How does a teacher of the year leave the classroom shortly after receiving the honor of being named teacher of the year?
Two years ago, Qorsho Hassan became the first Somali American to win Minnesota Teacher of the Year, but now she’s decided to walk away from the classroom. Her reason: burnout. Her joy for the classroom was fading and she dreaded going to work each day. Tim Walz, governor of MN told her that because of Hassan’s example, kids all over the state believe the can do anything. That’s an amazing compliment and it speaks to the power and importance of Black teachers like Ms. Hassan.
What happened; what made this powerful and purposed filled teacher leave the profession? Three things specifically.
The first reason is exhaustion due to pouring out all you have beyond the realm of classroom instruction is exhausting without support. I don’t say that to say only she does or only Black teachers (or other teachers of color) do. But for us (Black teachers/educators), educating Black students—in light of living in an anti-Black society—it means so much more.
Ms. Hassan worked at Echo Park Elementary; a school where students of color were in the majority and according to the Civil Rights Data Collection, a school where Black and Latino children were disproportionately suspended and were less likely to be enrolled in gifted and talented programs.
Ms. Hassan’s passion was with working with Black and Latino students as do many Black and Latino teachers do, according to research. Yet she feared that she was not enough for her students; specifically, that she could not provide the best of herself to her students… and that was before the COVID-19 Pandemic. Since the Pandemic, those fears intensified in addition to having to deal with her own challenges as a result of the pandemic, as many teachers have.
Ms. Hassan struggled with what many Black teachers, as well as other teachers of color, struggle with—a lack of support from their school and or district, necessary for them to navigate classroom issues and support student instruction. This lack of support is a primary reason why, teachers of color, including Black teachers, are subject to leaving the profession.
Also, her students weren’t always supported. Hassan’s students had many needs and required to meet high expectations without the support necessary to achieve the benchmarks before them. Like most schools, Echo Park dealt with significant staff challenges in the way of absences as well as departures. Yet their students weren’t provided with what they needed to succeed.
For example, Ms. Hassan had to create her own literacy curriculum for second grade because the school did not her with provide one. While the school district said that a literacy curriculum was provided during the pandemic, there were limited numbers of professional development in order to instruct teachers on how to implement that curriculum in the classroom. This is a systemic issue. It has nothing to do the mythical “culture of poverty.”
All of which led Ms. Hassan to question if a society needed an underclass of poor and uneducated people to exist for their exploitation.
That’s another article for another day.
Lastly, Ms. Hassan experienced burnout as a result of an incident where she used a picture book titled Something Happened in Our Town to help young students internalize the George Floyd murder. While the George Floyd murder was discussed nationwide, it had even more significant in the state of Minnesota; where Mr. Floyd was murdered and where Hassan taught her students.
She read the book her classroom of Black, white and Latino students. However, a local police officer found out about an assignment associated with the picture book and wrote a Facebook post about it, which got a lot of attention from political conservatives. The Minnesota Department of Education and Department of Health publicly listed this picture book as a resource. The executive director of Minnesota’s largest police association asked for the book to be removed.
According to Ms. Hassan, the school district threw her under the bus with their statement and while her union and students and parents came to her defense at a school board meeting on the issue, Hassan nonetheless was exhausted by what happened.
All of these things in totality can burn out a Black teacher or any teacher of color. The invisible tax is what often pushes Black educators out of the classroom. Now, due to all of the fear mongering around teaching history that properly implicate whiteness as the culprit any criminal enterprise that has committed violence against Black and Indigenous people, we have a Critical Race Tax; whereby educators are unable to teach the truth of history—and risk their employment if they do.
Attention is given to the trouble retaining Black teachers. In light of the data, it is important that schools retain Black teachers. But do stakeholders and reformers really want to retain Black teachers when systemic realities have yet to be adequately addressed?
I certainly understand the challenges that exist in schools due to the neighborhood demographics, along with the realities of the COVID-19 pandemic. However, education leaders have an obligation to educators that they are supported. District and school leaders are obligated to stand with teachers who have a love for children, a passion for educating students and the wherewithal to best educate students.
Ms. Hassan checked all those boxes, yet when she needed support, she felt abandoned by her district and overwhelmed because the lack of support prevented her from being all that her students needed her to be.
Those are the teachers that we cannot afford to lose.
My hope is that Ms. Hassan is able to recharge and reconnect with her passion for teaching so that she reenters the classroom. Teachers like her are teachers that are needed nationwide. It’s why places like the Center for Black Educator Development exist.
But this is a cautionary tale for educational leaders. This is a story from a teacher of the year who is an African-American woman speaking as to why she walked away. If we can’t support Black teachers the way they ought to be supported, within the context of teaching in our society, then not only do we lose as a profession but our students lose as learners. You must do better the ensure this doesn’t happen again.