What Were Your Students Learning While They Were Doing Your Hair?

A few weeks ago, a Black man teacher posted a video on his social media account, TikTok to be specific.

The video was of his primarily female students taking out his braids as he sat at his desk. He offered context to the video; speaking over the video recording saying that he needed help taking out his braids before his hair appointment after school. He cited his relationship with students to explain why those ladies unbraiding his hair was okay. He also shared that he had parents sign releases for the students to be shown on social media.

The video got a lot of reactions. Some folks agreed and others did not. While this educator received some positive comments, his administrators didn’t find enough positivity in the video to keep him in the classroom. He was fired by his district, which is unfortunate because he’s a Black educator (Black male teachers make up 1.3% of all teachers).

To lose one with great relationships with his Black students is unfortunate.

His students appreciate his presence and the person he was in the classroom by what they shared in the letters given to him. I can attest that Black students lean on Black teachers. Over my many years of teaching, my students have leaned on me beyond the X’s and O’s of classroom instruction. Research says that Black students, and all other students, prefer Black teachers. That school and those students lose with that teacher removed. The school district was heavy-handed with their decision. Some teachers harm Black children every day… white teachers in particular, and don’t get fired.

Unfortunately, this teacher did.

However, in the same way, this young man sought to provide a teachable moment with the unbraiding of his hair, the school district provided this teacher with a teachable moment. Even with the best of intentions, this young man made a few colossal mistakes: the most foolish was allowing those young, impressionable ladies to take his hair out and posting a video recording of them doing it only celebrates the harm that was done.

Instruction should be happening in the room at all times. It can be fun and interactive, but this was not a cosmetology classroom. That could have changed the optics of this situation. But this was a traditional classroom. He wanted his hair unbraided in time for a hair appointment. I doubt this was in this teacher’s lesson plan.

So, the connection between this action and academic outcomes is non-existent… he’s not doing this during an observation.

Additionally, Black hair — in the eyes of Black people — is sacred and intimate. We don’t allow just anyone to touch it, and when we do, it’s usually: (a) a parent, (b) a barber/stylist, or (c) a friend of some sort e.g. romantic or brotherly/sisterly. I am sure this teacher and his students know this. But because of this reality for us, the lines had the potential to become blurry when young ladies are doing a grown man’s hair within a teacher-student power dynamic.

As a parent, I’d find it inappropriate for my daughters to unbraid their teacher’s hair for his upcoming appointment. This educator should have considered that as well. Respecting that boundary is as important as establishing relationships with kids. Maybe he sought to establish an intimate experience with those kids knowing that may be something they crave. But as an educator, our job is to love students with their best interests at heart, like a parent. Our job is not to be their parent.

Again, I’ve established deep relationships with many students. I’ve counseled them beyond academics: from how to get financial aid as a migrant student to whether or not one should abort a child. But my role as the adult at the moment was to be the adult at the moment and direct them to resources in collaboration with their parents/guardians. That’s who we must be.

With that said, I don’t believe this young man should have gotten fired. A serious discussion followed by some appropriate mentoring would do. Sadly, either forcing out Black teachers or removing them is what many school districts do best.


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