Have you ever been here before?
What student are (were) you? What teacher are (were) you? Put away the gavels, please.
Disclaimer: the following content is based on what I have experienced, seen, and heard as a teacher and as a student back in the day.
Inner thoughts from the desk…
Student #1: My name is Darius–-pronounced “Dare-RE-us.” It ain’t that hard to say. My name ain’t Derrick. My name ain’t Darryl either. This is the fifth time today that someone has mispronounced my damn name. “I’m sorry” would be nice. Hearing that man say that name---a name that isn't mine (now or ancestrally)--over and over just feels like a big “F*CK YOU,” so why should I dignify him with a name, let alone bark "yes, sir" afterwards? Out of respect? F*ck that. Respect is a two-way street where I'm from; it must be earned. Just because they pay you doesn’t mean I have to pay you any mind. My name is my name. [Smacks lips]
Student #2: Well, I don’t expect him to get my name right. He’s not from my culture nor does he speak my language. Looks like I'm the only one here, like always. I just wish the teacher would give some sort of advanced notice or apology for potentially messing up my name. Why does he continue to mispronounce my name after I’ve corrected him? Well, hopefully I can avoid another year of 9/11 jokes. [Puts head down]
Student #3: Freaking Gringa. [Airplane mode activated]
Student #4: No chance. Look at 'em. He can’t even form his mouth to make those sounds. He has a bit of a Southern accent, and he doesn’t exactly strike me as a guy who grew up in San Francisco with Irish folks. I will save him the trouble. “It’s Meabh! Pronounced like 'Maeve.' ” I can already her my dad's voice: "Damn diversity hires are ruining a good Catholic school education. I can't believe I'm paying for a guy with tentacles on his head." [Flashes awkward smile and looks away]
Inner thoughts from the whiteboard…
Teacher #1: Look at this name. Who names their kid that!? Whatever, it’s just a name; no biggie. Look at ‘em, with their Tesla keys, their Vineyard Vines sweatshirts, and their iPads. While their parents spend a pretty penny to send their kids here, the school doesn’t pay me enough to be a butler or a baby-sitter. My Ivy League degrees don't stand a chance against their old money. Damn, I knew I should have stayed put in my public school. I miss my kids, Damontae and Ahneisty. I never got those names wrong.
Teacher #2: Look at this name. Who names their kid that!? Whatever, it’s just a name; no biggie. Look at ‘em, with their overpriced shoes, most likely knock-off designer clothes, and their lack of school materials. And the school doesn’t pay me enough to be a parent or a baby-sitter; these kids clearly don't care about their education. They probably won't graduate. It can't be the school system; it's the kids, for sure. And at least, I can say “John” or "Katie" with no problem. You know, real proper, respectable names.
Teacher #3: Wow, I definitely butchered that name. Don't worry, just keep going down the attendance list. An apology is essentially an admission of fault. I don't want to give them the impression that I am weak or easy to take advantage of. I have a whole hour, semester, year to get it right. I'll have plenty of opportunities to win them over later. Or at least, I hope so.
Teacher #4: Yes! I’m on point today. I am so glad that I did those two years of Teach for America, you know, helping all those poor Black and Latino kids in East Oakland. They needed me. Maybe I should say their name with a little Spanish accent, just to show them that I am not like the other teachers. I can tell them all about my vacations to Mexico. Oh they’re gonna love my Bachata playlist. I just love their culture. I can’t wait to talk about Encanto, eat my Chipotle during lunch with them, and dance at my first quinceañera if they invite me. I really hope so.
What biases and bigotries sit in our minds and in our classrooms?
Where have we done wrong? How will we make it right?
Who are you as a teacher? What type of teacher do you want to become?
What childhood wounds do you need to address as you grow in your practice?
I'm not here to judge. I am here with you and for you. The first step is acknowledging the problem, the harm, the disservice to the community.
P.S. Challenge: can you figure out what student is with what teacher?
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