out there. I for one work with a few and have been taught by others, but I also have been in the presence of others who, well, have the savior mentality.
Let’s be clear, black kids don’t need saving. They need teachers who are going to push them to be their best, give them a safe space, and actually care about who they are as people. You don’t have to be black to be able to do that, but I can’t help but think about how great it would be for our communities to have black people educating our black children.
As I move up in my profession, I’ve been on hiring panels, coached other teachers, and done recruitment. I have learned that black teachers are a commodity. We are literally fought over; it’s almost like a draft. What district pays more, what leader will give you more freedom, what school will be more receptive to your ideas are just a few of the things that lay on our plates. And please don’t forget about how we’re often tokens in recruitment materials.
Truth is, we’re missing in action. Black teachers are so often overworked and underpaid as well as faced with seeing our pasts in front of us, that staying in the classroom is scary. I get it; I understand why we lose the fire. It’s hard to stand in front of those kids every single day and try to prepare them for a world that I still am not ready for. But, I have to.
Teaching helped me to find myself, solidify my purpose. I realize that I have to be the only black woman in a largely white space so that my kids see that they can, and hopefully don’t have to.