Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Why Spring Valley Has Everything to Do With You

If you are an educator, or anyone who has worked with children with emotional difficulties (everyone raise your hand), when you first learned of the young lady who was HULKED by the police officer in Spring Valley,SC, I would imagine your first response was, "The young lady must be going through something." 
In the days that passed, and all the special guests on news stations, and officials who were able to share their perspective, none of them were clinicians or educators. I found that peculiar, considering that this happened in school. 
When I first heard the story, I wondered had she been properly assessed. Especially considering the fact that she was new to the school district and had been displaying behavioral concerns prior to this event. And most teachers who manage classrooms, know that when you have one child and the rest of your class on your side, you take your team and exclude the other child until you have time to deal with them. As long as they serve as no danger to the other students, continue with your lesson plans. This teacher did not do that. 
This point of this is not to attack the teacher. What's done is done. 
What I am going to attack is this narrative that the young lady deserved what she got. It has been determined that her mother had just passed, so she was grieving, she was new to the district, and was an orphan. We can all agree that if any of those unfortunate events happened to us, you have your excuse for acting out of the ordinary. 
Those who opined that the police officer's actions were warranted, are most often the same individuals who express concern and protest when we condemn the fact that the majority of the prison population are Blacks. We decry the actions of police officers when an unarmed, mentally disturbed Black man or woman is killed in police custody (cough Natasha McKenna #sayhername), but don't bat an eye when our children step out of line, or are caught "sassin". But here was a situation where we saw just how the multitude of Blacks end up in jail and all we could say, "She shouldn't have had her phone out."
My message here is that, instead of being quick to punish our youth, defer to the law enforcement to deal with them, prior to us having a hand in it, we need to pursue our own quality control. This includes all teachers, and other professionals. I will not divulge how each stakeholder can play a role in this (that's another blog post), but what I will say is that it is everyones responsibility. This young woman has no parents, you cannot say, "My parents told me to respect authority!" So we have to be her parents. And her represents all the other youth in our urban cities who are acting out because they're forced to be adults before they were children, battling poverty, or were ill-guided and led to a life of crime. 
It requires hard work, it requires EVERYONE to be involved. The moment you begin to look at your current status in life as no longer for your personal asset, but as a critical piece in ameliorating the ailments that contribute to this unjust society, is when you start to live for others and not yourself and we can work towards giving our children more of what we had and what they are being deprived of. 

Monday, August 24, 2015

Daddy Knows Best: From Hurricane Katrina to Your Neighborhood School

Paternalism is an ideal that is historically ingrained in the fabric of our great country. Most often, it was used to justify slavery. In this view, slaves were lowly beings that were not intelligent enough to care for themselves, understand higher reasoning or logic. Therefore, slave masters were essentially saving their lives by providing them with food, shelter, religion, and in return, slaves offered their liberty, bodies, safety, and children.

We are just a little over a century since Emancipation, (I know, it seemed like it would be hundreds of years ago); rights have been granted, and some signed into law, schools are desegregated, and people of color now have a seat at the table... Well most tables.

Victims of Hurricane Katrina argue with National Guard Troops as they try to get on buses headed to Houston on Sept. 1, 2005.(Photo by Willie Allen Jr./St. Petersburg Times via ZUMA Wire)
August 23rd, 2015 marks the 10th anniversary of when Hurricane Katrina formed. When Katrina hit landfall in New Orleans, LA (NOLA), it was deemed one of America's greatest tragedies.  An immense amount of resources has been invested into the city since then, in an effort to revitalize the local economy as well as the schools.

Prior to the storm, Orleans Parish School Board, (the former entity of public schools in NOLA), was largely populated by public schools and union teachers. After the storm, the Recovery School District was enacted to jumpstart the system, and various education management organizations took over the schools. Now, all of NOLA schools are charters. You will find that the majority of teachers there are young, white, idealistic, recent college graduates, whereas, before the storm, many were unionized Black, experienced teachers.

The school district has implemented new systems that allow parents to choose the school their child will attend, versus the attendance zone regulation pre-Katrina. However, this is the extent to which parents have a choice in school decision making. Those decisions are left to the non-profit board of directors and the CEO or principal. This lack of autonomy that parents and their children are missing out on hurts them in the long run. They are provided a prepackaged education, very often, 'one size fits all', and have absolutely no say in it. Someone else, of obvious more aptitude and discernment makes those decisions. The effects of this eerily paternalistic form of education can be seen in the young men and women who pass through these schools and join the work force.

