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When the Devil IS the Data

Image source: http://www.edtpatips.com/edtpa-analyze-your-students-performance-with-an-item-analysis/ (it will be ironic after reading)

If you’re like me, you hate talking about your kids in terms of data and numbers. There’s something very dehumanizing about it, but other than that, it never quite sat right with me. The more I learn about racial justice in education, and the more I work as an administrator, the more clarity I have about that uneasy feeling that comes with the Data Talk. As a social scientist, I was taught how to have a healthy skepticism of Data. The thing is, while many educators are social scientists in practice, most of us have not been trained to be social scientists or how to critically assess Data. Administrators understand this, and can use Data as a tool of social control in three easy steps!

 

STEP ONE: DETERMINE THE PARAMETERS OF THE DATA

How often do you, as an educator, have the opportunity and ability to determine the Data you are using to guide your practice outside of your classroom? Do you and/or your colleagues determine the Data used to set building-wide or district-wide goals for your students? Or is goal setting driven by Data provided by administrators? Conversely, how often are you provided Data by administrators meant to guide your practice within your classroom walls? If you have more than cursory input to the Data used to guide your practice within or outside of your classroom, you are one of the lucky few.

The criteria, assessments, and surveys used to collect Data are almost always created by administrators or corporate education entities. Generally, the Data these tools were created to measure are Data that will help the creator, not the child. For example, standardized testing data. Test results are generally not available to educators until the following school year after students have left their classrooms, or at the end of the school year, in the case of computerized testing. This makes it easier for corporate education publishers to create materials that are “Common Core Aligned” or “Easy Test Prep” for the next school year. Entire curricula costing thousands of dollars are marketed and sold as a way to increase test scores. They’re bought in the summer and aren’t measured for efficacy until April or May when it’s too late to get a refund…

These same corporations lobby our elected officials who pass laws requiring tests and then pass more laws about how administrators are to be evaluated on their job performance according to test scores. Teaching and Learning are then informed by the Data parameters set by these groups, not by educators or students. And when students fail the tests because they’re experiencing trauma, food insecurity, racism, homelessness, domestic violence, substance abuse, ineffective teachers, or any other thousands of reasons, we create more Data to further dehumanize children to explain why they aren’t passing the tests. Are they truant and how often? Are they bad kids who get suspended? And when someone says, “Hey, wait. What about the whole child?” questions are added to assess how “safe” kids feel at school. But come on, we know that the only reason we look at “Whole Child Data” is in service of the first set of Data parameters.

 

STEP TWO: DETERMINE THE PURPOSE OF THE DATA

When’s the last time you were asked to analyze Data in order to help a student become a good human being? I would really like to have some Data to help me understand how to actualize critically conscious, self aware human beings. That would be amazeballs. Oooh… I know… why don’t “Failing Schools” look at Data collected about educators, like the racial demographic of educators in the building. I mean, I know that data is collected in most places, but when determining why students aren’t “achieving,” is that ever something anyone looks at? Or how about Data on how well educators are using culturally responsive teaching practices? I think it would be great if we collected and analyzed data on the content used in classrooms and ask, “How well does the content challenge the Master Narrative?”

No, we stick with Data on the child and what they can and can’t do and why they can or can’t do it. We don’t look at Data about the barriers students face at home, in the school, in the classroom, city, district, country, etc. Looking at The Whole Child feels an awful lot like Blaming The Whole Child. Sometimes we do notice when there are high rates of poverty and bring in supports like weekend food programs, more counselors, after school programming, and even free healthcare. That’s awesome, and I’m so happy kids have access to that in some places. Ask yourself, though, “What is the purpose of these services that come from analyzing Data?” The ultimate goal is always to increase test scores. “If kids have food they score better!” administrators say, as if they had just discovered some new chemical element. Rarely do we hear them exclaim, “If we provide food for all of our students, we are a better society!”

If you are a teacher activist who actively challenges this purpose of Data, you have probably heard something like, “We must do what’s in the best interest of the kids,” as if doing things for the purpose of being good and just people striving toward a good and just world is not in the best interest of kids. Administrators will do almost anything to convince educators that high stakes tests are what’s best for kids. “They won’t be successful later in life,” “Knowing how to test well will help them in college,” “We will know how to better educate our students with the Data that is produced by the tests.” All of those claims have been debunked here, here, and here, and that’s just a start.

