In our rush to figure out logistics this fall, we can’t forget that who we ARE impacts how we teach more than anything else. Unpacking our own identity and the “why” we bring to the classroom can be a grounding force that holds us steady through change.

Listen in as I have a laid-back yet energizing conversation with Tanesha Forman, a middle school teacher entering her 15th year in the classroom. She shares how her daily classroom work is a reflection of her own learning, identity, and growth, and how she uses that self-reflection to support students in being fully seen and known in her classroom.

Tanesha also shares how she’s planning for both curriculum and socio-emotional learning in the coming school year through a reflective, anti-bias/anti-racist lens. We talk about disrupting power structures, and Tanesha shares her “freedom dream” in which kids and teachers can fully be themselves in school.

If you want to surround yourself right now with the inspiration of folks who are reimagining schools through their daily work, this episode is a must-listen.

 

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Preparing for the coming school year

ANGELA: When you think about the new groups of students you’ll have this year, how are you preparing to teach them? How do you prepare through an anti-bias and anti-racist lens?

TANESHA: The preparation for me always begins with myself. I do a lot of self-critique and self-evaluation of, “What was I doing?” And I’m looking at the lessons and the work that I put in front of students. That’s like from the content standpoint. Which perspectives am I lifting? Which authors am I uplifting? Because I’m an ELA teacher, which texts? All of those things are constantly related.

So it’s actually looking at my classroom practices and policies and ensuring that they are affirming and valuing the students who are in the room and uplifting groups that have been traditionally pushed to the margins by the oppression and racism that exists in our society.

Then I look at my classroom procedures and how I’m building community and thinking about, “What is my actual approach to building a classroom community which has evolved over time?” And I think that the self-reflection process and preparing for the new year is what has given me this ability to be like, “Oh, I’m actually not aligned with that in terms of how I approach building a classroom community.”

So it’s a lot of self-reflection about content and then just about the community that I want to address. And then for me, it’s also reading. And the interesting part, what I like to tell people about how I read is that there are a lot of books that have been on my shelf for a long time that I was not in a place to receive. And I think one of those was Culturally Sustaining Pedagogies.

Because sometimes we’ll think we read and then it gets implemented into practice. And so a part of my reflection process as I’m growing is like, “Whose work am I implementing?” Or, “What pedagogies am I applying in my class and where do they come from?” So if this sounds like a big hodgepodge process, it’s kind of that. It’s a really messy process of learning and unlearning through reflection and reading.

Considering who you ARE, not just what you DO

I really like that, because I think so often in teaching, we rush right into strategy. Like, let’s take it into the classroom. What are we going to DO with kids? And I think we tend to skip this self-reflection piece. We skip the piece of really examining, who are we as humans? Who are we showing up in the classroom as? What values are we bringing in? What beliefs are we bringing in and how is that showing up for kids? And I think what you’re describing here — this process of continually self-reflecting and continually growing, continually feeding your mind and your soul with resources that challenge you — I think is so integral to the process. I’m glad to hear you talking about this.

I think that’s also something that’s overlooked. And regardless of what type of education context you’re in, there’s always room for you to either opt in or opt out. I teach at a charter school where someone could be like, “Oh, we’re very strict because we have this level of rules.” And I’m like, that does not take away my personal beliefs and what I bring into the classroom, because I don’t want to. There’s no possible way, not even if I want to or not for me to leave that behind.

And there’s so much that I believe about what enters my mind and how that contributes to my practice. So I’ve gotten really real with myself, especially over the last couple of years, where I’ve been like, “What are you doing and why?” Because that’s what has allowed me to ascend to the next level. And it’s not any level I’m trying to get to, it’s just like the constant ongoing development that needs to happen in order for me to become a better educator.

Building community through class contracts

What does this look like in terms of building a community and the kind of relationships you have with your students?

I used to think of this in terms of classroom management. And that’s a big thing because it’s like now, I no longer think of this as me serving as the manager of a classroom. So part of the process has been owning the fact that we are developing a classroom community. And in any community, everybody’s contributing their voice and contributing their ideas.

