We were in Italy visiting my little sister Ashley. She was studying abroad that year and we were having dinner with her host family. It was a little awkward. They spoke very little English and we spoke very little Italian. Inevitably, we started with small talk.
“How was your flight?”
“How are you enjoying the weather?”
“Have you toured Rome?”
And then the innocuous question,“What do you do for a living?”
My mother says she works for the “Electric company.”
My aunt says she works for an “Accountant firm.”
I say, “I’m a teacher.”
The room erupts with excitement. Ashley’s host father, Fabritizo excitedly asks which subject in broken English.
I say “History.”
Another eruption of joy and then the questions ensue and for me the room becomes easier, lighter, more relaxed. The professor is in the room and we can all be ourselves…and show off how smart we are.
We are a well traveled family. We have been many places. What never fails to bring joy, respect and reverence is when it is revealed that I am a teacher.
This is true everywhere but in America.
In America, when I told people I was a teacher, their faces would fill with pity or disgust at the news.
Reactions have ranged from, “But you’re so smart,” to “But what do you really want to do?” to “You’re more brave than I am…” Especially when I told them I taught high schoolers.
You want to talk cognitive dissonance?
In America, I was pitied for choosing to be a teacher.
Outside of America, I was honored.
I remember when I decided to become a teacher. I was in 11th grade. My American History teacher was a very young Black man who wore Timbs and a leather jacket to work, just like we did in High School. He taught US History and the new course, African American history. One of our assignments was to write out a discussion between two historical figures having a conversation. I choose to have Tupac (who had recently been murdered) talk to WEB Dubois and Booker T. Washington, while in heaven about the state of Black folks.
Don’t play with me. I have been loving Black people for EVER.
I got an A on the paper (of course) but what was more important to me is the letter he wrote to me on the back page. In a nutshell, he told me I had a brilliant mind, a brilliant voice and a deep love for our people. He recommended that I thought deeply about becoming a teacher.
I decided right then and there, that I would become a high school history teacher. I was so proud of this decision. Unfortunately, in my decade long time being a teacher I have heard MANY teachers, especially Black teachers, advise students who had any interest in the profession, that they should not pursue this profession, that they were “too smart,” had “better options” and they should not “waste” their talents on these kids.
That always broke my heart. Still does.
I know here at CREAD, we come hard for erebody. We have a discerning, questioning, critical eye when it comes to those who play one of the most important roles in our world, our teachers, may you be brown, yellow, Puerto Rican or Haitian (name is Phife Dawg from the Zulu Nation… you know all my life I’ve always started that line with Black, brown, yellow…. When I looked it up to be accurate, you should have seen my surprise. Forgive my sidebar I can’t help it…where was I?)
Yes, I know we go hard but that go hard comes from a deep deep sense of love for our children and our people and our deep deep respect and admiration for the role of the educator, the teacher, the professor.
All of our first teachers were our mamas and our babas (mothers and fathers) our nana’s and abuela’s, our ti-ti’s and unc’s. They loved us and reared us and helped us to uncover the beauty of the world we were born into.
Starting from the tender age of 3 (y’all know NYC got 3K for all? I was just put on to that) and going all the way up to 21, we become the extended family for over 1.1million students in New York City. Every single parent and family entrusts in us the honor of loving and teaching their most precious thing, their child. They give us the best thing they have, even when they bad as hell. That bad as hell child, is their and our best thing.
And we are this city, state and country’s best thing. We are the teachers.
So it’s Monday and every student is waiting on you, and the thing they need first and foremost is your love. Remember that when you are challenged by any one or all of them, as we start this school year.
Look at that challenge as a cry for love. And remember that love cures all.
I know. I know. I’m dragging it.
But I fully believe that it is an honor a joy and a calling to be the teacher. And that teacher is synonymous with love…or at least, we here at CREAD aim for it to be.
We also aim for it to be about loving Black people unconditionally, unquestionably and undoubtedly by being well informed, pedagogically sound and determined in our beliefs, policies and practices to destroy the White supremacy anti-Blackness dichotomy that lives in our education system in this country and this society that we have all been born into.
You know I wasn’t leaving that out.
I would be remiss if I didn’t acknowledge that today is September 11th and you would be remiss if you didn’t acknowledge it in your classes today. I lost someone near and dear to me 16 years ago today and we as a country have been embroiled in various wars since then. Our history is always ever present and we must always use the Sankofa principle to ground us in everything we do.
I leave you with two quotes on our first full week of school, one from Baba Garvey and the other from Mama Maya;
Meh love ya long time!