 

STEP THREE: HIDE BEHIND THE DATA

“Show me where you see that in the Data.” This is how a professional development session began on how to analyze Data through a racial equity lens.

*Insert screeching brakes sound here*

Let me inhale deeply for a moment…

Yes, we were asked to analyze Data whose parameters had been set and purpose determined BEFORE a “racial equity lens” had been applied, and then we were told to use the Data to respond to people who might challenge the Data by telling them, “Show me where you see that in the Data.”

“Ms. Castro-Gill,” a school counselor might say, “this Data is confusing to me, because this student, Amelia, who by all other accounts is an exceptional reader, failed her reading test. Her father passed away over the summer. Maybe that’s her difficulty.”

“Show me where you see that in the Data,” I’m to reply.

“Ms. Castro-Gill,” a concerned paraprofessional might say, “many of the students I work with confide in me their teachers are racist and frequently send them out of the class for being ‘disrespectful.’”

“Concerned paraprofessional whom the students trust and love, please show me where you see that in the Data,” I should respond.

Sit with that for a moment. Sit with it and then take a minute to look at kittens, then come back to the conversation.

cute kitties

There we were looking at predetermined and pre-defined Data trying to figure out how to use it to “close opportunity gaps” that are created by the parameters and purpose of the very same Data. Oh, the circular logic is hurting my brain. Then, if anyone points out this circular logic, we are told if the Data doesn’t support our claim, then our claim is logically false. Now I feel like I’m typing in circles.

Data is not inherently neutral. Data can alert us to trends, but it’s up to us to look past the Data to see what its parameters and purpose are and who set each. If we know our Data comes from biased, and almost always racist, creators, it’s ok for us to look at other Data or create our own Data. Wait, I’m gonna go a step further and say it’s not only ok – it’s our responsibility. When I tell people Data exists that can point us to solutions for biased Data I am sometimes asked where to find it in the school district’s database.

“No one is going to give you the education you need to overthrow them.” Assata Shakur

The Devil isn’t IN the Data. The Devil IS the Data. Challenge the Data. Push back on it. Ask for better Data. Create your own tools of liberation for you and your students.

Reflections on the Week

WORK IN THE COMMUNITY

This past week has been a roller coaster of emotions, as usual. That’s pretty much expected for anyone involved in racial justice work. Part of my job this year as Ethnic Studies Program Manager is to go out and make connections with school leaders and community groups. My week got off to a good start when I met the leaders of the Densho Project. Densho is an organization dedicated to the oral histories of Japanese Americans. I learned they have free online resources for educators, including a training with clock hours! Why didn’t I know about this before? Because our systems are set up to exclude the work of our community, that’s why.

I also met with leaders from El Centro de la Raza where I got a quick history lesson of the resistance and liberation of Chicanx and Latinx Seattellites. Why don’t our students know the history of the occupation of the abandoned Beacon Hill School that is now El Centro de la Raza? Because our systems are set up to exclude the histories of people of color. I visited with the new executive vice president of Sea Mar, who told me they are so much more than a community health organization. Sea Mar has four low income housing projects across the state, a radio station, day care centers, and assisted living homes, and they serve a majority white, low income population while hiring a majority Latinx/Chicanx staff. Why don’t we know about their good work? Because our systems are set up to exclude the current action and resilience of communities of color.

I love my job because I have the opportunity to get out of my cubicle and meet with these amazing leaders, most of whom are people of color. I get to learn about the good work they are doing in the community, and I am beginning to get a good grasp on how our work can partner to serve our students and families. It’s exhilarating and depressing at the same time. Surely I can’t be the first person from Seattle Public Schools to have this idea, but when I meet with these leaders, most of them are excited to have someone come to them to talk about partnerships instead of the other way around. Some are frustrated their attempts to partner with the district have gone nowhere. This frustration drives me to continue this work. I can’t let our community down.

