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Teachers Need to Prepare for the 2018–19 School Year. Here’s How.

Not only did I spend the first 10 years as a classroom teacher during my education career but I was department chair for a while, too. That may seem insignificant (and it comes with a very small stipend for all the work they do) but it was critical for me to be, however I could be, in ‘charge’.

My mother spent the better part of my early years admonishing me with this saying: Kelly, you can either be bossy or be the boss. You choose. She meant to tell me that I spent too much time telling other people what to do and there was wisdom in her words. What she also taught me was that I had better do things differently if I ever planned to lead.

Leadership is such a loaded word in education and you can list 5 leaders who all do it well but have very different approaches and qualities they impart to those they lead. When I became the Language Arts Department Chair at the tender age of 25 I knew I wanted to change one huge thing: the content of our curriculum.

All those dusty books in the dreaded, damp book room proved to me we hadn’t updated in years. The same stories I read as a child were available on those shelves and, harmful as it is, too many teachers want to re-create their own reading from childhood without critically thinking about the needs of their students.

A full 83% of American teachers are white. They have, for decades, upheld the white institutions in which they work even when their classrooms no longer look like the ones they inhabited in their youth. I cannot stress enough how dangerous this is in the year 2018. We need a big change in what we teach. I work, daily, at de-colonizing my mind. I have years to undo with all the Eurocentric history and the (omg, so much repetition) of American History from my own classes. I can name several concentration camps because my own teachers taught the Holocaust with incredible depth. Imagine my surprise, then, when I learned of King Leopold II long after high school.

Like a lot of people who find themselves incredulous of the missed history our schools didn’t teach us, I exclaimed, “HOW DID I NOT KNOW OF THIS MONSTER?” How did my teachers, year after year, fail to mention this king of the Belgians who killed 10 million people in the Congo?


Luckily, in college, I got my hands on a copy of James Loewen’s Lies My Teacher Told Me.


Then, it all changed.

Nothing was as it seemed. All my historical education felt like propaganda and I felt like I had a lifetime of history to catch up on. I could name the kings and queens of European nations but not a single African one. I had no idea about the true story of Matoaka, only the sanitized, faux-love story version of a woman my teachers told me who was called Pocahontas. What I didn’t know could…well, it could fill every library in the entire world.

We have to do things differently this fall, dear teachers. I don’t mean to preach to the small choir of incredibly astute and brilliant educators whom I follow through social media so this is for those who have never once considered the words of Lerone Bennett, Jr:

An educator in a system of oppression is either a revolutionary or an oppressor.

With that as a base, here are resources for any teacher this summer who is wringing their hands at what to do as they watch this nation fall to pieces in ways many of us have warned about for quite some time. I’m glad you’re here, but you need to get to work.

1. First, go sign up for all the social media you can get from Zinn Education Project because they are an amazing resource. You’ll get daily Today in History material but you’ll also get teaching materials, the ability to search by time period or theme, and you can also donate to them. Don’t forget to donate.

2. Zinn’s What Happened to the Civil Rights Movement After 1965? Don’t Ask Your Textbook is a good place to start. In that, Adam Sanchez writes: “Most U.S. History textbooks teach a narrative that the Civil Rights Movement began with the Supreme Court Brown v. Boarddecision in 1954 and abruptly ended in 1965 with the passage of federal legislation. Not only does this narrative tell students that politicians and judges are more important than activists and organizers, it reinforces the myth that structural racism is a relic of the past and the United States is on an unstoppable path of progress.”

3. Next stop: go get some of the goodness of Teaching Tolerance. Follow them on Twitter. Maybe you, dear teacher, have been worried about diversity, equity, and justice. Maybe those are buzzwords to you. That’s unfortunate, but you can start correcting that course right now. You’re in luck. Teaching Tolerance is devoted to this work and has done the heavy lifting for you to be the best teacher you can be. You need lesson plans? I THOUGHT YOU’D NEVER ASK. Here you go.  

