Why Worrying Changes Nothing

Caring and worrying about what people think of us is something we experience and occasionally struggle with. Worrying is a universal, ageless human ailment. We especially, fearing rejection and…


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The Burden of the White Classroom

The excitement was too much to contain! In 2021, I had finally secured a position at a Charter School as an AP English Teacher. My dream job! Within the first week I was adopted by a tightknit group of Seniors and Sophomores who were all culturally similar in that they checked the Black box in the demographics section of the SAT exam. They welcomed me with the intensity and fervor of loving children, and they even called me Mom. Their need of me broke down my staunch teacher-student boundaries and it was only a matter of weeks before they included me in their group chats, trusted me as a mediator, confided in me with their drama, and were Facetiming me during their birthday parties. The most surprising aspect of this experience wasn’t that the children with my own skin color were drawn to me, but there was also a convivial response from the otherstudents.

It was a month or two before teachers would greet me in the halls and add comments like: Oh the children love you. On the surface, none of us were any the wiser. I was a beloved teacher that the students adored. Seemed legit! And my students were ‘good’ and therefore easy to manage. But Nah! Fortunately unfortunately, my countenance doesn’t allow me to skate on the surface of anything and I was determined to examine myself and the school that hired me meticulously to understand the factors that influenced the underlying and unspoken topics that needed to be discussed. RACE!

In one of my senior classes, my student blurted out the words, “You are my first Black teacher and I’ve been in this school, since Kindergarten.” The words took a minute to process…how can that even be possible? The First Black Teacher?

Between Kindergarten and Twelfth Grade are thirteen years of youth. THIRTEEN YEARS! But who am I to judge? I mean they hired me, -a Black Muslim Woman- so all in all, the school was doing better to improve upon the availability of Black educators and the accessibility of Black Culture in the classroom.

I didn’t return in September due to circumstances beyond my control. Sort of! I was pregnant with my seventh child and had to sit out the start of the school year. Surprisingly enough, a handful of other teachers did not return either which left a gaping hole in the school’s infrastructure. Fall came and went and in the back of my mind when the head of HR told me that they would be hiring someone else to take my position and that I would be returning in the capacity of Special Education, I felt uneasy. But I didn’t know why. I think a part of me had hoped that the individual who had taken my classroom would somehow keep the spirit of that room alive. Did I hope for them to be Black? I think, secretly, I really did.

In the Winter when I finally did return, nothing looked the same and I was thrusted into a weird scenario. Since when did Special Education become synonymous with babysitting Black Children? My conscious mind has been channeling Umar Johnson and as much as I’ve disagreed with him about Special Education and the ADHD conundrum, I now found myself in full agreement. Black children are diagnosed with learning and behavioral disabilities disproportionately. This fact is immutable and what’s worst, I was now a perpetrator.

This nature that I was given, has an insatiable desire to understand a situation that has clear injustice and being a Special Educator who pushes into classes has given me the most comprehensive vantage point of the whiteness of classroom educators. My first observation happened quite by accident. On the first day back in the Winter of 2023, I set out to introduce myself to the resource room of thirteen ninth graders who all had IEP’s and all smelled like Tik Tok and the insanity of Middle School. The teacher (White) who was also a special educator cut my introduction short and remarked, “We don’t have time for that,” in a rudely brazen manner. The majority of the students (Black) defended me with vehemence, and it was easy to surmise that this group’s dynamic was toxic.

Then there was the meeting with the SPED Coordinator (White) who revealed to me that the same teacher had tried to report me-(yeah she snitched)-saying that I interrupted their learning and tried to split the children against her. The coordinator also explained how the children had been split up previously according to gender, ability, and RACE! He then revealed that the same teacher had raised her hand in the middle of PD and asked for the best advice on teaching the Black Kids.

Unsurprisingly enough, being in the classrooms had little difference. The teacher (White) who now sits comfortably in my former chair and desk, had graciously showed me where she put my belongings that were left over from the previous year, before pointing to the front tables and saying, “It’s pretty much all of the kids that sit at this table.”

Even more unsurprising is that all the children who sat at that table, are Black. And what’s more than even that, is that one of them is a strong student from my tenth grade now being identified as a weak student in her eleventh-grade class. And by weak, I mean disruptive.

Next door is even more of a dilemma. There are twelve students who make up the entirety of the Sophomore Honors for Block 6, two of which are performing low and one that was assigned to me who was put in Honors because no other class was available.

Curiosity got the best of me, so I peaked at this young man’s IEP. It had everything written about what he’ll do once he graduates but nothing whatsoever about what he needs to do to be able to graduate. Who wrote this?… was the first question that came to mind with the second question being, why did his parents sign this? To make matters worse, the Coordinator said that this young man had finally been given a new diagnosis of MID (Mild Intellectual Disability) but his parents are reluctant to sign. My first encounter with him, he ignored me completely. The second encounter was a bit more productive until he walked out of the room and disappeared down the hall before I noticed. I sent an email to both Coordinators stating that a formal introduction was necessary before I singled this young man out from a group of Honor students to make him feel even more of whatever he was feeling when he walked out on me.

But let me back up a bit because the title of this article is: The Burden of The White Classroom! In the limited time that I’ve spent sitting in various white-led classes, I made a remarkable discovery. The majority of White teachers are burdened with having to appear like a perfect teacher who has mastered classroom management and they don’t know how to respond to children who are cultured differently than themselves. Children who are cultured differently than the hegemony are undoubtedly going to test the boundaries of a system that they i.don’t recognize, ii. don’t respect and/or iii. can see the flaws of the system but can’t articulate nor maneuver effectively.

The one consistency that I see is how the ‘problem children’ respond to me. In the spirit of being transparent, let me be clear. I’ve had more difficult days in the past month than I’ve had for the entirety of the last school year. I am not a magical unicorn that fixed any of the children who present challenging behavior or learning challenges. The factor that is the most consistent in all my educational experiences is that I choose to listen and understand the children and it has proven to be an effective approach that crosses cultural boundaries.

In one lesson, the students were discussing the book, “Into the Wild,” and the teacher was discussing a chapter and she gave many examples from her own life. The examples were great, and they showed that she really understood the content that she was teaching. However, she never once asked the children for their own examples. There was no connection! In the five minutes that I had when I sat with the most problematic eleventh grader discussing the same chapter, he was able to make a connection, respond to the question, and later, he even remembered the information for the test.

Being a teacher is quite arguably the third most challenging profession after Sanitation and Corrections. But being a White teacher of students who are cultured in the Black Diaspora, has got to be the most challenging, bar-none.

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