In April I visited NOLA, imbibed in the culture, music, food, history, as well as spoke to the people who live there. Largely, all of the service workers, between restaurants, hotels, tours, etc, were Black. I asked one young man, who was in his early 20s, what can people aspire to be here? He stated that getting a job in the hotels is what is considered doing well. I couldn't shake the feeling that I was in a 3rd world country.

There is danger in this form of paternalistic education. Quite simply, the emphasis on test preparation and instruction on "college and career ready" standards, does not give room to teaching self-efficacy, exploration of personal interests, nor alternative/non-traditional paths towards success. Using or finding your voice is simply not impressed upon. And in this day in age of mass economic, racial, and political oppression, this is exactly what our children need, not just in New Orleans, but everywhere. But Daddy knows best.

Thursday, August 6, 2015

After the Laughs...

This post was inspired by "Key & Peele's" Teaching Center video. If you have not viewed it, I highly recommend you to do so before further reading.

I find it interesting that the rest of the world, except most powers that be, understand, respect, and agree that the work teachers do is undervalued and they are underpaid. Key & Peele liken the realm of teaching and learning to that of the popular world of sports. As ESPN Sports Center details the latest in all major sports, the Teaching Center does the same. It provides the viewer with a synopsis of results from the teaching draft, a looming Union strike in Chicago, a highly sought out English teacher's decision to take her talents from Ohio to New York, and various highlights of the day, showcasing rockstar teachers from around the nation.

In our classrooms, we encourage good behavior and offer incentives in return. Wouldn't it be great to be featured on ESPN for not only teaching one of the most difficult CCSS, but executing it with 75% mastery? On Sports Center, rarely are athletes' major snafus reported on, the purpose of this platform is to celebrate athletes' agility, not hinder or shame them. It appears that over the years, competitive play rules have been adapted to promote freer, uninterrupted play on behalf of the players, all in an effort to make more points.

If you're an avid basketball fan, you'll know that over the years, the NBA Commission, as well as the NCAA Men Basketball, has adjusted offensive foul rules to promote more free and open play among the players. This way, offensive players can more easily shoot shots, without unnecessary intervention from the opposition. This came at a time when the average points scored per game were at an all-time low. Are you getting where I'm going?

Where is our "free play" card?  I'm not certain about your school, but results from this years' PARCC assessments were less than desirable. Even prior to test administration, instructing students on how to properly input an open response answer on both paper and computer based assessments was quite onerous.  It was once said by a student said, "It's like they want us to fail." My point here is not to lament the woes of testing, (I've done that, 'Tis the Season :)), but to juxtapose when and how our work is highlighted, compared to that of athletes. While both athletes and teachers operate under rules that have been created by a governing body, those for athletes, and in this case, basketball players, have allowed them to express their talent with flexibility, freedom, and creativity. For us, not so much. So often do I hear from colleagues that "they've taken the fun out of it". The professionalism of the profession is challenged, and more is expected with less. Yet even still, we are committed to our students and try the best we can.

Chances are, there will never be a Teaching Channel live on primetime television. But our work is nonetheless crucial to the sustainability and functioning of the present and future society. In no other profession are you allowed to have such a grave impact on the future. Understand without you, there would be no doctors, firefighters, nor police officers to save lives. Your strategies and objectives must be more intentional and gentle than the hands of an open heart surgeon. Though you may not be featured on cable television, continue to play as if the world were watching.

Friday, July 24, 2015

Being Educated and Black Can Get You Killed: What Sandra Bland's Death Teaches Us

Photo acquired from

Like most educators, I am a firm believer that education is a surefire path toward upward mobility, financial security,  success, and better life chances. I am a testament that a quality education can provide one with an innumerable amount of opportunities and freedom.

This very message is one that we impress upon our students. At the beginning of each school year, most teachers facilitate community building activities centered around students' hopes and dreams and how education plays an integral role in the attainment of said goals. Many of us who teach Brown and Black young people, express to them that as they acquire more education and success, that they not only have a responsibility to their communities, but it is their ticket out of their poverty stricken neighborhoods.