And whether you write it down or not, there’s a set rule of agreement or a contract that you set and follow. So approaching the year, that’s something that has risen as being something really important for me to do. Instead of going in and being like, “I need you all to fill out this stuff for me,” meaning like surveys (which is okay, because there’s a time and place for those things), it’s more about: “I need us to start to think about who we are, how we’re going to interact, how we will engage with one another and why.”

So a part of that is in creating a classroom contract, which isn’t much more than what it sounds. It’s just a list of agreements for how we want to interact with one another. And then we also think through, “Well, what are we going to do if this contract isn’t upheld?” Because there’s something — and I teach middle school — really powerful of being able to say, “We agreed to this and that’s not happening. And so what can we do in order to make it better?”

And I think it breaks down the power dynamic in the classroom and it truly empowers kids to think through and build that like, “Hmm, she’s right. We did know that. We did say we were going to do that and we’re not.” And so a lot of the process is me getting used to facilitating how to create a classroom contract with a kid.

So there are classroom contracts — where we have shared agreements about what’s expected and what will happen when that agreement is broken. What other kinds of things do you do during those first few weeks of school?

The other thing is thinking about how we’re going to collaborate and engage in the work. Being a secondary ELA teacher, this year we’re going to write our literary experiences and literary narratives about our reading process and our writing classes. And so it aligns with the academics, but it allows us to share how we orient towards reading and writing.

We’re working on cooperative and collaborative learning. So it’s just kind of like, “How will we engage with one another? What would that look like?” And so we’re actually practicing that skill. Because once again, I teach middle school and a lot of it comes in the form of, “Maybe I don’t want to work with this person or maybe I don’t.” And so we kind of talk about insider/outsider dynamics and what that does and how that affects the classroom.

So it’s a lot of putting what we have in our contracts into action. It’s like I’m trying to disrupt traditional power that teachers bring into the classroom because I came into education when it was like, “Don’t smile until the winter holiday.”

And then if I went into any type of a relationship where I thought the person was genuinely upset all the time because they rarely smiled or showed any emotion, I realized, “Am I going to feel empowered to be my best self? Am I going to want to operate in this space?” And my answer was “no.”

Now my practice has shifted to being more about me trying to figure out the dynamics in the classroom and allowing that to be what it’s going to be. Which if you are a leader and you’re used to it being a little more rigid, you’re probably going to be like, “What is Mrs. Forman doing?” And when you come into my classroom in October, you’ll be like, “Oh wow, this feels different.”

It’s because I’m taking time to go through that cycle of us getting to know each other and building relationships. We’re trying to, as much as possible, create a very strong base for the experience we’re going to build during the year.

Disrupting power structures and teaching about identity

I like what you said about disrupting power structures, because like you, when I first entered the teaching profession, it was the late ’90s and we leaned really hard into the teacher as the authority. The teacher was the expert. The teacher was in charge and getting kids to respect our authority was the norm. So that has been a continual process of unlearning for me, too.

I feel the same way in terms of the pendulum shift back the other way, because I think we emphasized one more than the other. And you’re so right. That kind of structure just doesn’t set kids up to feel like they can be their best and also allow them to show their full identity. And I think that’s an important piece of this.

I’m wondering if you can speak a little bit more to supporting kids and being able to show up fully as who they are in the classroom and disrupting those power structures. What does that look like for you?

We have an entire identity unit — it’s like a mini-unit where we’re talking about who we are and what identity is. We’ll talk about identity markers in our social constructs and what that means and what are some of the groups that you’re a part of. We talk about real versus perceived identity. We talk a lot about shared identities versus different identities and how we’re not competing to be anybody, but just more so having a lot of pride in who you are as well as respect for others.

And so I guess that’s in the lens of developing cultural competence. And we do this early — in the first trimester, we’re talking a lot about identity because that’s going to continue to build on our ability to work in groups. That’s going to build in our ability to connect and to engage in disagreements and to understand where one another is coming from.

