If You Can’t Teach My Black Children, Admit It And Move On

Khulia Pringle wrote this article a few years ago. A recent comment on her blog inspired me to repost it. “I’m a black woman who is finishing a master’s in education. Right now, I’m a substitute teacher and I honestly think that it’s difficult for me to deal with the black students because of their attitude and behavior, even though I’m a person of color. A lot of the other students especially Asian kids, rarely disrespect me. It could be because of how they’re brought up and may be their self motivation to learn. However, I had an incident with a black student who was talking during a test. When I told her to stop talking, she looked at me in the eyes and twisted her neck as if she’s saying to me “Who are you talking to?” What I’m saying is a lot about behavior management. That’s why I opted to teach ESL students and soon Special Ed.”

Every morning I woke up and got my kids dressed, ready for school. They knew I was serious as a heart attack when it comes to education. I realize this isn’t what the world believes happens when they think of me. As a black mother living in an urban area I’m supposed to be disengaged. I’m supposed to be uncaring or out of touch. That’s the official story about me and others like me. I hear it from so many sources. We’re supposed to be struggling so much that we can’t be trusted to do at home what middle-class America wants us to do.

Message received. Duly noted.

For the record, that nonsense doesn’t fit me. I find it insulting and it sounds like a cheap way to ignore the problems my kids encounter in public schools. Not problems with the kids, but problems with the adults.

Now that there is a video going around showing a black girl being attacked by a white police officer, for being defiant, there should be a conversation about how hostile the environment is for kids and parents. But, watch what happens, there will be another round of  statements like “if only they would act right they wouldn’t get in trouble.”

I’m used to that kind of talk. Here in Saint Paul Public Schools it’s fashionable for teachers to talk about black and poor students as if they’re nothing but trouble. If you believe what they say our kids just aren’t disciplined (as if any group of American teenagers are models of discipline).

Earlier this year a large group of teachers went to the St. Paul school board to complain about the district’s equity policies. They said that mainstreaming kids who were previously stuck in special education was increasing the number of students who have no respect for school or teachers.

One teacher from an exclusive magnet school program complained about these students “infecting” good students.

Another one of the teachers who spoke that night had previously told reporters black children got suspended more often because they are involved in “thuggery.” That type of talk landed him a nationwide bullhorn on FOX News for a segment called “Chaos in American Public Schools.”

I’m learning just how much the media loves tales about black dysfunction. Deep down I know they’re blaming me and black women collectively. I feel the judgement, but I reject it.

story in City Pages gave a free platform for teachers at one of our high schools to talk about kids in the worst way. They call the school conditions “anarchy” and by the time you finish reading it you’ll be convinced the kids are animals. The teachers of course are martyrs.

The idea that there are teachers who believe our children cannot learn because of how they are being raised at home is so hypocritical to me. I wonder, why the hell are you teaching then?

These teachers who believe that public schools are not safe and chaotic have a point. From what I’ve seen they could do a lot better job of managing behavior, including their own. But blaming the district’s equity work and plan to reduce suspensions makes me suspicious. To have teachers go to the school board demanding a “zero excuses discipline policy” while they also send me mailers about how much they believe in ending the school-to-prison pipeline is talking out both sides of the neck.

Teachers have tough words for us, so here’s mine for them: If they cannot stand the heat, then get of the classroom and make room for someone who can. Quit blaming our kids and their families. Figure out a way to do your job better or quit.

That might sound harsh, but it’s no harsher than the way they talk about my kids.

Maybe it’s different in other places, but here in Minnesota 96% of teachers are white, mostly women. I truly believe they feel kids can’t succeed if they come from from homes like mine. It’s sad because they share that view with the public. And when they speak people take it as the gospel. So when they publicly talk about black kids as if they’re animals, it has an impact.

Who listens to me? Who asks black moms about what really goes down? Where is our platform? When will people listen to us and take our words as the Kings James version?

I’m doing my job at home. It isn’t always perfect, but I’m putting in the work.

No I don’t want to participate in your whitewashed parent groups or associations. Let’s be honest, by the way you act when moms like me get involved, you don’t want me to participate.

That does not mean I don’t want to be involved in my child’s education. The sooner you figure that out, the better off we’ll all be.

Sharif El-Mekki
Sharif El-Mekki
Sharif El-Mekki is the principal of Mastery Charter School–Shoemaker Campus, a neighborhood public charter school in Philadelphia that serves 750 students in grades 7-12. From 2013-2015, he was one of three principal ambassador fellows working on issues of education policy and practice with U.S. Department of Education under Secretary Arne Duncan.


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