The bad apples

Anyone who knows me, knows that I am a staunch defender of teachers. I think it’s absurd to blame them for the economic woes of our country; I loathe how they are vilified by the media and politicians. I believe that most of them want to do a good job, that most of them love what they do, and—paramount to all of this—that most of them love children and have their best interests at heart. If these things aren’t true, then why would anyone become a teacher? It certainly isn’t for the incredible salary, or the easy six-hour days, or the summer months off. Falacies, one and all. Teachers put in long hours and are frustrated daily by the demands of mandates, curriculum, children, parents, administrators, and so on.

I pretty much view teachers as saints.

But this Polyanna view was challenged this summer at Pact Camp. Willie Adams, the Dean of Middle School Life at the Head-Royce School in Oakland, and co-founder of the Excelsus Foundation, was the keynote speaker on the third morning. Adams’ work is focused on the education and support of black boys, who consistently remain on one side of the achievement gap. And part of his discussion included the bias—sometimes overt, sometimes subconscious—that teachers bring with them into the classroom, resulting in lower expectations for black students than for their white counterparts.

This isn’t new. But sometimes it takes hearing the spoken words to make it real. I began to percolate on this.

And then: Yesterday.

Yesterday, I found myself engaged with two self-proclaimed teachers in the comment section of a post (since removed) on Derfwad Manor. The post was innocuous enough: Mrs. G. offered a short intro to the audio of the Smiley/West Poverty Tour, and spoke of how she was deeply moved and inspired by it. I listened to all 48-minutes of it but not so, some of the commentors. And as it tends to go with all things funky, as Dr. West might say, the negative response was quick.

The first hint of ugliness came from a former internet “colleague” of mine named Stacy, who posted using a pseudonym. The other was from a person calling herself Shawna. Both women expressed opinions about poverty that included derisive remarks about black women, castigating them for getting weaves or french manicures or a pack of cigarettes, while not providing adequately (in their opinions) for their children. They each made blanket, racist, white-privileged based statements, and I took them to task in one general remark.

Comments have since been shut down because Shawna’s retort to my retort included the n-word, which doesn’t fly at Derfwad Manor. The management drew the line in the sand there. And I get that should-I-or-should-I-not-let-that-stand inner dialogue. But at the same time, oh hell-the-fuck-no! Over here, I like to shine a bright light on exactly what kind of person this “teacher” is. Her exact words were:

Yep, just leave teachers to sweep up all the shit left behind from shitty n****r parents. (Asterisks mine.)

This from a teacher. Who is teaching.

We should all know which classroom is hers so we can request out of it immediately should our kids be so unfortunate to land there.

What a teacher is saying online should matter to every single person who has a child in school. Teachers spend seven hours or more each day, five days a week with our kids. There aren’t any other adults who are granted such an abundance of time with our babies. We are trusting them. Yet, they cannot be effectively teaching children, brown and/or impoverished included, while tamping down racial prejudices and closeting bigoted views both of which lack any sense of historical knowledge.

To call yourself a good teacher in one breath, and then vent to the internet about what imbeciles your students are—because if you didn’t, you’d have to “blow [your] brains out,” as Stacy wrote on her own site—isn’t funny or satirical. It’s sad, and indicates that perhaps she’s in the wrong profession, or in need of a good therapist, or both. And definitely, the teacher who uses the n-word in her cyber-time shouldn’t be anywhere near my kid at any time, ever.

Certainly, the frustrations of teachers are myriad. But to commiserate face-to-face with parents in one manner, and then mock them later online, is a complete and appalling violation of trust. The thought of this possibility had never occurred to me before now. But this experience has given me a lot to consider as I figure out how best to speak to my daughter’s new teacher about the things that occupy my mind these days. Because that is a conversation we will be having.

For sure, a teacher cannot be one thing in the classroom and another outside of it. James Baldwin said it best:

A child cannot be taught by anyone who despises him, and a child cannot afford to be fooled.

Neither can parents.