And a big piece of that is the overemphasis of you defining yourself.

So if you define yourself, then you’re actually in charge of yourself. And so you get to make the decisions that you want, when you want it.

One day, I was in the classroom and I realized, “I cannot actually make the students do anything. If every single student in this class said ‘no,’ I have nothing.” It’s like the light bulb went off in my mind. And I actually tell my students, “I actually can’t make you do anything. You have that power. You lean into your power when you choose to say ‘Yes, I’m going to do it,’ or ‘no,’ but you just have to know that it’s in your decision making.”

It all falls into who you want to be or who you’re becoming. I’ve found that for some kids, it was like, “Well, I’ve been in school for like seven years. Do you mean you’re telling me that you’re not in charge?” And it’s a cute moment, but it’s also a moment where I put that power back on kids. If you come into my classroom and you listen to the language that I’m using, it is about power. It is about being who you are. And it shifts back to the identity work that we do at the beginning of the year.

If teachers are listening to this and thinking, “That sounds amazing. I want to do a mini-unit on identity as well.” Where can they go for those kinds of resources? How did you put your unit together?

I did a lot of research, and I’m still doing research. I think I started with my own identity. I came back to the pieces of my identity that I felt were driving my “why” in the classroom. And I needed to unpack that because it was impacting how I was engaging with kids.

And so I always tell people that before you start thinking, “I need to do that,” for every single thing — even like an identity — it starts with you thinking about who you are and what you bring into your “why”.

When I think about culturally relevant pedagogy, I started thinking about reflecting on what I believe and whose work I believe and why. And so I knew that there was an academic excellence part. And then I knew that there was something about cultural competence, and also social and political consciousness.

And so I guess I leaned into better understanding what cultural competence was or what it is. And that led me to be like, “Oh, if a part of this work is to help students to bring awareness about others and lean into their identity, then perhaps we should do identity work.” And so it started with Dr. Gloria Ladson-Billings’ work, which has created a lot of different pieces of work now.

And so that’s how I started creating my work. There are also some Teaching Tolerance resources. I think they have some standards that kind of walk through outcomes and scenarios called Critical Practices for Anti-bias Education — things like that.

Are there any pitfalls that teachers should avoid or things to watch out for? Any common mistakes they make when they’re trying to build relationships and community and do these kinds of things with their kids?

Just be aware of the fact that no matter how you try to deconstruct power in your classroom, you still are the authority figure in the classroom your students are looking to view, and your opinions matter to them.

That’s something I’m still working on because I know how much my students love me, and that’s not to be arrogant. I’m always aware of how I respond to them and how I interact with them. I think another pitfall is seeing the identity work or the anti-bias and anti-racist work as something that comes with an expiration date. It’s not something that you do at the beginning of the year. It’s not something that you just do in the middle of the year. It should be weaved throughout what you do in your content. And so a lot of times people will say, “Well, you teach ELA and so it has a nice synergy there.” And I would like to argue back that when our students are going in between classes, they’re not like, “Well, let me just take off this part of my identity because it no longer applies because I’m in math.”

So understanding that who we are and how we show up appears in everything that we do and we should value it in that way. And it doesn’t matter what content you teach. I could probably tell any given content area how you could approach this in a way that makes sense and it would probably be similar.

The other pitfall is trying to do all of the things. When I say it’s a process, I sometimes get scared to share what I’m doing, which sounds really weird because I know I’m in this constant cycle of evaluating. And I’m like,”By the time I share this thing that I’ve done, I’ll probably be like, ‘Oh no, I shouldn’t have done it. I should have done it this way or that way.'” And so just being really intentional about what you’re presenting to kids and why it’s really important.

And you don’t have to do all of the things. There is no checklist that is like, “All right, have you done identity work with your kids? Check. Have you done this?” Because it comes out in small ways. It comes out when there’s a disagreement, when you’re stressed, when kids are stressed. That’s where the work and the interaction that you see that kind of bubbles up to the top. And so do what you can but be committed to what you do, if that makes sense.

