Today was the first official day back for the great majority of teachers in my huge district (we’re closing in on 200,000 students so we have a lot of teachers). My pyramid (one high school, one middle school, and all the elementary schools that feed to them) kicked things off by bringing us all together first thing this morning. I have many issues with that, but I’ll hold off on those. Our morning started with a video of kids from all our schools talking about what makes a good teacher and how they know when they are successful. That was pretty awesome. After a brief intro by one principal (mine, but I’m not bragging) we had an hour and a half keynote.
The guy was good. He was funny and inspirational and had actually been a classroom teacher for 31 years. In fact, two of his former students who live in the area, one who works at the Pentagon and one who is a lawyer, took time off from work to be at his talk this morning. I have no doubt he was a phenomenal teacher.
He clearly inspired many teachers in the audience. I watched people near me make notes or copy down things he put up on the screen. I listened to the small sounds of agreement, validation, and awe. There were many teachers who were clearly getting from this keynote exactly what the presenter and our pyramid leaders had hoped.
Other teachers were disengaged. Some may have been distracted by all they have to do to prepare for the first day with kiddos in a week. Some may have just been tired after getting up early for the first time in a long time. Some may have been jaded and not able to hear what the man was saying.
I was not like any of the above teachers. I will admit that I did walk in with a small chip on my shoulder because I was frustrated that in a pyramid as widely diverse as ours (demographics below) we were listening to a white man. For the second year in a row. But I was open to the idea that he would be worth our time. In many ways he was. He said so many of the right things, at least in my mind. But.
The things he didn’t say screamed at me. He said nothing about the structural racism that is harming so many of our students. I didn’t expect him to go that far, but a mention of implicit bias and the need for teachers to have awareness of it, would have been nice. There was nothing in the entire hour and a half that suggested cultural competency. (It didn’t help that the pictures of his students were all, or almost all, white.)
If you are going to speak to teachers and racism or bias don’t come up at all, your message is sorely lacking. You have a platform, a voice, an opportunity to help move teachers forward and improve the lives of children of color. Use it.
Demographics of our high school:
Latinx students: 43%
Asian students: 24%
White students: 16%
Black students: 13%
58% received free or reduced price lunches
Just to add to the irony or frustration, the high school in which we sat this morning is Robert E. Lee High School.
The keynoter shared his email address with us. I think he’ll be getting an email from me sharing my thoughts on this. Politely, of course.