Jul. 30, 2020
Jul. 30, 2020
Teaching is a revolutionary act—A call for Black teachers
It’s 2020 America, and Black people are still dying disproportionately from multiple and generational injustices. We are more likely to die of COVID-19 and more likely to be killed by police in our homes or shot by our neighbors while jogging down the street.
Right now, America is talking about it. We’re thinking and reading about it. Taking action and taking it to the streets.
I’m here to invite you to take it to the classroom, whether it be face to face or virtually.
I began my teaching career 14 years ago with Miami Dade County Public Schools, where I still teach English and writing today. But I truly became a teacher—and a proud Black educator—four years later.
Writing ourselves into existence
After those first four years, I had settled into routines that were less exciting to me. I thought maybe there was nothing new for me to learn. So, one day, I decided to go against the grain when I told my students to write whatever they wanted: a free write! I told them not to worry about grammar or even cursing. I wanted my students to be free of routines or restraints.
That day, my heart broke into a million pieces. I learned that my students were dealing with trauma, depression, and with fear. One student even admitted to being molested and cutting herself.
At that point, I realized that I had failed. I had failed as a Black teacher of Black students in a Black school and in a Black neighborhood. I wasn’t seeing my students as the full human beings they were, “meeting them where they were,” or getting to know them. That failure was something that took me a long time to swallow and to move past. But, I was so blessed that I had a strong support system and that I had students who were willing to walk with me on this journey and to “Write Themselves into Existence.”
Teaching is part of a revolution
I had to remember the power of writing and the type of teacher that I was supposed to be. I remembered the importance of sticking up for oneself and for advocating. And I vowed to never, ever again be the type of teacher who did not truly lift up my students greatness and elevate their voices. I was reminded about the real power of being a Black educator.
Black teachers are needed in classrooms, because we have to be there to breathe life into our kids. We have to be there to remind them they are beautiful, that they are important, that they are worthy and that they are not inferior to any race. Black teachers are needed because representation and resiliency have the power to right the wrongs of history. In fact, teaching is a revolutionary act.
When students see Black teachers in their classrooms or running the school, they think to themselves, “That's someone who looks like me, who's respected for their intelligence and their leadership capability. I can relate to them. My existence is acknowledged.”
Many of our Black students are dealing with emotional, physical, psychological, and spiritual abuse that's passed down from generation to generation. Not to mention the social injustices they witness and experience every single day because they are Black living in America.
We need to be there to remind them what resiliency looks like—to give them that guide, to give them that practice, to let them know that they can get through this. That although we’ve had a difficult past and we’re experiencing a difficult present, we’re still here. We can still learn, grow, strategize, and mobilize.
There is something magical that happens when a Black student is able to “Tell Their Story,” unapologetically, to speak up and speak out and to advocate. It is a beautiful thing to witness.
Not tomorrow—but NOW
As a Black educator, I need to be there. We all need to be there, helping our students to elevate their voice and to build agency in them right then and there, NOW! They don’t need to wait to become adults—they can start a revolution right NOW, simply by being themselves, speaking up, and coming together.
Black educators are needed to help right inequality and inequity in America and around the world—to educate a child, holistically, with cultural relevance. When we have the opportunity to teach our students our Black history every single day, not just during the month of February, we show them they are worthy of learning their true history and developing a knowledge of self which helps to change the trajectory of their lives.
They build a confident sense of self-esteem and know that it’s OK for them to be a proud, Black individual. When this happens, a metamorphosis will happen.
So, to my brothers and sisters who are considering joining the teaching profession, listen. We want you. We need you. We love you. We are here to help you. Remember, teachers are the hearts, lighthouses, and compasses of the world.
Join this noble profession. Answer the call to be a freedom fighter. Come stand on the just side of history and be part of the solution. Become an educator, and help the world to become a better place.
About the Author
Dr. Precious Symonette is a TEACH.org Ambassador and a 14-year educator with Miami Dade County Public Schools and an adjunct professor in the Educational Leadership Department at Saint Thomas University. Dr. Symonette was named the 2016 NEA Superhero Educator, and the 2017 Miami Dade County Public School Teacher of the Year. She is the CEO of the Florida Freedom Writers Foundation, an organization that's dedicated to elevating student voices, promoting student empowerment and new civic activism.
To hear more from Dr. Symonnette and learn more about this topic, see, Be the Change: The Impact of Black Teachers and How You Can Join the Profession.