AM I DOING ENOUGH?

I am always plagued with this question. I was talking with a good friend, Alma Alonzo, about how she pays “Real Rent” to the Duwamish tribe. We talk a lot about “decolonizing” education. That’s a complicated subject with a lot of implications. Some argue that true decolonization requires land repatriation. We agree. I believe the first step in this is to decolonize our minds and the way we are taught. In the meantime, what can we do to right this wrong? Real Rent is one way, and I already financially commit to the ACLU, NAACP, Southern Poverty Law Center, and I have recently committed to funding a project every month on Donors Choose. Where do I draw a line? On top of my financial contributions, my entire career is dedicated to racial and social justice. BUT! I still feel like I’m not doing enough. I will probably begin paying Real Rent, too.

This is a question I ask myself as I go to visit principals in their buildings to try to convince them to start the work of Ethnic Studies. Most principals say they are very interested. Some have used excuses about why they can’t. Am I doing enough to convince them of the urgency? Am I doing enough to protect the students in their schools? The principals who say they can’t or won’t generally use tests as the reason why they can’t commit to Ethnic Studies. We all know how I feel about that.

Many educators are willing and want to commit to Ethnic Studies, but don’t trust the district to support them. Most educators are familiar with the case of Center School educator, Jon Greenberg, who was put on leave when a single white family complained about his curriculum on race. Many educators also are aware of the closing of a Middle College High School where a predominantly POC staff that was teaching Ethnic Studies was displaced, and in some cases disciplined. And most recently, an Ethnic Studies POC educator at Nova High School was displaced despite outcries from students and communities. Nova is the only high school that has implemented Ethnic Studies in all content areas and made it a graduation requirement. This is significant as it is a majority white student population, and the demand for Ethnic Studies came from their POC students. Am I doing enough to convince district leaders to support schools like Nova and educators like those from Middle College who have rightfully developed a distrust of these leaders?

NWTSJ 2018

Fortunately, I ended my week on a high at the 2018 Northwest Teaching for Social Justice Conference in Portland, Oregon. Alma Alonzo, Jon Greenberg, Rogelio Rigor, and I facilitated a session on how to create a decolonized curriculum. The photo at the top of this blog post shows that we had standing room only. We had over 50 participants crammed into that room. We ran out of handouts! There were also two other sessions later in the day on Ethnic Studies that were well attended.

I had the opportunity to attend a great session facilitated by Alma and Jennifer Charlton, two friends and colleagues of mine, called “Breaking Bad Allies; allies, gaslighters, and saboteurs.” It was just as awesome as the name and Alma and Jennifer killed it! I’m so privileged to have such dedicated, brilliant, and passionate friends!

alma and jennifer

Another facet of my job is developing, offering, and facilitating professional development for schools and educators interested in Ethnic Studies. Our first professional development, facilitated by Marquita Prinzing, Director of the Center for Race and Equity, was packed with 50+ participants from across the district. Most of the attendees were from K-5 schools and many had a role other than classroom teacher; para-educators, counselors, district technology positions, and more.

racial equity literacy

We have received many requests for this from educators in other districts. These events are evidence that our leaders aren’t doing enough to support the people who are ready and willing to do the work. Am I doing enough to engage those who are so we don’t lose momentum? I want to move from, “Am I doing enough?” to “What is my next move?”

¡La Lucha Continua! ¡No terminara facilmente!

Taking the Spotlight

I am a reluctant Teacher Activist. I’m reluctant because, as you can read on my home page, I have severe anxiety. My anxiety both pushes me to act and recoils from the spotlight. This is a dilemma I’m frequently faced with. I’ve come to learn, however, that systemic change requires leaders to embrace the spotlight. I’ve become more comfortable with it. There’s still a part of me that feels like a braggart, but the more I take leadership positions, and the more people join me in my campaigns, the more I realize my spotlight will be transferred to them. And what is the purpose of leadership if not to lift up the work of others?

To embrace my spotlight, this week I am reblogging from one of my Alma Maters, Western Governors University, who spotlighted me for my Teacher of the Year recognition. It was originally posted here. The full text is below.