Outside of these neighborhoods is where life and possibilities reside. There is freedom here, there is greater privilege. Education grants you privilege that you've earned. You've earned it through maintaining a high sense of self-efficacy, resilience and perseverance, all of which are attributes we impress upon our students.  As a well educated Black women, I can attest that my education has granted me all of these in addition to a false sense of security. And this is true for my peers.

What is this false sense of security? It is simply the idea that because you are well-educated, you know your facts, you've gained access to spaces (i.e. predominately white universities, corporate offices, etc) that Black & Brown people were historically barred from (some may argue that not much as changed). Our education substantiates that we surpass mediocrity and we are more than capable to contend with our white counterparts. Our education is the fuel to our rocket that can fire us away, obliterating the boxes and constructs society quarantines us to. It reaffirms that we know what we are talking about. That little piece of paper holds a lot of power, and it is one thing that we have control over.

Sandra Bland was a well educated Black woman. She attended a university, maintained a commitment to her community, and believed in giving back. Through her experiences, (and I'd like imagine that her education played a role in this), she possessed great courage to speak against injustices made against those within her community. Through her experiences, Sandra felt empowered and invigorated to clamor and make noise. These are things that we teach our students to do, I know I have. We teach them that this education is something that will propel them to the next level, and that they have a task to take others along with them.

If you look at the dashboard camera video of Sandra Bland's arrest, you will see a woman who is fed up, albeit well-informed of her rights. She is aware that the officer's tactics are not proper protocol. So like any knowledgeable person, she is protesting against injustice. Which, from recent videos, was typical for Sandra Bland.

We teach our students to be empowered by their knowledge. Sandra was empowered. So empowered that she refused to take what was being handed to her, especially when she knew it was wrong, and even if it could put her further into danger. Her empowerment, self efficacy, and perseverance, led to her arrest, which subsequently ended in her demise. The audacity that her education granted her, got her killed.

So what now? Sandra Bland's education gave her the chutzpah to speak up and fight, and she died. What message do we share with our students? My charge for teachers, or anyone who touches young lives is, as you prepare for the upcoming school year, continue to give your students' something to fight for. Yes, share with them the unfortunate truths that society is afraid of educated Black and Brown people. Share with them that, no matter what, no one can take their education from them. Share with them that they owe it to Sandra Bland, their families, their communities, to continue to fight the fight, to make noise, to make a difference, and make change.

Photo Credit: Sandra Bland via Facebook

Thursday, May 21, 2015

The Difference Color Makes: A Riot Is the Language of the Unheard... Pt. 2

A friend reminded me that two weeks ago I posted the first edition of this entry, with the intent to have at least an second one. So here it is! Thank you for the reminder friend.

Last week I attended an On the Table talk sponsored by the Chicago Community Trust. OTC provided Chicagoans with an opportunity to come together at different locations through the city to discuss feasible solutions to make our communities, safer, more sustainable, and more dynamic. THe host organization was Global Strategists Association. The topic we discussed was "Racial Equity". I found it interesting that the conversation some how always reverted back to the youth, future, and our responsibility to ensure that we provid them with tools to succeed.

Naturally, conversations of the current #BlackLivesMatter movement arose, as it stands to protest against an onslaught of police brutally, and the value of Black lives. We then talked about the best course of action to be taken. It has been stated that you can catch more bees with honey than with vinegar, reigns true when in opposition.

As educators of children of color, we have to ensure that we are equipping our students with tools that not only facilitate academic success, but to promote them building a sound message when fighting for justice.
Retrieved from

What does this mean for educators, those who influence our youth, and those who have an investment in the fairness and equity of our future? Quite simply, we have to understand that there is a time and place for noise, and movement in silence. Most specifically, it is ever more crucial when the skin
color of those involved is other than white.

Let's take a look at how the Waco, Texas Motorcycle Club massacre has been betrayed versus that of the Baltimore Riots. In Texas, we have White grown men participating in abhorrent violence, resulting in a deaths and massive arrests, sparked by gang rivalry. Whereas, in Baltimore, young people, as well regular citizens, participated in, what some may regard as civil disobedience, looting and assault of officers, sparked by the death of a Black man in unlawful police custody.