4. Jennifer Gonzalez writes at Cult of Pedagogy. (see how I’m sneaking in some Educationese here? I speak your language.) Look here. Jennifer has done the work for you with this Collection of Resources for Teaching Social Justice. Send this link to your team of teachers. Are you a parent or concerned citizen? GREAT. Drop this in an email and follow up after a week with the department chair of your favorite discipline. They need the follow up. Teachers have a lot on their plates, so, yes, I’m adding this to it but let me give you permission to take off some of that old, musty curriculum, ok?

5. A note (side story?) about all the responsibility that teachers already have: I had a teacher in my building once who cultivated her unit on a part of European history. She loved that unit. I mean she loved it. Every year she added something new, taking the unit into another full week because this happened to be her favorite part of history. She took way too long to teach this unit because it was comfortable for her. RESIST THAT URGE. We already know our history in schools is top heavy on whiteness. 

6. How do you know if you’re materials are heavy on whiteness? Do some inventory. It’s easy. Glance over your units and figure out what percentage of your teaching is in ensuring that all your students know the history of white people. Is it over 50%? 75%? That’s a problem. What does your classroom look like? Investigate your demographics. You know what? Even if you teach in a majority white school DO THIS ANYWAY. 

7. So, where do you work, teachers? I mean, what is the institution which you’ve chosen as your profession? Do you know the history of it? Do you happen to be up on the history of your personal district or the town or city in which you live? We’re complicit in so much when we ignore how our systems came to be. The History of Institutional Racism in U.S. Public Schools is a really good PLC activity for you to start right now. Understanding the SCOTUS cases is imperative here so take a deep dive into them. 


8. I have another book study for you and this is relatively new: Teaching for Black Lives edited by Dyan Watson, Jesse Hagopian, and Wayne Au from Rethinking Schools is the one you need. Rethinking Schools is a non-profit magazine and book publisher dedicated to sustaining & strengthening public education through social justice teaching and educational activism. WHAT A MOUTHFUL. I KNOW. You can donate here. You can buy the book here. 


9. Join the EduColor movement and forge relationships with teaches across the globe so you can be supported as you do this work. Read For White Folks Who Teach in the Hood by Dr. Christopher Emdin. Join us in the work at Being Black at School, a non-profit where we advocate for Black students in schools, critically look at policy, and share equity reports & tips for parents with Black children. 

If you know me then you know I created BBAS after a long career in public and private education and that this is the most important cause to me. We’re all united in addressing the complexities of being a Black student in the American education system. You can donate here

10. Finally, you have to ask the Good Questions to make school systems be accountable to their stakeholders (that’s you, American citizen!). Here are a few you can put in your back pocket:

What are you doing to be accountable to students of color?

Do you have an Equity Plan for the district or school and how do you know it’s working?

What’s the history of the discipline plans you use in our schools and how do you know it’s working?

Is there a Diversity Council headed up by a personal of color in this district and how can I support them?

Tell me about how choices are made for the curriculum taught in our district. Are the members diverse? Do you allow parents to join?

Trust me when I say that educators need to prepare for a radical change in how we operate during this upcoming school year. We can’t maintain status quo in 2018-19. Our children are hurting, violence has increased towards Latinx and Muslim and Black student in the last year and this is at our schools. This is where the work is so whether you’re a parent or teacher who hasn’t yet been engaged this is where we need your voices. This is where we need you to do this work.

It’s already too late.

this was crossposted over at Medium 


Community and Being a Reward Volunteer: The Family Service Center

This is a sponsored post but the story and opinions are all mine. This post is sponsored by Reward Volunteers for National Volunteer Month.

Two things happened in the last few years that made me consider my own community efforts and what, if anything, I could be doing more of for my neighbors. First, I learned the origins of a house that was directly across from the school I was working at that had some amazing history attached to it. While it’s not on any historic registry, I found out that a Black woman named Eva Carroll Monroe founded the Lincoln Colored Home in 1898 to set up an orphanage for Black children since all the other orphanages in town were solely for white children. Eva’s work as a social worker was highlighted as she realized that Black children were left to the streets or taken to juvenile jails. The current owner of the house, Lee Hubbard, took me on a tour of the dilapidated home expressing how much he would love to see it restored. At the time, it didn’t even have a Wikipedia page, but my husband, Russell, worked on that.



