by Jazmine Anderson
My initial JCPSForward blog post, “My School is Racist”, went live the first day of the JCPS Deeper Learning Symposium last month. Needless to say, I had a lot of commentators over the three-day event. The first few strangers to approach me caught me entirely off guard. I have only just begun facilitating professional development in the district, so there are only so many ways people know me. Most people who approached me at the Symposium wanted to connect with me or commend me for being brave enough to tackle such a hot topic. Some though, offered concern. A handful asked if I still had a job; It was as if I had said something libel or venomous. This got me thinking about a crucial component missing from my June soapbox speech: Teachers. Without whom, nothing changes for the better.
When I needed inspiration before entering the classroom, and now having entered on days when I need a pick-me-up, I turn to the same source; one my favorite education TED Talks was given by Dr. Rita Pierson in May 2013. Her TED Talk “Every Kid Needs a Champion” was filmed just a few short weeks before her sudden death. The words of her talk and its place in her teaching legacy have always been impactful to me. Pierson closed her talk by imagining a better world for her audience by saying, “Every child deserves a champion, an adult who will never give up on them, who understands the power of connection, and insists that they become the best that they can possibly be.” My driving force in my career and my classroom has always been reconciled by this talk for one reason; Pierson’s perfect world looks an awful lot like mine and the one my kids are chasing.
If you read my first blog post and felt something, I need you to act. I need you to take steps to become a champion for your kids. Because if you felt something positive, if you saw your thoughts, fears, or worries mirrored on the screen of whatever device you used to read my post, your kids need you. And because if you felt something negative, if you realized you were uncomfortable with what I was writing about, you need to wonder at the discomfort your students have faced in your classroom. See, our kids need us, they need champions. Our district has upwards of 100,000 students but there are only about 6,400 educators. Many of our students need us to do more than teach them content, they need us to slay dragons and to show them how to do it themselves when we cannot. The reality of our world is that a lot of kids are not safe outside of the four walls of our classrooms.
The dragons are figurative and literal. They are the nay-sayers, but they are also the odds stacked against our most difficult kids. They are the colleagues that will side-eye you for telling the truth but they are also the instincts that will start kicking and screaming the minute you make yourself uncomfortable. To become champions for students, we must first slay our own dragons. We cannot back down from the work of digging into our own biases and privileges, how they impact our classrooms and kids, or the truth that is driving it. The amazing thing about this work though is that you will never be alone, even if you feel you are. A movement is beginning. Teachers from all over our district are uncovering armor and picking up swords. We are connecting, growing, schooling ourselves, and getting real with #ColorBraveJCPS. We are bent on building a better world at my school, but my school could be any school and should be every school. Join us.