Building in accountability systems for your practice

Let’s talk about curriculum. You shared some really powerful anti-racist ELA practices on your Instagram back in June. And I think there’s a lot to consider there for teachers of all subjects. As you’re saying that this applies no matter what you teach. One thing that you emphasize is to start with yourself. So you had written, “Before jumping into strategies, take time to examine your values, beliefs, and actions.” So I’m wondering if you can talk about what this work looks like and how teachers can build in accountability systems that help them reflect on their practice.

The thing is, accountability, to me, is supporting students and their families. At my school, one thing that I love that we do is we regularly give student and family surveys. For some people, I think you could excuse your way out of what that information is. But my students have been very honest with what they’re receiving and how they are receiving it from me.

And so that’s a huge piece, you’ve taken feedback from your leadership team, you’ve taken feedback from your students, you’ve taken feedback from their families. I also think that it’s important for you to model for students when you make a mistake, you learn out loud. And I’m going to give a clear example of this.

We had a practice at my school where if students did things (I’m just going try to put things in a very broad category) then they would have to sit out recess. I don’t know where I saw this, but something came up probably in my Instagram feed. There was a book called No More Taking Away Recess. And I bought the book and I started reading the information. I went back to the class and I was like, “Hey, I am in the process of becoming just like Michelle Obama, and we all think that she is great. One of the things that I’m actually learning about is the power of you, middle schoolers, being able to go outside and play. I actually have reflected on it and I value it and I think it’s important. And so here’s what I’m committing to based on this book that I’m reading.”

I think sometimes, we have the tendency when we think about an accountability system where we’ve learned in private, and I think there’s a time and place for you to have that personal self-reflection. But it’s really powerful when I tell the kids that I’ve read this. I’m changing, and it also shows how dynamic learning can be.

It’s like, “I’ve done this thing that you all know that I’ve done, where I’ve held you in for recess. I’ve now read this book. I sure agree with a lot of their practices. I don’t want to be a teacher that’s actually learning and growing.” But I just don’t put all that ownership on me. I’m like, “Let’s think about some of the times when you haven’t earned recess — what was happening? What can we do to make sure that that doesn’t happen again?”

It sets the table so that if I’m in a position where previously the student would have lost recess, I’m like, “Here’s a time that I’m talking about, when old Mrs. Foreman, before I learned this new thing, would have been like, ‘You don’t have recess anymore.’ What’s happening?” I can’t even tell you how powerful those types of learning, those types of moments of saying out loud and with your kids are in terms of accountability. Because it’s not only the accountability for me but for them — to think about, how am I contributing to this?

I can testify to the power of having those kinds of conversations for kids where you’re modeling your own thinking and your own growth for them. I mean, if you want to talk about instant engagement, it’s admitting to kids that you’ve changed your mind on something, and you’re rethinking something about how the classroom runs. It’s kind of cool because you’re speaking from a middle school perspective, but mine is from early elementary.

So I’ve taught Pre-K, 2nd, and 3rd grades, and I’ve had these conversations even with kids as little as Pre-K. The kids are so fascinated to hear like, “Wow, here’s an adult reflecting on something they did that they felt like didn’t help make the classroom the kind of place that was great for kids to learn in.” And to get them involved in those kinds of conversations and being thoughtful about what kind of atmosphere, what kind of relationships are conducive to learning, is so, so powerful.

Yes.

And I think a lot of times, teachers are afraid to do that because you don’t want to look weak in front of your students and you don’t want to open yourself up for criticism. We just have all sorts of fears about that kind of thing. And I think for a lot of us, when we were growing up, we didn’t have teachers who taught us like this.

So we’re not used to seeing adults modeling that kind of behavior, but how powerful is it? Think about how much you and I have had to unlearn, that sort of dominating “respect me, I’m in charge” teaching. Imagine if we raise kids now so that they see from a young age what it looks like to get new information and change your mind. To get new information and have a different opinion.

