It is a fact that across the country there are more black and brown students than ever before.
It is also a fact that black and brown teachers are a very small part of the make up of teachers across the country.
This presents some deep needs in our teaching community…specifically a need for our teachers of color.
As a TOC…but especially one that works with at risk youth, I am looking for content and concepts that can help me raise up my learners to be the strong young men that I believe them to be. I am also looking for allies–both white and black–who are doing what I am doing and moving towards growing young people in a system that often doesn’t know how to lead and guide them to their next academic steps.
Here’s what I know:
Without a paradigm shift, many of the young men that are most at risk will end up in specialized units due to referrals and suspensions. In his paper, Teachers’ Perceptions of Students’ Disruptive Behavior: The Effect of Racial Congruence and Consequences for School Supsension, Adam C. Wright states:
“African-American students are considerably more likely than their white peers to be rated as disruptive by their teacher and experience school discipline, but are also much less likely to have a teacher of the same race.” He finds that ” African-American students with more African-American teachers are suspended less often, suggesting the underrepresentation of African-American teachers has important implications for black-white gaps in school discipline.”
The amount of black and brown students in specialized units is staggering. Black and Hispanic males make up 80 percent of the youth in special education programs (Race Against Time: Educating Black Boys). The statistics of black and brown youth in behavioral units specifically are heartbreaking. Their behavior must be addressed first, and often rigor must be put aside until that is done. The overwhelming majority of these boys are looking at kids exactly like them. It doesn’t leave room to perceive that this should NOT become their accepted reality.
There are lots of factors that contribute to how our most at risk learners have been left behind. As teachers, we must be aware that institutional racism, generational poverty and a lack of understanding of at risk youth are a factor in how our kids are perceived and ultimately serviced. It is typical to see that in the most at risk schools, parents’ are not participating. These parents may have ALSO been at risk learners who were cast aside in their own scholastic experiences, and may not have confidence that the ‘system’ will work for their child either, continuing the cycle of under educating the most at risk.
So, I’ve laid out the problem. How can we start to solve this? What’s our first step?
In a nutshell, teachers.
We are the first line of defense for our learners. We are the most important factor in setting these kids on the course to success.
We need to be flexible in how we address the challenges that come up in the classroom. In spite of how challenging the children may be, we need to continue to expect THE BEST. We need to do our best to find literature and resources that reflect our kids culture and norms. We need to teach our students about prejudice and bias so that they know how to combat it when it comes up.
We need to be about relationship with our kids in a way that lets them know that we are not just about nurturing them, but that we are about justice and fairness. We need to remember that children of any one race are not monolithic. Just because they are Indian, doesn’t mean that the Bollywood culture represents them. Just because they are black, doesn’t mean that rap music makes them learn better.
Kids learn from teachers that are eagerly invested in knowing them. Today’s teacher is inundated with ideas for technology and gimmickry. Those things only work in a carefully laid foundation–a balance of love and high expectations for behavior AND academics. When they are done with children who feel and know their value…who understand that learning is not the antithesis of fun, but that it can BE fun, these tools can be powerful. We must always be leading our most at risk learners to discover the unique learner and citizen that they are. Their contribution to the world is necessary. We want them to have all the tools possible to make the future of this nation bright!
Last thing on this point of teachers. Teachers of color are important.
Let me say that again….Teachers. Of. Color. Are. Important.
There are fewer of us today than 20 years ago, and those numbers are steadily declining. Typically, you’ll find us in the toughest schools, working with the most at risk learners. Many of these teachers end up losing their jobs because of school closings. You’ll also find us in the rural schools. The one black teacher in front of a classroom of white children who thinks black history should be taught all year, and not for just a month. She teaches lessons on equity and fairness and often has the most woke students on the grade level. 🙂 She may want to open more discussions on the need for cultural awareness, but feels that it would be misunderstood, so, she continues doing her best in her own space with her learners. She is us too. 🙂 Hearing from TOC’s on issues relating to our kids is an important step in meeting the needs of brown & black students. These voices need to be amplified, not silenced. Please know that there are teachers out there, both white and black that are willing to have dialog on best practice for at risk youth. If you are on Instagram, here are a few that I LOVE. This post was written by Sarah Forst over at The Designer Teacher.
Thanks for reading today!
Let’s continue doing our best to have those critical conversations that move our students towards greater heights of achievement.