I will not harp on the disparities in the cases, but I will state that violence and chaos ensued in both towns. However, the image and widespread response for each varied in volatility of language, the amount of coverage from liberal and conservative media outlets, as well as the National Guard. Hosts of bloggers and op-eds have mentioned how the motorcycle gang members have been regarded as just that, while the children and looters in Baltimore were regarded as looters and thugs.

Why is this important for our children? Many of us educate poor Black and Brown children who face injustices on a daily basis, the odds are stacked against them upon birth. As educators, we ought to stress to them that, yes you are capable of affecting change in your communities, but your delivery is crucial, and whether you're clamouring for racial, educational justice, or peace, your plea will be racialized due to the color of your skin. Therefore, we've got to educate them on how to hold officials and government accountable, but in a manner that promulgates a truth that impacts all.

In an effort of transparency, I do not believe that this would completely obliterate prejudices exercised by the media and lay-people when it comes to noise makers, and trouble makers. I do, however, believe it will attract a wider audience, and more bees.

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Happy Teacher Appreciation Week!

May 4th -May 8th is a Teacher Appreciation Week, wee dedicated to teachers and school staff to "appreciate all the hard work we do and the difference we make in the lives of our students." 

What a way to backhand a "token" of appreciation by proposing a 7% cut of teachers' and staff's meager hard-earned coins! 

Here in Chicago, the Chicago Board of Education showed their immense appreciation for the work we do by rejecting the basic tenets of our proposed contract, and suggested  a whopping  7% take home pay cut.

In recent conversations with other educators and activists, the level of regard the teaching profession receives by society, as well as policy makers has come into question. The consensus is, we are devalued. There would hardly be any argument when I say that teachers are the most underpaid, and overworked professionals, (after mothers of course and tied with nurses). Many will say the short amount of time and preparation it takes to become a teacher of record, or even gain the credibility to stand in front of students and educate them, is minimal, and appalling compared to the work that is asked of us. Yet, with an ever evolving and demanding demographic of poor public school attending students,  the expectations and responsibilities of the classroom teacher are growing and exacerbating.

Let's get one thing clear, this offer by the Chicago Board of Education is egregious, and downright insulting. For all beginning teachers, between 1-3 years, this translates to roughly $3,500 salary deduction. That is worth a full two week check and then some. No we are not in it for the money, but legions of teachers are not getting paid nearly as much as the value of the services we provide. The proposed pay cut implies a direct rejection of our professionalism, our value, and vitality of the role of a teacher in the community as well as the life of a child.

To my reader, think back on your elementary years. Next to your parents, who made the most memorable impact in your life? Most often, it was a teacher. Yesterday, I sent a page long text to my 6th grade, with whom I have formed a friendship with over the years. In this text I thanked her for teaching "East is where the sun rises, west is where the sun sets" among other things. It helped that she was still present throughout middle school. And she is still there now, serving as the assistant principal. Teachers are professional landmarks, or at least that is how most of us remember them as. They bridge the gap between home, community, and school. They can serve as your best character witness, aside from immediate family members. Additionally, they should be taken as trusted sources of wisdom for students to tap into throughout particular phases in life, and in my case, over years.

I juxtapose my experience with teachers, with those around me, and even the type of educator I have become. I can honestly say it is difficult for me to zone in on each and every one of my students, in the midst of all that is asked of me. And my students need more from me than I needed from mine. With the increasing pressures from standardized testing, and other superfluous responsibilities per school administration and school districts, teachers similar to ours from the past are far and few between: they are overwhelmed, and pushed out. While forming a true friendship with a former teachers may be rare, it should not be impossible. Today, most teachers burn out within 3-5 years of being a teacher of record. Inadequate pay, insufficient preparation to deal with a demanding set of children, and being forced to gamble between educating for mastery and the LOVE of learning, imparting life skills versus standardized testing objectives, are all reasons why schools are seen and understood as a revolving door.

When I came into the teaching profession, I had a cape on. Now that thing is ragged, torn, and has all but burst into flames. I surely had no idea that I would encounter what has befallen me within the past years. I am certain this is a result of not only my lofty expectations, but how hard they make it for us to do our job, and do it well, and frankly, love what we do. And when I say they, I am referring to appointed and elected board members, policy makers on every level. While all the standardized responsibilities are constructed in an effort to raise accountability, we cannot skirt their underlying impact on teachers arduous road to achieve the coveted "Rockstar" status.