WGU Washington Grad Making Big Impact in Seattle Public Schools

Tracy Castro-Gill’s workspace at the headquarters of Seattle Public Schools is decorated exactly as you’d expect. An award-winning educator and champion for racial equity, she’s draped her desk and surrounding walls with imagery symbolic of the values she works so hard to impart to young learners: justice, empowerment, and inclusion. Where she works as the district’s Ethnic Studies Program Manager is a nexus of the rich, wonderful diversity that shapes the city and the region.

Tracy only started working in education less than a decade ago, but – after earning her master’s degree from WGU Washington — she quickly made a name for herself in her field. The state’s Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction recently named her the Puget Sound ESD 121 Regional Teacher of the Year. Tracy was one of nine teachers honored for, among other considerations, strengthening their respective communities and fostering better lives through education. That recognition came less than a year after Tracy received the Golden Apple award from the NAACP.

Among the many factors contributing to her professional success, Tracy acknowledges the value of her experience as a WGU Washington Night Owl.

“WGU provided the freedom for me to learn pedagogy from a racial justice perspective, because there were no professors trying to convince me that I shouldn’t,” said Tracy. “I am grateful WGU uses a model to create a foundation for teaching and learning without an expectation to check your personal experiences at the door.”

Before moving to the district office, Tracy taught social studies at Denny International Middle School in West Seattle — one of the most diverse middle schools in the state. She earned an outstanding reputation teaching an ethnic studies world history course, as well as leading racial equity professional development programs for her colleagues. From there, she says she accepted her new position to have a greater, more lasting impact.

“My goal is to make systemic change and doing that from my classroom proved too challenging.”

Not that Tracy is afraid of a challenge; she just wants to be in the best place to succeed. She says WGU Washington fit that bill, with the flexibility and affordability she needed as a working, adult learner. And the same can be said for her new role in Seattle Public Schools, where the décor surrounding her provides hints of a brighter, more accepting future. And tucked humbly in the corner of her desk: her Teacher of the Year award and Golden Apple, symbols of her hard work and the important difference she’s already making.

The Danger of Multiple Perspectives (CW sexual and racial violence)

After this week I’ve thought a lot about what to write today. I bounced back and forth between the dangers of multiple perspectives  – what with Indigenous Peoples Day tomorrow – and all this mess with the newest Supreme Court member, and there’s a lot of mess packed into that whole mess. I decided to combine the two into one post. Really, when we look deeply at it, rape culture exists because we’ve allowed too much space for multiple perspectives. White supremacy exists because we allow for multiple perspectives. Our curricula is so white because we allow for multiple perspectives. “Wait,” you might be saying, “isn’t white supremacy just one perspective and we need to make space for others?”

Let me explain.

 

THE MYTH VS THE REALITY

 

The myth of multiple perspectives is that if we allow for diversity of thought and opinion, we will come to a better conclusion. In a perfect world where systems of oppression don’t exist, that may be true, but we live in a world of mansplainers and whitesplainers and straightsplainers and cissplainers and cisstraightwhitemansplaining. The reality is that cis, straight, white men hold the power in any conversation. When we open the space up to their perspectives, we are opening up the reality that they will own the perspective if we don’t set boundaries.

I’m in the middle of reading the book, The Art of Gathering: How We Meet and Why It Matters by Priya Parker, and in the book she chastises the “chill host” saying that taking a laissez faire approach to hosting an event is selfish, and in the absence of leadership, a guest will take control of your event, inevitably steering it in a direction they see fit. She gives an example of a man taking over a dinner party when the host goes to tend to the meal in the kitchen. By the time the host has come back, the male guest has completely taken over and the host doesn’t try to stop him for fear of appearing impolite. Parker asserts we can value diversity as long as we know our purpose.

