Do any of you remember your first black teacher? I’m guessing many can say they never had one. I can say that I only had two from elementary school all the way through grad school. If I lived my whole life in Arizona, that might be understandable given the 4% African American population in this state. But I started my education growing up in an
Then when I started junior high school, my mom thought it would be a great idea to bus me to an all white school. Guess what? There weren’t any black teachers there either. Two busloads of black kids shipped off to white suburbia to fend for ourselves. Little did I know that we were part of desegregation busing, the practice of assigning and transporting kids to schools so as to overcome the effects of residential segregation on local school demographics. All I knew was it sucked. I never felt like that was my school. We were just visitors.
We moved to Arizona the following year, and I remember feeling relieved. In Central Phoenix I wasn’t the only minority. There were Mexican and Native American kids too. Brown people unite. But Phoenix had its own version of desegregation busing even though it probably wasn’t planned that way. I lived right across the street from North HS, but some how I found myself riding the city bus everyday to Central. My mom was crazy sneaky like that. There might have been black teachers at North, but I didn’t see a one at Central. They were all white, so clearly they were the better teachers.
When you grow up never seeing anyone who looks like you in roles of leadership and prestige, you start to believe you can never achieve that yourself. Thank goodness I NEVER wanted to be a teacher, so it never really bothered me until I left for college. After spending two years at Phoenix College, I went to a Historically Black College (HBC) in Texas. Woot woot! Certainly, there will black teachers there. Nope. Well, there were a few, but not teaching the courses I was taking. Except for my Spanish teacher. She was my first black teacher. I remember myself acknowledging that fact one day in class and thinking: my first black teacher and I can’t understand a word she’s saying. Haha!
There is a point to all this reminiscing about my schooling. It reminds me that there are many individual students who find themselves in similar situations as I did growing up or even feeling marginalized. Even today we have students who are minorities, LGBTQ, physically or mentally disabled who show up in our classrooms wondering if they fit in. Many are the first in their families to go to college, so there’s no precedence. Many will look around the room and see very few faces like their own and wonder if they can do it. So for me, I feel as if I have to do more than just be their first black teacher. I have to try to be more inclusive with these students. Not because they feel they need it, but because I feel like every student should feel as if they are a part of their community and develop a sense of belonging and hopefully become better prepared for life because of that.