Now that I’m central office staff, I’ve been asked if I’m going to change my blog to “Administrator Activist.” The short answer is, “No.” I will always consider myself an educator, and I will never stop considering moving back into the classroom. There may come a time when I feel that I’ve done my job, and I will feel comfortable going back, but right now I have work to do! Below are thoughts on how I see my administrator role through Star Wars references, since my “activist stamp” is a Rebel Alliance tattoo…
INSIDE THE STAR DESTROYER
I’ve been an “administrator” for a few weeks now, and there are some things I have to get used to. First, I work in a cubicle. I miss my big, bright, beautiful classroom. I miss the kids. I miss colleagues who jump at the chance to collaborate on a project. People at the central office, for the most part, act kind of like nothing we do overlaps or needs to overlap. I’m a collaborator at heart, so this is a challenge for me. I wonder if some people feel like I’m trying to come in and take over their programs, but that’s not at all what I want to do. First of all, I have enough work trying to build a program from scratch with no model for it anywhere. I don’t want to do their job. I want to work together because I truly believe community creates magic.
I had the impression that people at the central office are disconnected from the lived experiences of students and teachers. Turns out, it’s mostly true. Everyone is about policy, protocols, meetings, spreadsheets, proposals, and professional development. I know those things are important, but I never want to be disconnected from the real work. In some of the most gross moments, I’ve actually seen with my own eyeballs and heard with my own ears an “Us vs Them” culture being cultivated, where principals and district staff are the “us,” and educators are the “them.” People will say they’re doing it for the kids, but I don’t necessarily see that.
Then there’s the fact the vast majority of people in the building are white. There are people of color, but as in school buildings, not many of us hold positions of real power, and the ones that do tend to not want to rock the boat for fear of being pushed out, and rightly so. We have many stories of strong leaders of color being pushed out or worked out because they were starved of support staff. Additionally, anything that’s seen as a racial justice initiative, like Ethnic Studies, is considered “non-essential.” Again, they’ll say they’re all about racial equity, but I’m not really seeing that, either.
RESISTING THE DARK SIDE
I was very intentional about asking my friends and colleagues to keep me straight before even considering this position. One piece of advice I received that I think will prove to be invaluable is to stay connected to my activist friends and groups. Yes, because they are my people. These are the people and groups who share my core values and paradigms. They will keep me grounded in the work that I want to achieve.
I also need to hold on to my belief that this work is not about me. The job and position are not about me. I am working for the bigger picture and greater gains. If I am pushed out, it won’t be before I chip off a good chunk of the system. I also realize that I can push as hard as I do for several reasons. One, the people who were pushed out before me managed to chip away at the structure making it more vulnerable for my attacks! I am forever grateful for what they did and the emotional labor they put into that.
In a previous post I wrote about the need to have a network of support. I will rely heavily on this group of people as I move forward, but I can only do that because they trust me to work honestly in the best interest of the community. My community sent me into this work with some shields, including the title of Teacher of the Year. While this does not make me infallible, it does make it harder to directly challenge my work, especially since the title was awarded for the work I’ve done on Ethnic Studies and racial justice. I will use their support, trust, and shield as I go into battle with The Dark Side.
I have to acknowledge one thing before I delve into attack plans and predict outcomes, and that’s my white passing privilege. This is something new to me since moving to Seattle. I’ve decided this privilege comes from the fact that Seattle is much more white than my hometown in Southern California where nearly everyone is Chicanx. I am mixed, so lighter skinned than many, and that makes me white passing here. I realize I get away with saying things my darker skinned colleagues might not get away with because they may be seen as more aggressive due to bias. Many of the educators pushed out in the past are Black women. I will use my privilege and push it as far as it will take me, but I will use it intentionally in a way that honors people who didn’t get the same pass I will.
My battle plan has one strategy: community. Ethnic Studies cannot exist without community. It’s not the work of one person, or one group. It must be communally created with the most oppressed voices being lifted up by those of us with the most privilege. The district is consistently criticized for its lack of community engagement. I want to change that. I want our program to thrive, and for that, we need the community. Not only will this strengthen our program, but it will be another shield for working on racial justice in general.
My plan isn’t a secret, and it’s one that I set into motion the first day on the job. If the closet white supremacists in the district want to undermine our work, this is probably where they will go. They may come at me head on as they have with others, but my community and my titles may make that less appealing than it was in the past. They may come after my identity. Some people of color don’t think I should be doing this work because “I’m only half” or because I’m white passing. They may play on that. I say, “Bring it,” because minimizing a person’s racial or ethnic identity is racist as fuck. But I think where they would try hardest is to turn the community against me by either playing the Southern Strategy, or trying to undermine my work in communities of color. If that happens, I’ll be ready, and if I get pushed out, I’ll be ready. The next rebel will come, though, and their work will be easier because of the chunk I’ll take with me.