My Number One Priority as an Educator

Image source: https://projects.seattletimes.com/2016/education-funding/

Below is an essay I wrote for the Teacher of the Year application. My colleagues and I have been accused of “pimping” students of color in order to push our agenda. I guess that is supposed to mean that we don’t actually care about the kids. Fortunately, I think most people who know me would disagree with that; however, I understand the sentiment. I feel that way about white passive progressives who use kids of color to argue in favor of fully funding education. People who argue that money will fix racial disparities don’t understand the history of racial injustice in our country.

The prompt I was asked to respond to is, “What do you consider to be a major public education issue today? Describe why this is important to you. How are you addressing this issue from your classroom?”

Racial equity is the number one educational issue of our time. Every other issue that has come forward is about racial equity, even if nobody likes to admit it. Students of color are impacted to a greater degree by things like funding, tracking, special education, support services, high-stakes testing, culturally responsive teaching, discipline, graduation rates, etc.

 
As a woman of color, this issue is important to me for what should be obvious reasons, but it is also important to me because I teach in a school with mostly students of color. I see, every day, how racial inequity affects their ability to learn, but most importantly, their ability to see themselves as learners. There are a lot of social inequities that cannot be solved by teaching and school policy alone, but that is no reason for inaction. Educators have a moral obligation to examine their own part in systemic injustice and the school to prison pipeline that is funneling our Black and Brown students straight from our care into the care of the State.

 
In Washington, there is currently a lot of talk and organizing around fully funding our schools. Many people pin racial equity to this ideal of what fully funded schools look like. Without a racial equity lens to full funds, however, racial equity is only lip service. Fully funding from a racial equity lens includes money set aside to recruit, educate, and retain educators of color. Full funding with a racial equity lens will include professional development on things like critical race theory and racial identity development for all educators. Racially equitable funding will include entire programs and departments in each school district dedicated to racial equity initiatives that are fully staffed with the capacity to serve each building in their district. Unless state funding includes those things and more, schools will not be funded to end racial disparities. The same old policies and programs will perpetuate some of the worst disparities in the nation, the only difference being a larger budget to support them.

 
I believe in the power of grass roots and collective organizing for change. My number one priority is to interrupt racial injustice in practice and educate my students about the laws and policies that continue to oppress them in their neighborhoods and education system. Our generation cannot have a sustainable solution to this issue unless the generations that come after us are equipped to continue the fight. I do this through creating lessons on social and racial justice, upending the Euro-centric Master Narrative, and teaching the true history of power and oppression in the United States and the colonial world. I want all young people to have the skills to identify and dismantle racial and social injustices wherever they are found. I challenge my students to question every semblance of power and authority and to see themselves as agents of change, with their own power, who are capable of continuing the work that their idols and mentors have begun.

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