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Educator Conversations

I have often been privileged to glean from the wisdom of other colleagues, but a conversation I had this week was worthy of note and warrants a brief recap c/o this blog.

Specifically, in speaking with a high school English teacher who still has a fire in his belly for the work he does with children everyday, I was immediately struck by his intellect, presence and infectious joy for his work as a teacher. His passion came through effortlessly in conversation with myself and another brilliant educator colleague (who also happens to be a Black male, English teacher veteran). First off, I was in awe of their easy rapport, clear establishment of mutual respect and in spite of my being a big talker (in nearly all situations and on virtually any subject), I chuckled inwardly that I could scarcely get a word in edgewise between the two men, as we all connected via our teleconference call.

They were admittedly in their element. Brilliant, Black, male and bonded in their shared regard for the meaningful work they do as educators. So, although I was eager to join the conversation and am always excited to link with like minds, I abruptly decided to switch gears, no longer attempting to contribute to this riveting conversation, which I was enjoying immensely. And I began to simply listen intently to the message and to focus on deciphering the message behind the message, as my observations typically do. And that’s when I was poised to glean from the true gems being shared within the discussion. Thank goodness for closed mouthed, listening skills. Now having shared this background, I will now attempt to somehow paraphrase the gist of the enlightenment I received, during this brief yet spirited exchange between other committed educators. And while I may not give justice to the genuine and effortless aura of collegiality on display, I do want to share what I learned and the lasting benefits of this powerful exchange.

First of all, I am always a student, in awe of the shared language and unspoken messages embedded when I speak with other Black people, I have literally just met but whom I intuitively know and respect deeply nonetheless. There’s something to be said for the shared narrative of the Black experience. In that often what’s said, doesn’t need to be explained. For example, in this meeting, I met one educator colleague just a couple of weeks ago but in spite of knowing very little about each other outside of work, our interactions have consistently been easy, non pretentious and purposeful. There’s a tacit level of respect we seem to have for one another that speaks volumes. There’s also an ease of communicating and a shared, cultural background that seems to render us as much more than distant colleagues (who happen to be perfect strangers), but cements us as co-conspirators, united in a sort of familial solidarity. In this comfortable space wherein deep, deep Blackness resides – I am, we are simultaneously at ease. There’s almost little to no need for introductions. We know each other or at least enough about one another, to just be ourselves in this moment and in this respective space in time.

It was in this settled in, free expression component of conversation, when the subjects shifted so effortlessly from the Lox and Jadakiss, to culturally relevant literature and pedagogy, to the cardinal sins of deficit belief systems and social promotions of our best and brightest, (whom far too many, simply refuse to teach), that I was at home. The baby of the bunch is being dubbed so, not for his age (I suspect that he and the other brother get off at about the same stop, while I am the elder of the group), but for his freshness in his professional teaching career, as he had transferred over from another vocation within the last 5 years or so. All at once, we knew that we were in the company of like minded comrades, who instinctively knew what war we were fighting against and how ominously the odds were stacked against us . . . but surely enough, each of us still relished in the knowledge that we would win. No doubt weary from our diverse number of years of experience on this battlefield, it was strangely refreshing to hear someone else competently outlining the crimes against humanity of facing a system in which others would sooner promote us and see us graduate (thoroughly unprepared), than to see us win or be challenged with academic excellence and life sustaining relevance. Sigh . . . Anyway, after a time talking and essentially monopolizing the 3-way conversation, the baby of the Black English teachers in this spirited group declared: I have conditioned my 11th grade, AP students to demand of their other teachers respect. I have challenged them to hold paid professionals accountable for doing something more than the bare minimum, when it comes to teaching me and us. Why? Because I’m worth it and that’s what I’m here for. Whew, a word indeed! I’m here for all of it and so glad to be in the land of the living and in the good company of colleagues with a shared knowledge, love and accountability for our success.

I will end this blog post and my fond, treasured memory of this most recent, life-affirming, educator conversation with my freshly ignited resolve to engage in many more spirit, soul and career enriching talks with my brothers in the field. There was a time, years ago, when my daughter’s Godfather and I could “talk shop” about everything from the most salient strategies to provide our students some refuge from the daily, traumatic rigors of being Black and mis-educated in America. And we would kick it effortlessly, in between reciting some KRS-One lyrics and/or discussing spirituality, our shared struggle to balance our lives and/or our love of our workout regimen that just freed us to be our authentic selves even in the workplace, which is a source of so much stress and strain. I can honestly say I miss that. There’s something about the righteous ma’at (balance, justice and reciprocity), nature of basking in the awe-inspiring wisdom of our brothers, which signals that indeed all is right in the world. My wish for my fellow, sister educators who predominate this field; is to know that we are not alone.

And so, for just a rare moment in time, there was no global pandemic; no palpable exhaustion (from this new school year, which actually just started – sheesh!); there wasn’t even separate agendas, formal introductions or a timed meeting constraint limiting the inclusion of baby girl’s on her talkative daddy’s lap, as he kicked it via Zoom. Especially since she knows full well, that she’s the most important and only priority in this moment and her brief presence was, if nothing else, a pertinent reminder of this unmitigated truth. In retrospect, it was simply the best and most heartwarming educator conversation, I have experienced in quite some time. And I am here for it, for all of it. I am certainly humbled and grateful to have been in the midst. Asé

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