The second thing was a chance meeting with a friend of mine named Brooke who worked at the Family Service Center. She knew some of my own interest in the Lincoln Colored Home, but she also knew of my own background as a birth mom as well as a teen mom. Over lunch one day, Brooke asked me if I was interested in being a community volunteer on the Board of Directors. I joined the Executive Director and the president of the Board for lunch at FSC and, upon my tour, I noticed a large picture of people who were instrumental in getting FSC started with their mission. It surprised me that so many of the photographs were of Black community members in Springfield and that the photos were so obviously old. The biggest surprise came when I realized that the photo at the top of one of the founders was none other than Eva Carroll Monroe.

That did it for me. I was hooked.


Not only was this something that was historically significant for me as a Black woman, but it fit into my ideology of caring for marginalized children in society. Their mission of supporting strong families for strong communities drew me in, and I have given my time to volunteering for them for almost three years now. Organizations do their Board of Directors very differently and there are others I’ve considered but they are sometimes prohibitive in what they require as far as massive donations to sit on them.


The Family Service Center is a meaningful volunteer opportunity for me because of what it allows me to give back in terms of my time and energy. We are deeply invested in continuing the mission of the Center so our monthly meetings consist of fundraising, business partnerships, staff development and many other things. One of my favorite parts is being able to celebrate with the families they serve after an adoption is complete or when a family has been reunited. At my first board meeting I learned that the adoption judge in town completes each legal proceeding by telling the families the same thing: “I hereby order your family to now go get some ice cream to celebrate this.”


Giving back, in this way, doesn’t cost me anything other than my time for those meetings or attending the events we plan whether it’s a Trivia Night or our end-of-the-year fundraiser each May when we invite the community to celebrate with us, our families, and the staff. I use Reward Volunteers to log my hours and keep a record of the good I’m helping to put back into the world. What’s great about that is how encouraged I feel when I see other people doing similar things for their communities. There are prizes available but, honestly, I rarely sign up for those simply because it’s more fun for me to see various opportunities that are out there. 

I urge my friends and everyone I know to become engaged locally in whatever ways they choose. It’s poignant that the Family Service Center is something to which I had multiple ties and that’s exactly how I tell people to do this. What do you already care about? What has affected you personally that you’re now in a place to do something about? It won’t necessarily start with a story of an abandoned house lost to history or an inspiring Black woman who made change in tangible ways for this town. That one belongs to me.

What belongs to you?

Find out more about Reward Volunteers by clicking this link.


When It Comes to Sexual Harassment, Schools Are Not Immune

Evie Blad interviewed me for this piece in EdWeek and I'm putting it here as a testament to the #MeToo movement, an initiative of over 17,700,000 women who have reported a sexual assault since 1998. Tarana Burke started it to support survivors and end sexual violence.

Participants march against sexual assault and harassment at the #MeToo March in Los Angeles earlier this month.
—Damian Dovarganes/AP



As women everywhere have been reflecting on their own experiences with sexual harassment and assault, Evie shared the intereview she did with me and showed that school administrators should have a deep understanding of the culture and climate of their buildings and the teachers and staff therein as a place where not only children are educated but that those doing the educating are safe. 

From her piece: 

"Early in Kelly Wickham Hurst’s teaching career, some of her colleagues warned her about an older male coworker. He came in early and sometimes cornered women, telling inappropriate jokes that at times led to uncomfortable physical contact he brushed off as accidental, they said.

The Springfield, Ill., middle school had a wave of young, newly hired female teachers that year, and they believed its administration didn’t take their concerns about the man seriously, Hurst said.

“I paid attention to it but I thought he’d never do this to me,” said Hurst, who retired after 23 years and founded an advocacy group called Being Black at School."

You can read the piece in its entirety here. You must be subscribed to EdWeek.

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