As true veteran teachers can attest to, it takes time, and much reflection to become a Rockstar. However, today's teacher is becoming ever more transient, and school boards and policy makers, ought to bear most of the blame for it. You give a recent college grad 6 weeks to a school year worth of training, pinch their pay, then threaten to cut it, (thus keeping costs low), provide inadequate services to neighborhood schools, close 50 neighborhood schools, incite near panic within schools during testing season, (which is most often all year long), expectedly you force young passionate individuals to scurry toward the next thing.

While this week is intended to celebrate all that we do, I cannot accept it as a genuine jubilation, where my professionalism and presence is valued. But rather, appreciation that my stay was not long and confirmation I am replaceable.

- The Jaded Educator

Monday, April 27, 2015

A Riot is the Language of the Unheard... Pt. 1

This quote was stated by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr in 1968 during an interview on 60 Minutes with Mike Wallace. 

I have a question, when you have nothing to lose, wouldn't you throw rocks at the police too? The death of Freddie Gray,while in police custody, has sparked peaceful demonstrations and violent protests throughout the city of Baltimore, Maryland. Today, following his funeral, the city broke into a heightened sense of urgency. In the midst of protests, young Black Americans took to the streets, responded violently to the police, and for many, they began throwing rocks at them.

Photo Credit: NBC News Image of young Black male, most likely an 8th grader or freshman in high school, throwing rocks at police armed and ready for war.  
I think the MLB Baltimore Orioles executive, Peter G. Angelos said it best:
"The innocent working families of all backgrounds whose lives and dreams have been cut short by excessive violence, surveillance and other abuses of the bill of rights by government pay the true price, and ultimate price, and one that far exceeds the importance of any kid's game played tonight, or ever, at Camden Yards," Angelos tweeted. "We need to keep in mind people are suffering and dying around the US and while we are thankful no one was injured at Camden Yards, there is a far bigger picture for poor Americans in Baltimore and everywhere who don't have jobs and are losing economic, civil and legal rights and this … makes inconvenience at a ball game irrelevant in light of the needless suffering government is inflicting upon ordinary Americans."
I like most that he spoke of "families and Americans of all backgrounds". So often is there a separation of Americans, which mostly means white, and then Black Americans. I'm guilty of this too.

So what does this have to do with education. Well I believe it has A LOT to do with education.

My targeted audience for this blog is anyone who is an educator, advocate, supporter, policy maker, parent, or even stands on the side of the opposition. Most often, you had a seemingly quality education, something you cherish to this day.  It would be fair to say that you tried to stay almost out of trouble, or you got in just enough trouble where it landed you on punishment, but nothing to the extent of expulsion, arrest, or a jail sentence. Not only did you value your education, but you most likely valued whether your parents were disappointed in you or not, and you desired to please them. And lastly, it wasn't socially appropriate to participate in amoral crimes. Your friends weren't involved in it, so you most likely weren't.

This isn't the case for kids like the ones in the picture above. Keyword, kids, students, like ones you and I teach for at least 180 days out of the year.

Point blank, we have not given these students anything of value. We have not given them a reason to think twice about throwing that rock and landing them in a heap of trouble. We have robbed them of what is within their rights which is an equal opportunity for education.

The question can be asked, are schools supposed to fix everything? Of course not. As an educators, we are already inundated with a myriad of responsibilities to attend to. However, we are the staple community institution, that possesses the power to make a life altering influence on our children.

I must say, I don't blame my students for their often unruly behavior in the classroom. If you felt that your education was totally inaccessible to you, and didn't incorporate aspects of your life, you would place little to no value in it. During my year long student teaching I, as well as a colleague of mine, wondered, "So we do all this work on the inside, but how does it translate on the outside of these four walls?" And what I am coming to terms with, is that, for the masses, it doesn't. What long lasting impact will teaching my students how to multiply 2x2 digit numbers, if I am not able to supply them with life skills, and equip them with constructive strategies to manage their conflicts, and promote socially appropriate emotional responses, educate them using a curriculum that is most salient and relevant to them? What it seems we've been told is that it's not important because its not on the test.

Like our students, we are tested each time another life is stolen relentlessly at the hands of government, or another generation enters our classroom doors. With some, we have passed and helped to flourish, and others we get by with just the skin of our teeth. It has become apparent, that today, we are the failing this one, before they're even able to drive.