Priya’s book is about social gatherings, but aren’t all social interactions social gatherings? When we sit down to watch TV as a family, if there are no boundaries, who usually gets to control the remote? In our classroom, teachers know all too well that if they don’t have clear boundaries and routines, learning will be a challenge. Courtrooms have strict protocols for a reason. Without them, contentious hearings will be unmanageable. Now, here’s the kicker… all of those examples I just gave are founded on the idea of white supremacy; the patriarchal nuclear family, the teacher as the “sage on the stage,” and the entire legal system in the United States was created to uphold the white, cisgender, heteropatriarchy. In order to fight this and be aware of it all the time, we need to carefully consider whose perspectives have more weight than others in order to achieve our purpose. My purpose is liberation from oppression. What is yours?

 

MY ME, TOO

 

As we’ve seen these past couple of weeks, rape culture and misogyny are thriving. Something that stands out to me in so many of the #MeToo and #WhyIDidntReport stories are the women who never reported because they weren’t sure if it was considered assault. This is my story, too. My rapist was my husband. My ex-husband was abusive on so many levels; mentally, emotionally, and sexually. Each layer of abuse was carefully crafted to uphold his primary form of abuse – sexual abuse. I think it’s important to note that I had to pause here and take a deep breath. I have only shared this story with one other person.

My ex-husband has an addiction to fetishes. The way he would commit his abuse was guilting me into performing acts I didn’t want to engage in. I would do it because he would threaten me with things like leaving me, finding a woman who would do it, and withholding affection. Once I performed the act, he would start fights with me because it was clear I wasn’t enjoying myself. He would then use the gaslight, “If you really loved me, you would enjoy pleasing me,” or “I work to provide for my family, and you owe this to me.” I worked, too, and went to school on top of maintaining our home and children – not that those things should matter. I just want to give context.

One evening, this fight went all night long. At around 4:00 a.m. I began crying out of sheer fatigue. I was tired physically and emotionally. I just wanted it to stop. He agreed to stop if I would have sex with him. You can imagine my shock. After all of that he thought sex was a good idea? I told him no and that I was too tired. He persisted and I just wanted the arguing to stop. I laid there, motionless, while he had sex. When it was over, guess what his complaint was? Yup. How dare I not enjoy it?

It’s taken me a long time to realize that was rape. I did not consent. It was survival for me, and sex and love should never be about that. The truly frightening part, and here’s the danger of multiple perspectives – to him it was just a fight. We had a lot of those. His perspective caused me to question mine. He is white, but this story isn’t about his racism. It’s about the expectations put on women by the Eurocentric, nuclear perspective of family led by the husband. I know I worked harder than he ever has, but because he is a “man” and was my husband, the expectation was for me to submit to him. He wasn’t the only person taught that. I was, too. That’s why it took me so long to be able to say, “My ex-husband raped me.”

Allowing this white supremacist perspective via my ex-husband has had long lasting consequences for me. I battle PTSD, and my most recent relationship – which was the most beautiful joy of my life – suffered because of my trust issues. We allow this to happen to women because we allow white men to control the perspectives we are taught. If we try to shut down these perspectives we are accused of censorship and not valuing multiple perspectives. Rape is wrong. Full. Stop. Eurocentric patriarchy is wrong. End of story. There are no other perspectives to hear. We must stop allowing harmful narratives from entering our lives for the purpose of protecting womxn. I wish someone had kept them out of mine.

 

PEOPLE VS COLUMBUS

 

Maybe I should have ended on the Me, Too story, because I’m feeling exposed, but this blog is about education, so I want to bring it back to that.

With the 2018/19 school year in full swing and Indigenous Peoples Day coming up, teachers all over are teaching about Christopher Columbus. Notice how that works? In Seattle it’s Indigenous Peoples Day, and we’re teaching about Columbus. Some might say, “Yes, but we’re teaching how bad he is.” But we’re still centering him in our lessons instead of centering the experiences of indigenous people past and present.

I was made aware of a lesson my own child was engaged in at their school, which happens to be the school I taught at. It’s a well respected lesson among social justice educators and is part of the Zinn Education Project published by Rethinking Schools. I work with two editors of Rethinking Schools and respect their perspectives. The problem is the lesson seems to take the angle of teaching from multiple perspectives. I don’t think that was the intent, but given how teacher preparation programs are so staunch about social studies teachers “remaining apolitical,” I can see how many would think it’s about multiple perspectives, especially non-Native educators.

