This week was Teacher Appreciation Week, one of my favorite weeks. After all, it honors a profession that should be considered one of the most important vanguards of our communities. They have one of the hardest and most important jobs in this country and every country.
In Islam, we speak of the rights that teachers have over society. I deeply believe this.
They are the pioneers of culture and guides of the coming generation.
But while all teachers have tremendously challenging roles, all teachers aren’t created equal. Nor do all teachers have the same impact on their students’ life trajectories or the same outlook about the potential of our Black and Brown students.
So, while we celebrate Teacher Appreciation Week, I also want to challenge us to know who those game-changing, trajectory-influencing teachers are in our communities of color. While we obviously must support those who aren’t there yet, we also must highlight those teachers who are leading the profession and having a sizable positive impact on some of the most marginalized communities in this divided country.
Let’s shout out those teachers who don’t allow kids to settle because they know their students are brilliant and can do so much more. They”re called Warm Demanders because they love their students unconditionally and demand the best from them. For Black and Brown kids, this is life changing.
Let’s shout out those teachers who then extend those high expectations to themselves, and spend countless hours making sure they provide those students the crucial high levels of support.
Let’s shout out those teachers who advocate for students. Teachers who know that all students should have science, history and expressive arts along with their daily dose of reading and math. They call out short-sightedness and a myopic focus on test scores alone.
Let’s shout out those teachers who know exactly what type of educational experiences their biological children are getting in those magnets, criteria-based selection schools, or in their tony suburbs, and are hell-bent to ensure their students’ experiences don’t pale in comparison.
Let’s shout out those teachers who know they can’t just clock out and disengage from their job but they’re also the ones who model a care and commitment to self-care and mental health for their colleagues and their students.
Let’s shout out those teachers who are steadfast in their commitment to educational justice. They audit their own thoughts, actions and interactions on a daily basis to ensure they are just. When their professed anti-racist mindsets are challenged by racist colleagues, family, and friends, they check those people, and don’t cower in the face of injustice, just because its from one of their loved ones.
Let’s shout out those teachers who don’t blame their students. They reflect and they look to restore their relationships with their students and school communities, even the most challenging.
Let’s shout out every teacher who approaches lesson planning as a political act. As an exercise in empowering students and helping them to liberate. Whose adrenaline and clarity of thought flows in the classroom the same way it must have for Aunty Harriet Tubman, William Still, Thomas Garrett, Malcolm, Martin, Douglass, Garvey, Fannie, Stokely, and on. Who execute these lesson plans, these intensely political and revolutionary documents, with the same flawlessness that revolutionaries of yesteryear did.
Let’s shout out those teachers who recognize that “teacher leader” is a redundant phrase. Who approach their work as our best leaders do—with poise, character, and actions that transform society.
Let’s shout out the incredibly gifted and perceptive teachers who are able to make a variety of decisions within a minute and a half! Someone once told me only air traffic controllers make as many life impacting decisions daily.
Let’s shout out all teachers who recognize that classism and racism permeate our schools and classrooms. They are the ones working to eradicate them. They are the ones who hold themselves accountable for the culture of their classrooms and the halls of their schools.
Now, as Teacher Appreciation Week ends, the challenge is to the rest of us, to ensure these great educators are given a platform to professionally develop other educators and policy makers—and heck, everybody else too.
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.