To be constantly seeking to learn and grow like that. When we’re modeling that for kids and how to pivot, how to change course when you realize you were wrong about something and to realize maybe you were missing something before, I just think that’s one of the most powerful things that we can do.

And as you’re saying, it’s not a curriculum necessarily. It’s not like a planned set of lessons. This is just how you show up in the classroom. It’s how you’re living your life and how you’re then showing up for kids. Am I saying that right?

That is exactly it. Exactly.

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Centering voices from the margins

So when you are planning lessons and you’re thinking about what you want to include in your curriculum, you recommend that teachers be intentional and think about which voices and experiences are being centered in the curriculum, as well as which voices and experiences are being centered in the classroom. So whose perspectives are dominating, whose perspectives are largely missing, who’s not participating in class, who’s not seeing their viewpoint represented in the curriculum and that sort of thing. Can you say more about what that looks like in action?

Yes. That’s a big one. I think about my current school where we have a lot of shared identities in our classroom, but I am always thinking about how are we presenting stories of black Americans? And then how are we presenting or are we presenting any stories of native Americans or indigenous people? Are we presenting information about the LGBTQ+ community?

But there’s something about really taking a critical lens to how different groups show up and work and how that might be either silencing or stereotyping. And so when I look at the texts that are put in front of kids, I’m super intentional about themes that show up and authors that are showing up and when they wrote and how they wrote.

When kids are looking to me as their teacher and they’re looking at the texts that I’ve put in front of them, how do I make sure that I’m, first of all, not teaching the wrong stuff. That I am not teaching holidays and just special days that we celebrate this group of people.

How do I make sure the curriculum is actually inclusive and includes a lot of different voices? And I’m going to try to be as specific as I can right now, which is like one place where I realized that I could do better is in how I was representing members of the LGBTQ+ community. Because I felt like even for me, I wasn’t representing members of the community in a way that was just, “Okay, so we’re reading this text by a queer black woman,” and what that means.

It was almost like the text wasn’t as satisfying in a way that I wasn’t intending for it to be. And so I’m going back through my texts and I’m thinking about how I’ve explained authors, which authors am I going to put in front of kids this year? How am I going to talk about the author’s identities and why? And that’s a place where I’m doing a lot of work, because for so many years I’ve been like, “Oh no, I don’t know how to approach that.” And it’s just like, “No, Tanesha, you know exactly how to approach that.”

You just need to think through which texts and which authors you’re going to put in front of kids and why, and be prepared to engage in conversations with kids. Right now in real time, I’m reflecting on how much work I have to do in terms of where I want to go and the book that I want to put in front of kids and the places I want to uplift. In this moment, I feel like you have a lot of work to do. But I also know and believe in the power of that I can’t do everything at once.

What can I do better and continue to build on? And so what I know I want to do better is I want to get better at uplifting the LGBTQ+ community in the classroom through books, through authors and a number of different ways. And I just need to make sure that I am taking that step to ensure that it happens. And that’s the first step. And I feel like after I take that step, there’s going to be the next step that happens.

But right now, I’m literally coaching myself around like, “You can’t get overly upset about what you did not do in the last 14 years. But you’re trying to push forward and say that I’m trying to broaden what I do and how I do it and this is the next step that we’re going to take as a class and you’re going to take as a teacher.”

Using your personal growth as energizing fuel for teaching

I think the feeling of overwhelm–like you know how much there is still to learn and how much still that you want to try to do with your students, or you want to show up for your kids and continually improve — I think that can be really energizing, too. If you look at this as this lifelong process of becoming, as you’re saying, like becoming the person that you’re really meant to be and the teacher that you’re really meant to be.

Some of the stuff that you have not learned how to do yet, for me, it just feels really energizing. And I feel like I always want to teach something that I’m personally learning. Even just when it comes to the podcast, a lot of the topics that I’m on here exploring are things that I’m really passionate about, that I’m discovering, that I’m looking deeper into.