The lesson, People vs Columbus, includes 5 perspective readings. Each “perspective” is accused of the genocide of the Taíno people – including the Taíno themselves! The other four accused are Christopher Columbus, his men, the king and queen of Spain, and Empire. I’ve been told by my Rethinking Schools colleagues that it’s written in such a way to corral discussion into siding with the Taíno. The Taíno reading, however, includes language like, “You failed to fight back against the Spaniards. This meant that you brought the fate of slavery and death upon yourselves,” and, “ . . . as a result of this Taíno failure, all the Native peoples of the Americas suffered.” Imagine being a Native student and reading that the genocide of your ancestors is their own fault!

This, in my opinion, is a multiple perspectives fail. It does not carefully consider who controls the perspective in the classroom. In the United States, the chances of it being a white person are 90%. The chances of it being a non-Native person is likely higher. When it comes to oppression of any kind – misogyny, racism, or insert “ism” here – the boundaries of perspectives allowed need to be clear. We don’t allow anyone to debate whether or not the Jews were responsible for their genocide, and we shouldn’t.

Teaching “multiple perspectives” cannot be a laissez faire free for all. There must be very clear delineation between right and wrong. Rape culture is wrong. Genocide is wrong. As educators we must check the perspectives that say otherwise! When some fool comes into the conversation saying shit like, “Boys will be boys,” we must say to them their perspective is not welcome. When people say, “The Jews would have lived if they didn’t give up their guns,” our response should be, “Get out of my house with that nonsense!” “Diversity of thought” and the unchecked space for “multiple perspectives” works to uphold white supremacy. Period.

Activism, Agitation, and Transformation. What do they mean?

Photo credit: https://www.mckinsey.com/business-functions/rts/our-insights/disruption-friction-and-change-the-hallmarks-of-a-true-transformation

Is being a teacher activist enough? What is the goal of activism? I always think it’s to transform something, but does activism transform? I’ve heard people say it’s to “disrupt the system,” but what does that mean? How do we define disruption, and is disruption even enough? I’m going to attempt to define that by looking at the similarities and differences between activism, agitation, and transformation in my own practice.

 

ACTIVISM

 

I’ve defined activism in previous posts, so I won’t go into that too much here. What I want to consider is the purpose of activism. In short, I defined activism as small acts of defiance for the purpose of?? I guess for the purpose of challenging a perceived injustice. In my classroom I refused to teach the prescribed curriculum, among other things. The purpose was to provide an education to my students I feel they deserved. Was I transforming anything? Perhaps on a micro level. I like to think I transformed the way my students learned ancient world history.

I see my refusal to stay silent in the face of oppression activism. Does it transform anything? I’ve been in situations where my speaking out opened the door for others speaking out, so it definitely transformed conversations. I’ve been told that others who see me speak out are inspired to do the same, even if it’s not in that moment, so I suppose it has transformed individuals in some way.

What I’m getting at here is that activism has the ability to transform on the individual level. Activism has transformed me, that is for sure. The more I engage in activism, the more I want to engage in activism, and it leads me to engage in the next term I want to define: agitation. I see them as two distinct things. Activism is an individual or group protesting, or acting against a person, thing, or force. Agitation goes a step further.

 

AGITATION

 

In my opinion, agitation is activism for the purpose of “disrupting the system.” As stated, I see activism as more of an interpersonal act. Even huge marches are a display of defiance, but rarely does it have an impact on a greater system. Huge marches make a point and may move individuals to change their positions. Agitation attempts to transform systems, but usually falls short.

Agitators act alone or in small groups and are generally hyper-focused on a single issue. One issue I consider myself an agitator in is standardized testing. I break the rules without actually breaking the rules. I didn’t tell my students to refuse standardized tests, I only taught them how the tests perpetuate systems of racial oppression. I don’t tell parents to opt their kids out, I write blogs about how racist the tests are and share them with parents. Agitators push within the confines of the system in an attempt to chip away at it.

Agitators sometimes see a bigger picture than activists, but I feel like the reason agitators fall short is because they see the system, but don’t think in terms of the system. One reason I left the classroom even though I’m missing my kids like crazy is because activism and agitation led me to the understanding that I’m not either. I want to work on transforming the system. For this we need to be transformative people.

