No Easy Answers

You go to a community gathering; you believe that the speaker, a white male, will listen and take you, a white woman, and your friends in: black and white men, black and white women. And he does, for a moment, but he seems to be crouching there, waiting to spring with his response. To give him credit, he lets us talk and even nods his head and affirms us. Yet he dominates the room. I wanted a circle, I wanted him to end the cyclic way his words came back and back and back to integration as the only solution to educational reform. Continue Reading

Time to cede the power

A wise teacher once told me that when kids do not feel visible, in their classroom or their school, then they find ways to make themselves visible. On the other hand, many African American students tell me they feel hyper visible when it comes to Black History month or when a story in English class features a black character or in US History class when the Civil War is discussed. Then they are asked to represent the entire community of African American people when speaking, or responding, or arguing a point. Continue Reading

Stages of grief: A teacher’s struggle

In a recent article in the StarTribune by Greta Callahan, kindergarten teacher at Bethune School under the title “Walk A Mile In My Teaching Shoes,” we read this description of one way teachers are evaluated:

“Observations also involve the observer walking up to students asking what they are doing. Even my 5-year olds, who may have just started school, get asked this question. The student is supposed to regurgitate the ‘I Can’ statement that correlates to ‘Focused Instruction’. The usual response, though, is something along the lines of ‘math’ or ‘Jaden took my crayon!’ “…… Continue Reading

In the interest of whom?

September is the time I miss teaching the most. It is the time when hope reigns, or at least makes itself felt. It is the time when students vow to try harder, teachers bring summer ideas for their classrooms, stay until after their own family’s dinner hour to set up something new. Some years this feeling continues until June, with parents who help out, families who pitch in and a good principal. It will never be perfect. It will never be precise. Teaching is an art, learned the way all arts are learned through trial and error, instincts honed over time, and with practice. I have been reading Mike Rose’s book The Mind At Work: Valuing the Intelligence of the American Worker. I see similarities in our struggles as classroom teachers and aides with those who work in service professions: waiting tables, clerking in an office, serving as a receptionist, or delivering packages. In many ways teachers do all those things, and at times, do them simultaneously. In addition to organizing a classroom, we teach thirty to forty human beings, many times in five different classes each day. By the afternoon we have seen between one hundred and fifty to two hundred students. We have guided them to their desks, laughed with them while standing by their chairs as they devise a marvelous question, picked up books for them at the library, kept track of their work and participation. In some classrooms we play music to welcome them, in others we are at the door, shaking hands, commenting on new hairstyles, a great game the night before, a fine essay written for college admissions. After they have left we have sat at our desks grading papers. Continue Reading

Not knowing Ferguson

How repetitious our history is. How predictable. Unarmed black teenager gets shot, big flurry of cameras and interviews and even some occasional outrage on the part of the news media. Then come the soothers, the ones who want to calm everyone down. Editorials are written, our black president acknowledges the pain of those who have lost a son or daughter and we all tip toe away, lose interest, start pouring water on our heads for ALS. I am not disparaging water pouring or tip toeing here. I am only saying that those who leave the scene after the fires smolder and the store fronts are rebuilt, and the long, tortuous process of the investigation continues, leave the scene. We, who do not live the life of black Americans, can turn our backs and not feel the consequences. Yet those who return to live in places like Ferguson, or Montgomery, or Chicago, or any small town or suburb in this country, cannot tip toe away or ignore the signs of repression that will surely come when the world is no longer watching: when Brian Williams or Anderson Cooper have left the scene. Continue Reading

Whose country is this?

There were many disadvantages to being brought up in a restrictive part of the country in the 40’s and 50’s, even if you were white and middle class. In my mother’s New England, in the broken land and stunning autumn months and soft spring times of my childhood, I was told, in words and gestures from both teachers and parents that I had only a limited role to fill in this world. In my privileged home, oldest of five children, it was assumed that marriage would define me and that it was indeed unseemly of me to want more. I was not denied the chance to explore the world around me, to go on those long hikes I have written about or swim in dangerous water. At the same time I was expected to settle down, and to content myself raising a large family. My mother did not work. I would not work. Continue Reading