“So many tweets from ppl leaving the education profession and they are entitled to that choice. I am here to share that I am not leaving edu. I choose to stay not bc I am built differently & do not have moments of struggle, but I simply love what I do. Anyone else choose to stay?”
This was the tweet I posted on March 2nd, 2022. The response was mixed. So, I want to be clear that this blog is not written to any particular audience as I am sure the response, once again, will be mixed.
I will do my absolute best to not mince my words. In one of my earlier blogs titled, “Maybe the Beginning,” I recount my start in education beginning in 1994 with the Baltimore City Public Schools – the east side to be exact. My first classroom was situated in Thurgood Marshall Middle School. In that blog, I recalled my early struggles, my cries to return home in Mount Vernon, NY, and try my hand at something else, to which my mother, a single parent, readily welcomed as I am her only child and she would have done anything for me to return home. However, I did not return home that year. Instead, a team of seasoned teachers and administrators took me under their wing. I was coached, mentored, and supported throughout that very difficult year and the subsequent early years. I could have very easily walked away. My colleagues, ripe in their wisdom, embraced and pushed me, almost as if they refused to accept Black failure.
In his book, The Fugitive Pedagogy, Dr. Jarvis Givens pens a section with the heading, Resilience as a Descriptive Characteristic of Black Life. In this section, I imagine all those teachers and administrators who refused to adopt a deficit narrative. They would not let me fail nor would they let the students we were charged to serve fail. As Dr. Givens wrote, “they disrupted the single story of Black failure…” (2021, p.148). I wish I could say that during my almost 28-years of experience that that was the only time I wanted to wave the surrender flag and call it quits, but it was not. There were peaks and valleys. Almost three decades in and there are still peaks and valleys, but I am glad I did not walk away.
We desperately need school personnel, inclusive of teachers, paraprofessionals, and administrators, who will go to bat for our students. We need educators and community members who will, by any means necessary, refuse “historical narratives” that portray the Black mind as unwilling and undeserving (Givens, 2021, p.145). So, when I asked, “Who else is staying?” I meant just that. If you left or if you know you need to leave, that is your choice. However, there are those of us who are teetering on the edge, resignation letter written but hesitant to submit to that letter because a fire within them still flames bright to do good work, to counter deficit narratives, and to hold high expectations while situating warmth at the same time.
These are the folks I ask to stay. Not the negative views hiding behind Twitter handles. Not those individuals who attempted to suggest I do not understand the challenges that occur in our classrooms or to attempt to embarrass me by publicly listing my salary, which by the way was incorrect. I want those who insisted that in some way I was sitting on a “jeweled throne,” or better yet, that I was “privileged,” to see me for who I am. As a Black woman who openly and proudly identifies with the LGBTQIA+ community, I have been called many things throughout my life, but privileged was not one. Yes, I can attest that there are some privileges afforded me that others may not yet experience. But please know there are countless times that I am reminded of the container for which folks try to place me in because of the color of my skin. However, I will not allow someone hiding behind a Twitter handle, or anyone else for that matter, to attempt to shame me because I “earn” a six-figure salary. I have put in almost three decades of sweat, time, and tears, and have forgone events with my spouse and children to give as much as I could to the children whose families entrusted me to care for. I will not be bullied or ashamed for what I earn and who I am. Please do not let the yellow dress in my Twitter profile serve as a window into my life. As Khalil Gibran posited so long ago, “Out of suffering have emerged the strongest souls; the most massive characters are seared with scars.” Do not be fooled by the yellow dress as it masks, willingly, the scars endured then and even today.
In the recently published book, Fighting the Good Fight-Narratives of the African American Principalship, I write in my chapter about my first principalship on the west side of Baltimore City. I describe, albeit briefly, how I was assigned to lead a school that was designated as “persistently dangerous” by the Maryland State Department of Education, which in hindsight is a term laden with anti-Black ideology. Being my first time leading a school, I was ill-equipped to lead with an equity lens then and unfortunately adopted a zero-tolerance philosophy of discipline. Because of these pressures imposed by state and federal reform policies, I failed too many students that year by deeming them unworthy of second, third, and fourth chances because I was too caught up in getting off of a list that again put labels – deficit labels – on schools that were predominately filled with Black bodies (Lance, 2021). I have experienced highs and lows. I understand the challenges all of us are facing in our classrooms. I acknowledge we must work together to build a more equitable school system that loves children for who they are regardless of their background and break away from this ridiculous accountability experiment. Most of you probably can say the same. Do not be fooled by the yellow dress-for my pain is deep yet my fire remains lit!
So, when I ask “Who is staying?” I am speaking directly to those who acknowledge where they have failed our children and yet are unwavering in their determination to begin again, in support of our children. I am speaking to those who want to liberate our children, who want to be an abolitionist. “To begin the work of abolitionist teaching and fighting for justice, the idea of mattering is essential in that you must matter enough to yourself, to your students, and to your students’ community to fight” (Love, 2019, p. 2). While I am no longer a classroom teacher, that does not make my fight and struggles less or more than yours. Instead, it means I am still in the arena – fighting like so many others regardless of title or location. Individuals like Gloria Ladson-Billings, Pedro Noguera, Chris Emdin, Bettina Love, Shaun Harper, Tyrone Howard, Dena Simmons, Terri Watson, Yolanda Sealey-Ruiz. Individuals like school administrators, school counselors, bus drivers, cafeteria workers, maintenance staff, school superintendents, board members, and so many others.
The past few days I reflected on the words by my fellow New Yorker, Dr. Chris Emdin. In his most recently published book, Ratchetdemic-Reimaging Academic Success, Dr. Emdin contends,
“For those who choose teaching as a career, their genius is awakened every day of their professional lives. The daily practice of ingenuity, flexibility, creativity, and patience is the formula for awakening genius. For those who once taught, even after they no longer work every day in classrooms, the recognition of and reverence for the genius of teaching allows them to access their genius in their present work” (2021, p. 9).
Finally, I acknowledge that Twitter and all other social media platforms for which I post my thoughts, ideas, and questions, leave me open to criticism. The post from March 2nd reminded me not only of the ugliness of people who disagree with you, but also of the ability to hurl insults and hide behind those supposed happy thumbs. Yet, I find comfort in knowing that courage and truth, as well as love and support for each other, will always prevail. We must tend to our own seared scars as well as those others are still healing from, and we must build coalitions to help each other, and our children find liberation. I have earned my stripes, and I will keep fighting for a better system for all of our children. Still, do not be fooled by the yellow dress!
Emdin, C. (2021). Ratchetdemic-Reimagining Academic Success. Beacon Press.
Garvins, J. (2021). Fugitive Pedagogy-Carter G. Woodson and the Art of Black Teaching. Harvard University Press.
Lance, T. (2021). How Does My Social Justice and Equity Experience or View Impact My Ability to Lead as an African American Principal? In I.C. Carrier & A.J. Griffen (Eds.), Fighting the Good Fight-Narratives of the African American Principalship (140). Word and Deed Publishing.
Love, Bettina (2020). We want to do more than survive: Abolitionist teaching and the pursuit of educational freedom. Beacon Press.