 

TRANSFORMATION

 

Transformation occurs when we combine our activist spirit with our agitation tactics and throw in organizing. Transformation is about the end goal, which is not to disrupt, but to transform entire systems. Upending systems of any kind, but particularly systems of oppression, is going to take as many of us as possible. This is why, as educators, we must get out of our silos. I believe the siloing of our work is intentional. These systems of ours are afraid of educated, passionate, fearless individuals spending too much time together.

A transformative person is a selfless person. This is someone who eats, sleeps, and breathes the purpose of their work. I am working on being that person. It’s not easy to let go of my ego, especially when I have invested so much emotional labor into my work, but I must reflect on the why of my work. I don’t do this for me. My time in the K-12 system is over. I’m doing this for future generations. I attended the Race and Pedagogy National Conference this weekend and listened to a panel of Puyallap tribal members speak about their practice of making decisions based on how it will impact the next seven generations. This is how I want to move forward in my life. I think I have unintentionally done this, but I am going to incorporate this practice with intention. I can’t make decisions for the next seven generations if I am too caught up on whether or not I’ll be fired tomorrow.

At the conference I was privileged to hear Patrisse Cullors and Alicia Garza, who were keynote speakers. Besides being starstruck, I also received affirmation on a belief I had already been developing. Patrisse Cullors said, paraphrasing,“This position doesn’t belong to me. It belongs to the people.” When Patrisse was introduced, the one word used to describe her was “transformative.” Her statement is why. Transforming a system requires us to lift up the people who need it to be changed, bringing them to the same level as those who would oppress them. It requires us to put our jobs and bodies on the line to force that change. Yes, force it. It requires me to be unafraid and untethered to the current system that tries to push me out for challenging it. It requires me to live the activism, agitation, and organizing required to get the job done.

As I put this into words it terrifies me, but I am not afraid to lose my job or my reputation. I am afraid to lose. Maybe that’s the real difference between activism, agitation, and transformation.

Administrator Activist?

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

jedi_1115-2400x1200-227937491284

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

luke_i_am_your_father

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.

 

BATTLE PLAN

Vaderstrike

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.

Reflections on the Week September 16, 2018

One of the things I will do from time to time is reflect on my experiences and my work. This is the first of such posts. It’s been a hectic week that started out with a great Teacher of the Year awards ceremony where Robert Hand was named Washington Teacher of the Year. I’m excited for him and his community, and I’m sure he’ll represent us well. That’s him in the front of the picture.

TEACHER OF THE YEAR

If I can go back a little bit, to last weekend, I can include reflections on the Teacher of the Year retreat. It was interesting spending the weekend discussing education policy and learning about “decision makers” and how educators have to fight for a spot at that table. This was something I was aware of, so it was refreshing to learn there is an active network of educators organizing themselves to do just that.

I had the pleasure of meeting past teachers of the year including Nate Bowling and Mandy Manning. We met several past regional teachers of the year and learned from their experiences. It’s interesting to learn that many past teachers of the year fade back into their classrooms and don’t go forward into activist work. That’s a little disappointing, honestly, but I guess I understand it to some degree. I don’t like being in the spotlight, and it’s tiring work that regularly draws negativity from the haters. I’m happy I began activist work before becoming teacher of the year because I went in already knowing what it’s like, and the retreat was helpful in giving me new tools to crank it up a few notches.

mandy

One great tip was tweetdeck.com! If you don’t know about that, check it out. I only kind of sort of used Twitter before because it’s challenging to follow who and what I want, but tweetdeck makes that so easy to do! I’ll be using Twitter more often. If you don’t follow me already, do it now @TCastroGill. I do appreciate Twitter as a tool for activism because it’s such a public forum. If you’re thinking of dipping your toe into the activist waters, Twitter is a great place to start.

