Why Do You Teach? If You’re Not the Solution, You’re the Problem.

This is our school community’s thirteenth year serving students as a turnaround neighborhood charter school. Our turnaround school, used to be the second most dangerous school in the city, if not the state. I attended Shoemaker for summer school as a high school junior who had blew off my chemistry class. The first thing I wondered about when Mr. Kiesel informed me about summer school was not the inconvenience, nor the heat, but how many fight would I be involved in at Shoemaker.  I wasn’t alone in my thinking.

Today, Shoemaker is a vastly different place. Same neighborhood. Same children. Different adults. Different expectations. Wildly different outcomes. 

Our work to launch the 2018-19 school year actually began last school year; reflecting, planning, attending professional development, providing enrichment and interventions classes, followed all by more planning. This is what our students and community deserve: a faculty wholly committed to our students’ education and liberation, systems and supports that work, and accountability for all.

Angela Crawford, a teacher I deeply respect, captured my sentiments about the start of the school year on a Facebook post and she has allowed me to repost it.

Today is the day that I return to work… walking into 23 years of services. If you know me then you already understand my position…

“Fire destroys and replenishes, and gives us the opportunity to start a new.”

As educators the way we can burn it all down is to educate our students for freedom and liberation. We have to find the balance between pointing out all the injustices we face, while showing our beauty, resilience, creativity, and power.

We as educators gotta take a stand. There’s no neutrality.

We gotta read more.

We gotta experiment more.

We gotta congregate more so we can build school communities that build the type of curriculum that educates, advocates, inspires and embodies freedom. (MEC Conference 9.22.18)

So let’s lose the chains, starting with the chains on our minds and the minds of our youth.

This is not a call, to lecture to the kids about these recent events. No, boss. Please no lectures. Instead examine yourself. Ask yourself, why am I teaching? What am I teaching? What is my purpose here in the school, in this classroom?

Like, why are you here? Why do you get the honor of developing the minds of the future? And what are you doing with that honor? What are you afraid of? Why are you afraid of it? You need to ask yourself if you should move on to another profession, because if you’re not the solution….your ass is the problem.

In Solidarity for Liberation!

Until the philosophy which hold one race superior
And another
Is finally
And permanently
And abandoned –
Everywhere is war –


I wish all educators and liberators a fantastic school year. Pamoja tutashinda.

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.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here

Up Next