I had lunch with my friend the other day, and we were talking about just how stalled out and technical all the fights seem to be in education when compared to the existential threats our kids are facing. We’re still tinkering with testing, and reading programs, and observation frameworks, and arguing about so much of the same shit we’ve created industries to argue. My friend said, “I just want all that to be cancelled until no one is coming for our lives.”
I was surrounded by people who didn’t look like me. I was asked to behave and respond in ways that made me uncomfortable. There were jokes and references I didn’t get, times I felt excluded from the conversation being had. I was keenly aware of how every person interacted with me and constantly questioned what they were thinking about me and my presence.
And yet, the wish from some that the equity movement would, like most education fads, go away in a year or two (which indicates a belief that education shouldn’t evolve along with the world or ever try new things at all, but whatever) somewhat came true. Equity transitioned to be a goal in and of itself in many places, and every district included the “and equity” tag at the end of every goal without ever honestly addressing what that meant. This year, I’ve seen resistance to equity and anti-racism grow and become more organized. It has adopted a smile, polite language and blue checkmarks. It is comfortable work that erases race, that protects the status quo. It is “Make Classrooms Great Again” and “I don’t see color, I see data.”
Disruptive Leadership While I stood in the lunchroom, shaken, and mostly just waiting to be fired, looking out at a field of corn-dogs, chocolate milk, watching the girl tables trying not to look at the boy tables and watching the boy tables trying to resist putting french fries up their own noses, another teacher came up to me. This teacher, older and more experienced, knew exactly the look on my face, and didn’t need to ask anything before launching into advice. “Close your door,” he said, looking out at the lunchroom with his arm around me, like Mufasa, like, one day, Simba, every ketchup packet these fluorescent lights touch will be yours. “Close your door,” he said. “Close your door and teach. Don’t worry about the school, don’t worry about the world. Just teach.” Kinda like… screw the pride Simba. You do you.
There was the day that a sixth grader was upset, was blocked by an administrator from exiting a room and pushed his way past. Within the hour, he was sitting in the principal’s office, handcuffed, talking to a police officer. He would leave that day in the back of a cop car—the start of a long suspension. I would follow him out, silent and ashamed of my silence. I would later reach out to district staff and school board members, but nothing happened to change the outcome or to meaningfully address the causes.