%*@! being an educator!
After 16 years in education, sometimes that is EXACTLY how I feel! I would argue that sometimes it’s exactly how you should feel.
Having served in education from the policy level as a political intern in the U.S. Senate to being in service to primarily low-income communities and communities of color as a playground attendant, case manager, substitute teacher, counselor, dean of students and Principal Intern, all while existing as a 6’6” Black male of mystery weight… well, a lot of days have left me screaming, “%*@!”
To keep being honest, education wasn’t my first choice. I wanted to be a Senator, ambassador, talk-show host on basic cable, or the first Black President (Obama, in hindsight, was a much better choice). I was an only child who spent most of my time enjoying and feeling valued in educational spaces. The notable exception was middle school, when for three years I was bused away from my community to a “better” community for a “better” education.
As is typically the case when reflecting back on our lives, it took some perspective to fully understand my middle school experience. I didn’t know as a middle-school kid that by “better,” they really meant “whiter.” I didn’t realize at the time that whiteness meant sacrificing identity, and that for me, as a tall Black kid of mystery weight, it meant being lost in stereotypes in the midst of adolescence and not feeling valued as a person.
The value people saw in me was made clear in the messages I heard from them: “You’re tall. You should play basketball.” “Do you rap?”
Bull%*@!, in other words. (See? There are lots of four-letter words that can apply to education.)
Under the guidance of my “better” teachers in my “better” neighborhood, the identity I had known as a learner and scholar would disappear in favor of intentionally disruptive behavior and defiance. I no longer saw myself being valued as “smart” and capable, so I found ways to create my own value. It was a %*@! shame, really.
Those years weren’t my fondest memories and now still create emotion in me, mourning the boy in those “better” hallways. Those years also shaped my pedagogical beliefs as an educator who has dedicated his life to serving the boy* inside of the man, and to changing the four-letter words we use when we talk about education.
As a non-traditional parent who’s had the privilege to kinship-care/adopt six of my former students over the years, and as a Black man who serves in a space where I continually see younger reflections of me pushed to the margins by a well-intentioned**-but-traumatizing system, it wasn’t until I became a practitioner and got to learn from and with other educators, that most importantly from my students and families, that I truly began to yell, “%*@! Being an educator!” and have it mean something beautiful.
This blog will be filled with lots of four-letter words and ideas that we’re afraid to use and live out in educational spaces. Words like HEAL and HERO, ALLY and HOPE, to name a few.
As famously monologued in a Spider-man movie, “We have to be greater than what we suffer.” I truly believe in the innate greatness in each and every one of our students, and in turn the innate greatness in each and every one of us. We have what it takes to be greater for our students and families, and we to be greater for each other. Greater than an oppressive system and greater than the temptation to forget how powerful we are. Greater than the urge to throw in the towel and let our HOPE turn back into %*@!.
This blog will celebrate and challenge all of us to use that power when we put our foot down and yell, “%*@! no!” We will be celebrating the greatness of educators like Cornelius and Kass Minor in Brooklyn, NY, who challenge the status quo through a pedagogy of HOPE and of flipping the script to say “%*@! YES!”.
We’ll keep challenging, like Matt Halvorson and Rise Up For Students, systems across the country that profit off of the suffering of black, brown (including Indigenous/native students whom are often deemed statistically irrelevant) and low-income bodies through privileged lenses of doing things the way they’ve always been done.
We’ll keep learning from students’ lives -- students like Trevon McKoy, who did things the “right way” and still fell victim to the trappings of an environment cultivated to hate anything not within the margins, and whose young life was ended way to soon by a face and story that sounded like his own.
Personally, I know this blog will challenge me, because there is blood on my hands as well. This isn’t written as a sage on the stage or a voyeur or an expert. This is just a voice coming from the desk chair that’s just big enough for me to squeeze into and just small enough to suction around my hips when I get up, right next to each and every one of you. Celebrate with me, challenge with me, and challenge me as we explore education and the circumstances that remind us that there is only one four-letter word that truly matters as an educator: KIDS.
And everything we do is grounded in the most important, revolutionary and liberating %*@! of all: LOVE! Even when it’s hard, even when I want to quit, I %*@! being an educator and being connected to education, and I hope you’ll share that %*@! with me as we take this journey the only way we can: together.
*In service of all children.
**Acknowledging that the intentions of well-meaning educators have not moved the needle nor changed impact.