In 2004, I began my first year of teaching. I lived in a small, Texas town and the population of students I served were almost 99% white. I love those kids and have watched them grow into fantastic adults, some are even advocates for ideas I’m still learning and writing about today.
My fourth year of teaching, after marrying my husband, began while helping start up a new school in an area outside Dallas. The neighborhood around it was full of large, beautiful homes, but the children living in those homes would not be the students coming through our doors. We bused in more than 70% of our students and our student body was mostly Hispanic and African Americans. For the first few years until now, I only have a handful, if any, white students each year.
I’m not going to lie, teaching at a diverse campus was not anything I was prepared for, and it made me nervous to think about. Not only was I afraid that I might not be able to reach my new students, I was very fearful I would not be accepted in this new community.
Race Issues Exist
I love this YouTube video as it shows us how honestly children are learning from us the differences of white and brown people.
I had some awkward run-ins with parents that first year. The majority spoke Spanish and apparently I looked like the white stepmother of one of my black, female students. Her mother did not like that at all. After this mother told me this at a parent conference, she also wanted to know if her daughter “acted white?”
Whether I handled the situations well or not, I don’t know, but we all survived and I loved my students and they loved me. The next few years would reveal that my students of color and their parents would support, challenge, and teach me how to be a better educator.
Coming to Terms With My Own Prejudice
I’m a white woman teaching in a school and district whose student population is not reflected in our teacher population. Like many schools across our nation, this is a problem. I didn’t know it was a problem until one of my black colleagues explained this to me. The conversation we had was very eye-opening and made me aware of why this is a problem and how students need the people in their lives to be representative of who they could find connections & commonalities. It wasn’t that I should quit because I am white, but acknowledging this as a relevant issue is important to help me connect with all people in my community, students, parents, and teachers, too!!
While I’m acknowledging my prejudices, I will apologize beforehand if it is offensive to you, I only offer it up as a reference and hope my truth allows others the ability to talk plainly as a way and means of more unity. I believe knowing our own prejudices will help guide us in honest reflection and allow room in our minds and souls to replace these falsehoods with truth.
First of all, I did not believe I was prejudiced against brown or black people. I believed I was color blind, that we were all the same, and in this modern time we were all offered the same opportunities. I believed the only thing that separated us was that some of us chose to take on opportunities while others did not. White privilege could not exist because we have laws in place for that. I was not to blame for any societal racism as I did not own slaves nor even exist before or during The Civil Rights Movement–which seemed to me a long-ago history. The Black Lives Matter movement made no sense to me!All lives matter and to say anything else was, in fact, racist. If these black people would just listen to the orders given by the police, we’d stop seeing these shootings and riots on the news every week!
Again, please note that my honesty above is not reflective of how I presently believe, and it is not meant to hurt, just to open dialogue and to be honest in my own wrong judgments and actions. But I do understand that even my honesty is hard to read and may hurt the reader, and I want to apologize to you for this.
Have I lost you, Friend? Hang in there, I know acknowledging these prejudices are not easy to hear, but I’m not that person these days.
There are three main reasons I’m changed:
1. Ongoing conversations with my black friends, whom I completely respect. My friends Natalie and Derek especially come to my mind as they were so patient with me. They listened and answered and I listened to their stories and perspectives. I have sought out conversations on social media and face to face with those willing to have an honest conversation. I have always grown afterwards and thank all of my friends who do not shrink back for these conversations.
2. Reading and learning from people who love the Lord and lead by example. Benjamin Watson’s book completely obliterated my defenses and woke me up! His thoughtfulness and background made one, amazing story of why it’s important for we who profess to love Jesus Christ, to seek unity in His Name. He says it’s a “sin problem” more than a “skin problem.” Reading his story allowed me to see life through the perspective of a person of color in our time instead of only through my own lenses. I keep this book close for reminders. I honestly look up to his family’s example in our time of life. If you do not have a black or brown friend to talk to about any of these issues, Watson’s book would be a great way to start if you are interested in the “whys” that seem so hard to relate/grasp on your own.
3. Loving Z and Keesha. I taught Z in the 5th grade, and I loved this silly, active boy fiercely. His mom raised him by herself and her example of being a mom has awed me from Day 1. She is not afraid to tackle tough issues, share truth, or even let the ignorant show their true colors. But as much as they mean to me, it was the fear of Z not coming home because someone might make quick judgments about him and hurt him that opened my eyes to a fraction of the fear moms have for their black and brown sons all over our country. God gave me a glimpse of this reality through Z and Keesha. It was triggered when she shared he was old enough to get his driving permit… all the news stories and sobbing mothers sharing their stories grabbed my heart instead of my defenses. Does that make sense?
By the way, I watched Z graduate this past month, and I’m so proud of him!