And I think it’s the same thing when you’re teaching students. When you’re reading a book that’s really inspiring to you or you’re watching a TED talk or there’s just a podcast even — something that is really moving you and making you a better person and deepening your thinking, making you a more critical, conscious consumer of information — I think that kind of shines through and it fuels the work with students.

So for me, this constant growth is really energizing to me for the work. Because if I felt like I already had it all figured out, I wouldn’t be excited anymore to teach it. Does that make sense?

It makes perfect sense.

I don’t believe that I could get to this point of feeling so energized if I was not very real with myself on areas where I needed to grow and learn.

And I know I keep coming back to the self-work, but it is in that space that propels me for it, is knowing that I still have work to do. And that contributes to what you’re saying, which is like, “Yep, now I’m energized. I’ve had my moment of self-pity. I didn’t do it. And now I’m going to jump into it and do it and continue to move my work forward.” That’s what allows me to ascend as an educator and it keeps me grounded and sometimes I kind of fly high.

Freedom dreaming 

I know that you are a fan, like I am, of Dr. Bettina Love’s book, “We Want to Do More Than Survive,” which to me is probably the most powerful education book that I have read in the last year or so. I cannot recommend it highly enough. In that book, she talks about “freedom dreaming” and envisioning a just and equitable world as fuel for the work and as inspiration for joy. I wonder if you would share with us what freedom dreaming looks like for you when it comes to teaching and learning in schools?

Freedom dreaming is completely re-imagining what has ever existed in order to pave a new way or to create a new way of doing something. And I think what I love about it is that there’s so much joy and passion and love in doing things a different way. And when you think about identity and being who you are and just showing pride, giving yourself the freedom to be like, “I’m going to show up just like this. I’m going to be who I am. It is what it is,” it’s a part of my freedom dream. Because I think that in that same book, she talks about spirit murdering.

And for so long I felt like I operated in schools where my spirit was murdered, where I was not uplifted, where I was told like, “Make sure that you sound like this, that you do this. Keep your work right here because you’re going to have to work harder, you’re going to have to be better.” And it just crushed me.

But in this freedom dream, I don’t have to worry about none of that. I can show up and I can use my African American English vernacular, you know what I mean? I can just use my Ebonics and be myself and that’s not going to take away from anything that is happening in my classroom. And I think that when I show up as myself, unapologetic, it really emboldens the kids to show up.

I mean, if you’ve ever had a moment when you watch kids be who they are and how they create and do … just be free, it is the most beautiful thing you will ever see.

And I think that a lot of times, it’s the freedom without confinement — without having to fit, to just operate as you are and to be able to receive and learn as that person — that is a big part of what I believe freedom dreaming to be.

It’s not in the standardized tests. It’s not in the comparison to anything or anyone except for the person that you’re becoming. And if none of this makes sense, I apologize. It’s because I’m smiling so big and I’ve actually engaged in an inner freedom dream where kids, especially black and brown kids, the kids who I teach, are allowed to exist without all of the anti-who they are.

I feel like there are a lot of systems and instructors that aren’t inviting. And when we really freedom dream and we reimagine and reconceptualize what education should be, education should be something that allows you to exist and become the butterfly or the dragon or whatever it is that you were meant to be. It should not be something that is forced on shaping you, but you are almost shaping it.

And if you can’t get that, that’s because you’re not being free enough. That’s what I tell my kids. Sometimes I have those moments where they’re like, “What?” And I’m like, “Yeah, come on.” You’ve got to come back for them and say it again for the back row. I’m not here to shape my students. I’m not here to mold them into anything. I am here to support and engage, to allow them to shape and own what makes sense to them, how they want to be and how they want to learn.

And I want to be able to say we’ll bring something that you’re interested in and let us all engage with it. Because in my freedom dream, that’s how schooling works.

It’s not just like a download by the teacher. It is actually like we are co-constructing and as a teacher, I’m actually co-learning or co-owning the learning in the classroom.

