For White Folks Who Teach in the Hood… and the Rest of Y’all Too Book Study Reflection

Why I chose this book

I read this book because it had been recommended so many times by so many people that I trust. As a white woman, I was looking for a book I could read to help me understand the perspective of my black and brown students. I wanted some introductory information on restorative practices (which are similar to the cyphers discussed in the book) in school. I knew this book was more about high school students but I knew I could find ways to apply it to my work in the elementary classroom. Since it was highly recommended, I just knew I would learn a lot.

Major take aways

I loved that Chris Edmin shared mistakes he made after first getting into the classroom. I learn a lot from mistakes, my mistakes and the mistakes of others. He refers to students in urban schools as neoindigenous. Too often the educators who work in urban schools come from outside the community and don’t spend enough time in the community and the students are the ones who are native and know the culture of their neighborhood. Educators have a lot to learn from their students. He invested the time learning about, from, and with his students. I spend a lot of time and effort building relationships to learn about my students. I would love to incorporate more ways to learn from and with my students.

As a white woman, it is important for me to unpack my privilege and fully understand that my own history impacts the way I show up at school and interact with my students. I struggled with this at first. I didn’t want to see that I brought privilege into my work with my students. But I know that I do. Confronting my privilege made me realize that I can be myself but also learn to see and value my students’ experiences. This book talked a lot about seeing life experiences from different perspectives. The work is in asking questions to understand other’s perspective.

Understanding my privilege is one thing, but I need to ensure that I’m making real connections with my students. I can do that through telling stories about my life and listening to their stories. I loved the chapters “Coteaching” and “Cosmopolitanism” which were about creating a classroom culture of collaboration and shared celebration.

As I was reading this book, I couldn’t help but make so many connections to the work that NCAE is doing right now. Edmin talked a lot about how urban areas get a lot of charter schools coming in and trying to fix the kids and the neighborhood but that isn’t what they need. This work can and should be done by public schools. If you’re in North Carolina, interested in or are currently doing this work, and you aren’t a member of NCAE yet, I highly recommend you do your research and join!

Making it accessible for Littles

While this book was a lot more self work that direct application to my classroom, I believe that the work I’m doing will impact my students.

I particularly liked the chapter “Chuuuurch” because I made so many connections to my own classroom. Edmin explains how we should make our classrooms more like black churches. Kids should sit where they want and should be able to respond as desired. In my classroom, I use flexible seating because I believe it is best for kids. I’m also flexible on the whole raise your hand to speak thing. One of my class rules is one voice because I believe it is important for people to not speak over each other and to focus on the person who is talking. But, I try to keep my classroom conversational.

In the book Edmin talks about call and response and movement being essential to neoindigeneous youth. I have been trying to incorporate more of this in my classroom lately and I noticed that littles really love it when I do!

The book study PLN

Reading this book and having conversations about it with others who were also reading it helped me understand what I was reading and better apply it as I work to improve myself. It was nice to have face to face conversations with people who are nearby and looking to incorporate restorative practices with their students. I also participated in video chat conversations with people from across my state. I believe the most important part of social justice work is finding others who are doing the work too. We must build strength together in order to continue to grow.

I’m a Teacher Advocate

I moved to North Carolina to be a teacher in the summer of 2007. I didn’t know anything about the area and I didn’t know anyone here. All I knew was that I needed to get some classroom experience so I could go home to New York and get a teaching job. It’s been almost 12 years and I’m still here gaining classroom experience and I don’t see myself leaving.

Not long after I got my first teaching job, the state of public education in North Carolina started on a downward spiral that we are still trying to get out of. Since moving to NC, per-pupil spending has gone from $8,615 in 2007 to $9,528 in 2018. Not only are both of those numbers below the national average for that year, but the difference between NC per-pupil spending and the national average has increased over time. We currently rank 39th in the country in per pupil spending.

Teacher pay follows a similar story. I was excited about moving to North Carolina because the teacher pay scale had a scheduled raise every year. Before the end of my first year teaching, that pay scale froze. It remained frozen for 4 years. It was fine. I never got into teaching to get rich. I was living paycheck to paycheck and wasn’t able to save money but I could pay all of my bills. I have a master’s degree. I shouldn’t have to live that way. No one should.

Over my 11 years of teaching, I have seen a lot of changes in schools. From a decrease in teacher assistants to an increase in testing requirements. At first, I was baffled that the schools in North Carolina didn’t have a full-time nurse in every building but that is just the beginning. I now have fully scripted programs I’m required to teach for phonics and math. It’s coming soon for reading, I fear. My creativity and professional discretion has been stripped from me in the name of fidelity and equity.

It took me 9 and a half years of teaching in a deteriorating system to finally see the importance of joining our educators’ union, NCAE. I recognized the importance of organization and communication among educators when working toward better learning conditions for our students. I was starting to get frustrated with legislators taking advantage of passionate educators. I watched the work in Virginia and West Virginia and realized NEA was where the work was being done. I immediately joined my state and local chapter. I was even more excited to see the work in more states.

In May 2018, a march and rally were planned to show solidarity and begin to make moves on our general assembly. It turned into about 42 school districts closing and 30,000 educators, parents, and students showing up in downtown Raleigh to fight for schools our students deserve. We could have that same strength and power every day through membership.

