I had already been thinking about The Black Teacher Project, but I wasn’t sure where we’d begin or what it would look like. Over the next few months I had the opportunity to observe Belinda’s teaching and coach her in her role as a new teacher. She was and is an amazing teacher. I was blown away by her organization, rigor and obvious care for her students. She was a much better teacher than I had been at her age. I admitted to her that I was proud and surprised. Belinda was not a strong high school student. I taught her Modern World History and recruited her for the softball team I started as a way to keep her engaged with school and to let her know that I saw her beyond what was happening in the classroom. We both struggled — she couldn’t keep her grades up, and I couldn’t get her to open up to me so that I could help more. When we reflected on that time she had been experiencing major trauma in her personal life and that our connection was meaningful for her, even if I didn’t know it.
Fast forward to 2015, we’re meeting in her classroom and I ask her how things are going. She’s struggling to navigate the impact of gentrification. A white parent is questioning her teaching because their child didn’t get an A on an assignment. Reflecting on the experience, Belinda shared, “I grew up in this city. I wanted to come back and teach kids like me because I know what so many of them are going through. I didn’t come here to deal with whiny privileged parents!” I knew exactly what she meant. This was the same reason that I had chosen to teach at Thurgood Marshall, a school with a majority of low-income students of color. I felt for her. I knew first-hand what a great teacher she was, and her principal assured me that this was not about her teaching as much as her race. The big sister in me wanted to find this parent and give them a piece of my mind (Brooklyn-style). Instead I went back to Belinda and posed a question: “What is your political project? Teaching is a political act, what are you up to?” I wanted to remind her she had a responsibility to the students in her class that fit the demographic she imagined as well as those who didn’t. But no reminder was necessary. She was clear that she wanted to teach her students to love themselves and fight against oppression. This was aligned with her work as a community organizer in between high school and teaching. It was through our conversations over the next several months that helped me get clear that “every child deserves a Black teacher.” In this case that parent needed their child to have a Black teacher. Our work is as much about social-political change as it is curriculum and pedagogy.
They say good teaching involves learning from your students. Thanks to Belinda for being #myBlackteacher.
~Micia Mosely, Executive Director of the Black Teacher Project