The awards ceremony at the MoPop was inspiring. It was a bit of a relief to know that I could not be chosen as State Teacher of the Year. I could enjoy the moment without the nerves my colleagues on stage were feeling. Even though I couldn’t be named State Teacher of the Year, my people came out to support me, and that was worth more than any title.

my people

From the back row left to right are Jeff Treistman, Uti Hawkins, Dr. Gonzalo Guzmán, Dr. Keisha Scarlett, Dr. Concie Pedroza, and then coming around to the bottom row from right to left are Dr. Kyle Kinoshita, Marquita Prinzing, myself, my child, Elysia Hammond, and last – but not least – Alma Alonzo. I hope each person in this photo realizes how much they mean to me and how grateful I am they came to support and celebrate. Dr. Kinoshita is my new boss and a badass, which is why I couldn’t be named State Teacher of the Year. Not because Kyle’s a badass, but because I have a new job. I’m the new Seattle Public Schools Ethnic Studies Program Manager. More on that below. Marquita is my friend and colleague who organized the nominations for me to be teacher of the year. She is a powerful woman who truly believes in the agency of educators. I owe much to her. Alma and Gonzalo have been working with me on creating Ethnic Studies in Seattle, and thank goodness because they are both brilliant! Jeff is the librarian of the school I used to teach in who is now disappointed he doesn’t have a co-agitator in the building anymore! Sorry, Jeff… Uti, Keisha, and Concie are part of a power team of women of color who lead our Department of Racial Equity Advancement. In my new role, I will be able to partner with them to make Ethnic Studies an institutional reality!

There are many others who couldn’t make it because they were teaching their classes or had their own work to do. Those people include Rita Green, education chair of the NAACP and a personal idol for me; Jon Greenberg, who teaches seniors at the Center School and recruited me to the work of Ethnic Studies; Jennifer Charlton, an amazing and outspoken Latinx educator teaching at Nathan Hale High School; and so many more who nominated me for this honor including my friends and colleagues with Social Equity Educators. This group of educator leaders is behind much of the racial justice work that is happening in Seattle Public Schools.

Then there is Elysia and Brian. Elysia and I lost Brian to an unexpected heart attack last February. Though he wasn’t there with us in person, he was there in our hearts and thoughts. He would be so proud. He was still alive when the nominations started and when I started my application. I told him I didn’t think I would be chosen. He laughed and said, “You know you will.”

And poor Elysia, they have sat through so many board meetings, committee meetings, union meetings, conferences, representative assemblies, and even the teacher of the year retreat. They deserve much of the credit for my work because they have been so good about being dragged everywhere and being bored to death in the process. I’m so proud of them.

ETHNIC STUDIES PROGRAM MANAGER

After the awards ceremony I went straight to work, literally, promoting Ethnic Studies. I met with Jon and his principal at Center School which shares space with the MoPop at Seattle Center. I’m sad to leave the classroom, and I will miss the kids. In her speech at the ceremony, Mandy was in tears because she’s leaving her kids this year to tour the country as the National Teacher of the Year. I almost cracked then because I’ve gone through that in the decision to move into my new position. What makes it a little bit easier is I will now have access to structural processes and change that I didn’t from my classroom. Instead of having an impact on 130 kids each year, I have the potential to impact over 50,000.

This is where teacher leadership and activism has led me. This is where I will continue to fight for what I believe in and for what our community believes our kids need. Some people think “fight” is too strong of a word, and those are the people who have never had to do the actual work. I’m settling into my cubicle at the central office where I have Black Lives Matter posters and a picture that says “Smash White Supremacy,” and these:

awards

I spoke with my son today who lives in Southern California. He’s a barber and had a client visiting from Seattle. Of course my son was like, “Oh, my mom lives there. She’s a pretty well known teacher.” (I don’t consider myself well-known, but he thinks I am because I was having ice cream with him over the summer while I was doing an interview for ParentMap Magazine.) To my son’s surprise, the client recognized my name and pulled up this blog site on his phone asking, “Is that your mom?” (I guess that does kind of make me well-known. Ha! I’ll have to rethink that.)

I’m glad to know people are reading and following, and I hope that my thoughts and reflections motivate you to act, even if it’s doing something as small as hanging a picture that says “Smash White Supremacy” in an office full of mostly white folx. Yes, that’s radical even in Seattle.