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Writing Roundup for August

I'm doing a lot of either freelance writing or writing to fill in for other people in so many place that I wanted to pull them all together in one space.

First, my friend and the founder of EduColor, José Luis Vilson, took a much needed vacation and let Rusul Alrubail and me take over for the week. I wrote about both microaggressions and macroaggressions of my experiences in the public school system. Here is a part of the second one:

When I go down the list of things that I have had to endure as a Black woman in the classroom as a teacher as well as in an office as an administrator I think the offenses are fairly common.

Has a parent or teacher called me a racist? Check.

Has a colleague told me my curly hair didn’t look as ‘professional’ as when it was straightened?Check.

Have I been summarily dismissed when I try to bring up race as connected to discipline or lack of representation? Check.

School culture can, however, be far more nefarious than those obvious and jarring examples. It took me a long time to notice that how we talk about work ethics and what makes a ‘good’ educator are actually damaging parts of the cog in the institutionally racist school systems. To tell that story, I have to go back a good decade.


I wrote another piece for Tue/Night.

I have spent the better part of two decades realizing that what people don’t know about me is that I am always going to stretch boundaries about issues of equity and race. I’m perfectly happy having difficult discussions. I’d argue that school systems should be glad people like me will challenge them within the system.

Alas, that was not the case.

Instead, I’ve been labeled as ”difficult” and ”hard to manage” when, in truth, the only managing done to me was to move me forcefully to different schools. That’s happened twice in my career. Yet it always came without bad evaluations or disciplinary letters in my file.

So, two weeks ago, I quit and started working on an initiative to respond to Illinois Senate Bill 100 on restorative justice. My reasons for quitting are complicated, but one was that I felt motivated to come up with actionable items to tackle systemic racism, something that SB100 seeks to address by responding to how we as a school system unequally distribute discipline for Black and Latino students.

Arnebya wrote about Being Black at School as well as her own experiences as a parent of public school students. 

A few places did some roundups as well about what people were talking about last week.

Chalkbeat, Teaching Tolerance, and Fortune magazine wrote about the work I'm doing with Being Black at School.

This is all a building up of the work I'm doing on Being Black at School and the partnerships are (already!) happening very quickly with people who want to support this work. Stay tuned, sign up, make a donation. Do what you can for now. 

It's going to be very big.


Writing over at The Root

I'm over at The Root today, writing about the pushback against the NAACP's Anti-Charter School stance. 



Go check it out here


The Edit

Every spring, just before summer vacation for the students start, I address students in a few formal situations. I've done this for graduation ceremonies, Senior recognitions, and nights on which we bestow awards to students. Every time I am tasked with this, I wonder about the words I'm going to say to them. Will my words sound generic, hollow, or uncaring as if I just recycled last year's speech? How do I make this personal?

For last school year, which also happens to be my last school year, I addressed the 8th grade class at their Moving Up Ceremony in front of their parents and the rest of the school staff. Considering that it was a magnet school for technology, I wanted to share with them something I called The Edit about how much they edit their lives with technology. 

What I hadn't considered, however, was how much I was going to edit my own life after this class took off and started enjoying family vacations and football practice and cheerleading try-outs and enrichment activities; the list goes on and on. Many of them have reached out to me over the summer, first when they noticed my building change in the local newspaper and then again when they'd heard it from their parents. Some of them have expressed outrage to me about the district moving me and that's not the first time I've experienced that. Many others have simply wished me well and expressed regret about my not being around for future students. 

To those who have reached out I offer a sincere thanks.

As I'm editing my own life and stepping into the power I can leverage to make larger social changes within institutional racism, I went back to read the piece I wrote for those students. While I know what my intent was, I also understand now that it was as much for me as it was for them. My understanding of it now, as opposed to 3 short months ago, is that it was the catalyst for creating Being Black at School.


letter design for BBAS by Chelsie Tamms 

I love you all, last 8th grade class. I can't wait to see what your futures hold as well.

Here is that speech:

The Edit

Welcome, parents and students and staff that have supported this 8th grade class. It’s really too bad that all teachers can’t attend this since we’ve been taking care of you for three years. Your 6th and 7th grade teachers have enjoyed you just as much as everyone in this room.

And now, here we are. Listen carefully, my dears. This is the last piece of advice I will give you for free.

After introducing you to lockers and lunch shifts and sitting where you want without the constraints of elementary school rules. The leap you’re about to take, moving on to high school, doesn’t come lightly and it didn’t come without hard work, late night studying, constant organization and re-organization of your binders, showing your work on math problems so we could see your thinking and understanding of a concept, delving into world history, science theories you explored, and essays that needed to be written and re-written until they said exactly what you wanted to say.

I want to talk about The Edit. Today, as we’re preparing to send you off, I want to discuss the incredible amount of editing you’ve already done and why it was so important.

There’s a good reason to edit and every good writer knows that you write furiously at first to get your ideas out on paper (or laptop, as one does) but that the work, the hard and difficult work that involves the sweat, is what takes time. When you edit, you clarify your thoughts and choose words carefully to make your point. You structure your sentences for maximum impact.

And boy, have we made you write. By the time you got here to 8th grade you’d been shaped and prodded and pushed by your teachers in every subject area so that you’d be ready for that enormous 8th grade history fair project.

Why do we do that? you might ask. How come not every school in the district is required to enter that? Well, one very big reason is that we hand you laptops here at this magnet school and you think, at first, that we’re giving you technology. But, we’re really giving you a research tool. Sure, we teach you to create iMovies, Garage Band, Keynotes, Blabberize, Pixton, Google presentations, art and documents and scratch and a ton of other cool apps and we help support you in collaborative learning, but that hunk of components that include an arithmetic logic unit, a control unit, memory, and input and output devices. Plus a few wires and plastic keys and those tiny screws underneath that seem to fall out more often than Mr. Vanderslik would like. You even edit your friendships. 

But make no mistake: we handed you a tool to edit your work.

And many of you have tools to edit other parts of your life: smartphones. You write stories on Snapchat, put filters over your photography on Instagram, and use that tiny thing that fits in your pocket in similar ways we asked you to use your laptops. For example, many of you use your phones to create poetry in spoken word.

You edit what comes out of your mouth, the way you act, the situations you find yourselves in — learning that restraint, that introspection of looking inside yourself, is essential for growing as a person. And many of us have learned to edit what comes out of our mouths.

Sometimes we will edit what we said not to remove the original intent, but to clarify what we mean and provide further insight. Other times, we will edit because we've learned something new and it changed our perspectives enough to go back and try saying it again. 

Edit well. This right here, mistakes and all, is your life and this is your chance to say what you mean and live it out as truth. You don't have to get it right the first time.


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