Like Kim Bearden’s meme above, and through her own life’s example, it’s the relationships we have with others, who are different than us, that will help us the most.
A colleague asked me why I was so obsessed with race reconciliation, and at the time, I could not articulate a good answer of what was going on inside of me. But God has been doing a work in me this whole time through the years, and it’s because as much as I love my students, He loves them so much more! So much, that He wants me to see them, understand them, and appreciate the beautiful people He designed and loves. As so many in our society refuse to accept that racism is alive and well, this lie continues to hold back many of His beloved. He gave me the desire to seek unity and use the boldness He gave me to help others who want it, too.
Signs of Hope
Asking some of my students of color how I could improve my teaching for other students of color, one sweet young lady told me this was the first year she didn’t feel differently than others. She felt like she could be herself for the first time in her educational history. This inspires me to keep growing in this area, but it also hurts my heart that it took so long for her to feel accepted in our educational system.
Both of my school-aged children, who attend the school I teach at, had these strong women as teachers. I love that my own children love their teachers, who are also Women of Color! And our friends are all different shades of melanin, too! This is different than my own childhood. The friendships we have, now, gives me hope for all of our roles in unity! My children do not see different shades of melanin as a barrier but as something they accept as part of their friends. I would not be surprised if they grew up to date or marry someone of a different color, nor would I discourage it.
I also happened on this thread this past weekend! I loved reading it in its entirety and I loved that Mr. Reed was willing to discuss it in such a truthful & bold way. So many educators joined in! This gives me hope that we can discuss this in peace and safety allowing more unity to take over. Our kids deserve this! Our society needs this!
If you are on Twitter, please follow him, Benjamin Watson, and Kim Bearden!
The last thing that gives me hope that I’m truly a part of the solution is supporting our local chapter of Black Educators.
Joining this incredible group filled with these educators will ensure I’m learning and using best practices to help teach all of my students. I am especially grateful to have formed a friendship with the group’s president, Statia Paschel. She has embraced me and encouraged me, and I’ve already learned more about leadership from her example!
My Goal in this Post
The goal of my writing this post is to open the doors for more real talk, honest dialogue, and unity to grow where there has been division in the past. I know that if someone as blind as I was can see the light, there has to be hope for everyone!
Please let me know your thoughts. Please share your ideas. Please correct me if I have made an oversight or am still in error. I welcome your feedback.
In closing, there are so many resources out there for all of us who desire more unity. But if you know me, you know I love the online education tool of Flocabulary . My students loved one of their newest songs Perspectives on Race . I think the reason why I am on the right track is that I do not try to hide the fact of division but offer times of celebration and mourning of where our country is in this day and age. I allow and welcome conversation about it all in my classroom.
Thank you you so much for reading.
Mel your transparency and transformation are inspirational to me. I am so proud of your boldness and I look forward to those courageous conversations. Perhaps we can start a Coffee and Conversations group. #squadgoals
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Yes!!!!!!! I would love that, Statia! Thank you for being such a wise leader in life, education, and especially in unity! I’m really looking forward to this next year and joining GAABSE!
I can relate to much of this. It wasn’t until about 5ish years ago that I truly opened my eyes, understood white privilege, or really the true state things are in. Great post.
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Thank you for reading and responding. It’s very hard to not want to shake ppl in my life sometimes and shout “wake up!” But it’s something you don’t know until you know, and being unkind doesn’t help eyes to be opened.
I am on a very similar journey! Thank you for taking the time to write this post.
Thank you for reading and sharing your thoughts. Means so much! God bless you and your journey!
Hello Melody you don’t know me as I’m a retired central office administrator in the GISD. I retired in June of 2016 after serving parents and students 40 years, working in 3 different districts and the GISD twice. I would love to sit and continue this Courageous Conversations about race relations in education. I was pleased to see you at the GAABSE meeting and I’m impressed with you writings about your educational experiences dealing with this very Courageous Conversation dealing with parents/students of color. I’m peacock proud as one of the founders of the GAABSE, a former teacher/coach/student of the GISD. Wendy was a beginning teacher when I returned to the district in 1999 and I watched her grow, accept advice and move up the administrative ladder in the district. Feel free to email me at email@example.com to continue your quest to learn more about students you serve and understand the importance of learning more about the parents and students you teach. You are on the right track to gain more knowledge and understanding to be the very best teacher you can be. I will close with this cliche/belief….students don’t care how much YOU KNOW until THEY KNOW how much YOU CARE!!
Thank you for reading, Jon. I was glad to meet you at the GAABSE meeting and I gave Wendy your regards! Yes, looking forward to having more courageous conversations with you! I’m looking forward to this year of learning in GAABSE! Thank you so much for reading, responding, and doing so much for our community. I’m looking forward to learning from you to help our community, too!