Spirit murdering vs spirit nurturing

That’s powerful. I love it. And I also love that you brought up that phrase “spirit murdering.” Patricia Williams, a legal scholar, coined the term “spirit murdering” in 1987 to argue that racism robs people of color of their humanity and dignity and leaves personal, psychological, and spiritual injuries. Racism is traumatic because it is a loss of protection, safety, nurturance, and acceptance — all things children need to enter school and learn. 

When I read that, it struck me in such a powerful way because yes, that is what schools do particularly to what Dr. Love calls “dark children”, meaning black and brown children, marginalized groups of kids. And to some extent, I think all children, and I think even teachers, experience spirit murder under the current systems.

It is a soul crusher. A lot of the ways that we do schools, it’s just soul crushing. It is. And I think it is easy to descend into hopelessness, especially right now. I feel like because we’re in a crisis and things are just nuts at the moment, I think holding onto the freedom dreaming to me really spoke to me even as a white educator. Obviously, there’s a different context there for educators of color and children of color.

But to be thinking about what practices are spirit murdering, what are the things that take away students’ opportunities to be free and who they are and to show up as their full selves, versus this freedom dreaming. This dreaming of a better way, of a more equitable school system in which kids and teachers can be who they really are. There is so much joy and energy to be found in that work.

There is. You know what I realized when I started to do the identity work and find out more about my students? It helps me understand how they best learn. I feel like our education, like the current brick and mortar system is set up for a student who’s not my kid. I mean, obviously, we can go into the history of education. But when I catch those moments where students are just being who they are, you know that moment where your kids feel like they can like share and express themselves in a way that is true and authentic to them.

I know that in that day, they’re not going to go home and be like, “Let me tell you what I learned in school today.” It’s more, “Let me tell you what I experienced and what I did today.” And those are two different things that happened in school. And I really want kids to leave and to talk about the experiences that they’re having at school, hopefully, mostly positive experiences versus like I learned this and this and then this.

A part of my educational philosophy, I do think that we have to honor academic excellence. And I know that in Dr. Gholdy Muhammad’s book, she talks a lot about the history of black excellence. And so I do value that, but I feel like we sometimes tense up or really focus on one thing and forget the other parts of education, in particular, the socio-political consciousness and cultural competence, which to me are really important pieces of any educational experience.

Optimism for the school year ahead

You and I both share the belief that we absolutely cannot seek to replicate our old pre-COVID ways of teaching. We can’t try to do that now. We can’t go back to that ever because our kids deserve better and so do our teachers. And this is an opportunity to create change, this moment here that we have the privilege of living through right now. So I’m wondering what is something that you are optimistic about for the coming school year or something that you’re looking forward to working on?

I feel like it’s going to be a year in which we actually push each other on our practice as educators, where we actually call on another in.

It’s awesome that in this moment we can do that, but it’s also the year 2020. And so it’s like, why did it take so long for us to get to this point where it’s now “mainstream and acceptable” to talk about creating an anti-racist education for kids? But I am so incredibly hopeful and I have full faith in my school that we are going to work on doing better for kids than we have ever done before.

So I am really inspired to see how all teachers are engaging in the self-reflection and questioning their practices and inviting students and their families into their classrooms and finally leaving behind like the, “I’m going to shut my door and this is my classroom.” But actually thinking about the community and engaging in collective action as teachers in order to drive the work forward. And what does that mean for our kids?

The hard part is going to be kids who have been in this, what did she call it? The education survival complex. They’re in this space. So it’s like we can all finally be there, but I think our kids are going to be like, “What? Did you really mean that?” And so I’m really excited for the work that it’s going to take to have to reestablish trust and recreate the sense of belief and belonging with the students that we serve and their families. So hard work, but it’s really exciting for me.

I want to close out with a takeaway truth, something that you wish that every teacher knew about the things that we’ve talked about today.

There is no way to be an effective teacher without first thinking about who you are as a person. You cannot separate your teacher life from your real life. They are one and the same. And we have to understand that that’s real. For me, as a teacher, authenticity matters, and I cannot be my authentic, real self until I have actually unpacked and evaluated and interrogated who I am and how that shows up in my classroom and how that impacts kids.

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