As a part of my series on educator diversity, I’m having conversations with educators of color that have expressed an interest in speaking with me about their experiences. The goal of these conversations is to provide voices to the plight of educators of color, and to show how we can not only get more young people of color into classrooms and into education in general, but that investments also need to be made on the back end to ensure we keep really good educators in the work.
For this interview, I have the opportunity to speak with Luis Rosario, an educator with a decade of professional experience in consulting, coaching, program management, teaching and leadership development. As a Philadelphia native and proud alum of Cramp Elementary, Julio De Burgos Middle Magnet and Edison High Schools, he is dedicated to the success of diverse students, teachers and school communities.
Luis is currently a Relationships First Coach with the School District of Philadelphia helping schools focus on a restorative justice-practices philosophy that emphasizes the importance of positive, authentic human connection and its link to both academic success and social-emotional learning.
Malcolm Davis (MD): Hi Luis, thanks for taking time to speak with me about your experiences as an educator, and what are areas that we should focus on to improve the experiences of our educators of color.
Luis Rosario (LR): No problem Mal, glad to help!
MD: To start things off, what’s one of the main reasons why young people of color aren’t becoming educators?
LR: School culture is definitely one of the main reasons. When I first saw the question two things came to mind: Reflecting on being a student in Philadelphia for middle school and high school, and the fact I had to go through a lot of hoops, which made it feel more like survival instead of thriving. My friends and family members have different stories about surviving, and lacking relationships in the school building.
MD: I’ve definitely heard similar stories across families about how they struggled to make connections with their schools and that was through multiple generations. We have to change that experience for our young people.
LR: As a student I dropped out for two weeks due to aspects of culture, and I have family members that dropped out for longer than that. It wasn’t until later when I started asking reflective questions, and administrators said they didn’t have anyone to speak to or talk to. Working in the school district, you see a lack of culture and it doesn’t just affect students. We talk about best practices and community building but then you see the adults don’t even like each other.
MD: Can you talk more about the relationships between the adults?
LR: There’s not as much energy being put into the relationships between adults, and how as adults we thrive in a work setting that’s extremely taxing and can cause vicarious trauma. Then you get into school and we talk about literacy and numeracy rates but there’s very little energy being put into building relationships with each other. It impacts all teachers but particularly affects teachers of color. It then filters down to the students and causes a bad experience for young people of color.
MD: So you touched on it a little, but can you tell me what in your opinion is one of the primary reasons educators of color are leaving the work?
LR: Interpersonal conflict and negative school culture. It definitely goes back to school culture at the end of the day. It’s a deep rabbit hole right? We were talking about white supremacy culture at work and we have to be really specific about this stuff. When you mention it things start bubbling up and people start asking questions. Then you have to identify elements that may cause conflict, like patriarchy. Many times with school leadership or district leadership there’s this idea that you can’t listen to feedback from people on the ground level. With people of color more often than not they’re on the ground level and they are not being listened to or valued due to a systemic problem.
MD: White supremacy is so deeply rooted in all of the structures and systems in this country, but we see it so often in urban education which is clearly a huge problem.
LR: There’s a systemic impact that doesn’t get spoken on and it causes people to burn out quicker than they probably should. You realize it’s not really the students causing it, it’s a systemic thing, but no one wants to talk about the systemic thing and how it plays out across a district, school, and classroom. We want to point fingers at one thing or another but it’s white supremacy and we need to create the time and place to talk about it.
MD: As a young person you had quite a few educators of color, how did that affect your sense of culture and pride as a person of color?
LR: That’s a deep question, and honestly most of my educators of color came in higher education. I was at Penn State main campus and it’s a world you can get lost in. There was a new Latino studies minor and I took a few classes. You get a true critical understanding of history, and being Puerto Rican and going into a Latino studies minor it gave me a powerful perspective on history. It also gave me an idea of how people of color fight tooth and nail to get their stories told and the professors talked about how they fought to keep the minor alive. The content was really powerful but the conversations afterwards were maybe even more powerful.
MD: Talk to us a bit about those conversations that happened as a part of the minor.
LR: A lot of educators of color have a mission driven work impact that goes beyond the degree. We use the technical components but you see that there’s a mission at work in regards to instilling a sense of self and history in students. And our continued sense of where we’re going and being critical and forward looking but not forgetting the past. The mission to educate came from something deeper than a degree, it was instilled in us to make sure that our voice is heard despite being ignored for centuries. When I graduated I became a Rites of Passage Facilitator at my old high school, and what helped me get the job was my ability to talk about liberation pedagogy and that came from my professors in college.
MD: So when you became an educator, how did you continue those impactful conversations from Penn State with your students?
LR: The history is intentionally ignored, and you’re seeing it nationwide. History is actively being erased, and we need educators whose mission it is to ask the questions that lead us to a rabbit hole that leads us to self understanding and better understanding our ancestors. When students have that lightbulb moment there’s a good chance they become an educator of some kind, maybe not a teacher, but they’re definitely going to work with students in some capacity. It’s a shame it’s a battle, because we should be able to do our thing and thrive in an environment, but we’re always fighting tooth and nail to justify our existence in any space.
MD: Right, and having to constantly justify our existence in any space can be tiring, but even more so within urban education. It’s important that we continue to root out white supremacy from our systems of education, and ensure that we recognize and affirm the voices, experiences, and history of our students of color and also our educators of color. Luis, thank you for sharing your perspective with us, and for being so vulnerable and honest.
You can connect with Luis Rosario through his LinkedIn, and also make sure to visit the Relationships First website to learn more! You can also connect with me via my podcast The 3rd Lap Podcast and learn more about The Center for Black Educator Development here.