After the rally, we worked together during the midterm election to support and vote for candidates who support public schools. We broke the supermajority in our general assembly which is a major win. Could you imagine the changes we could see in North Carolina through more members in NCAE?

In January I attended a full day meeting on a Saturday with other educator advocates. We discussed our dream for schools in North Carolina, the past and current political climate, and where we are going as an organization. We learned how to talk to elected officials and use social media to our benefit. Above all that, we build community. We made connections and friendships with like-minded educators from all over the state.

Last week, I had an appointment with my state senator, Wiley Nickel. I went prepared with a bulleted list of some of the important things we are asking for from the general assembly for public schools. I handed him my list and we chatted. I was so nervous. I had never talked to a legislator before. Turns out, they’re human. He was really easy to talk to. He wanted to know about my school, how we’re staffed, what is important to us, and what I love about teaching in North Carolina. He seemed genuinely interested and he asked to visit me at my school. Then he asked me not to leave North Carolina public schools. I look forward to meeting with him again.

Through all of this, I’ve learned that teachers shouldn’t be afraid or nervous to advocate for what they know is best for students. Legislators make the laws, but we know what we need and we need to make that transparent. We don’t need to be doormats that get walked all over and taken advantage of. We need to welcome the community into our schools and share the reality of educating young people.

I love my job. I wouldn’t trade it for the world. Teaching is rewarding in so many ways. Senator Nickel, I’m not going anywhere. I will continue to fight for Strong Students, Strong Schools, Strong Communities for as long as it takes. Will you join me?

#may16 #itspersonal – Why I Marched

May 16 was a big day in Raleigh, North Carolina. It was designated the day of advocacy by NCAE. What started out as a few hundred people planning to advocate for public schools in NC grew exponentially into tens of thousands of educators and parents marching together 1 mile from the NCAE building to the Legislative building to fight for our kids. 42 school districts canceled school and made it an optional teacher workday to show support for teachers attending.

Of course, the media twisted our narrative. The national news called it a walkout or a strike. It was neither of those things. Every teacher there took leave we earned to be there. For districts that didn’t cancel, teachers PAID $50 to take a personal day. For others, teachers took annual leave or a day without pay. Much of the news coverage also said out focus was to increase our salaries. And yes, that it is part of it but we were there for so much more. Schools across North Carolina need more funding to make learning environments better for students. Buildings are falling apart, don’t have supplies, technology is out of date, lacking in non-teaching staff (counselors, psychologists, nurses, teacher assistants, etc.), school meals are unhealthy, and so many other reasons.

I was there for the march and the rally. I stayed through the rain. I arrived by bus at 7:45am and left in an uber at 6:30pm.

This is my tenth year teaching in North Carolina. I taught 3 years in Durham County and 7 in Wake County. My experience is diverse.

My first year teaching, our school was in the middle of a major renovation. I moved my classroom 3 times that year as the construction phases moved through our building and new addition.  As they began renovations in each phase, the building needed asbestos abatement. We had to walk past danger signs warning of the asbestos. We marched our kids outside under the fans blowing air out of those rooms. The asbestos abatement was only one of our concerns in the 3 years I taught there. We also had mice, roaches, snakes, and mold all over our school. Our windows had bullet holes. We were warned not to stay past dark working in our classrooms. If the neighborhood wasn’t safe for me after dark, it wasn’t safe for my kids either. My third year teaching there, we went on an hour and a half lockdown because someone stole a car at gunpoint and the police chased them into our parking lot. I went every summer to Staples to purchase their penny deals. I bought paper, pencils, crayons, scissors, folders, and notebooks for my students every year. If I didn’t, we wouldn’t have it. Parents couldn’t afford to send in supplies and the school didn’t have enough for every student. I knew I couldn’t’ teach without these basics, so I went to every sale and purchased the maximum amount they would allow.

I left at the end of that year for Wake County. I opened a brand new title 1 school.  I was amazed by the vastly different access to supplies at this new school in a neighboring county. We had new technology. We had crayons and pencils! I was astonished. I shifted to buying extras for my kids: headphones, books, markers, baskets. This was the year I noticed the school meals. Every student in our building received free and reduced breakfast and lunch. But the food served is lacking in nutritional value at best. There were few fresh fruit and vegetable options. Breakfast was sugary option after sugary option. While my students and I were much better off, we still ran out of things like copy paper. We quickly outgrew our brand new building and we had 25 kids in our rooms. We had to hire 3 teachers mid-year in my grade level alone. But we didn’t have classrooms for them. We taught 2 teachers to a room in 2 rooms. They kept 30 kids and the rest of us went down to 18 students. The third mid-year hired teacher pulled out small groups of students from each classroom and taught them in the janitor’s closet.

The school I teach at now wants for nothing. We have a variety of technology at our fingertips, our supply closet is always full, our building is clean and taken care of, and we have manageable class sizes. I know that the story at my school is an exception. And, I know that isn’t fair. Nor is it normal for our PTA to be providing us with technology and supplies. As great as our school is, I know that I need to fight for equity across our state. Every student should have access to what we have. As educators and parents, we need to continue to come together to speak our truths and make our voices heard.

I marched on Wednesday, May 16, 2018 for every student in the state of North Carolina to be treated fairly, equitably, and with respect. What our schools has become is not ok and cannot continue.