Connecting with Culture to Push Through Tough Times
by Andrea Bazemore | 11.6.17
I teach kindergarten in Texas, where I’m from, and my students are about 50% black and 50% Latino. Like most of you, I naturally have an energy of wanting to strive for excellence. After teaching in third grade, I realized how critical early childhood was to the foundation of knowledge, so now I teach kindergarten. I build up our young students and help them start off successfully – that’s my purpose and my drive.
As much passion as I have, being a teacher of color comes with its own pressures and challenges. As black teachers, we are held to a higher standard; that’s just the reality of the situation. When a teacher is the only person of color on the school staff – or one of only a few – there’s a greater expectation we are held to. We must carry the weight of representing our identity, or what can feel like a responsibility to break through stereotypes on our own. I think that weight is part of why so many teachers of color leave the profession: They don’t have the support they need for the large task at hand.
Teaching can be exhausting, but if I get stressed out, or if it’s the middle of the year and I’m dragging my feet, I make sure to bring my focus back to my kids. I only have my kids for a certain period of time, and many won’t have a black educator again in their educational careers. So I have my ways of always bringing my focus back to excellence.
Bring your culture into your teaching. Bringing my culture into the content can be its own sort of stress reliever, and it can help me connect with my students of color. For example, I made up a “letter A” song with lyrics set to a popular rap song, and the kids sing it as they’re walking around. When I read a book about black people, my black students light up because they see themselves, possibly for the first time, being represented in books. To reach my Latino students, I’ll pick a book written in both English and Spanish and read them – even if I need to use Google translate to pronounce the words. It’s great to see Latino culture and themes in the classroom. Seeing people who look like them makes those students’ joy resonate on a deeper level.
Find that network. In my first teaching job, my go-to stress reliever was what I called “teacher therapy,” where colleagues and I would sit and talk and relax and laugh about our day. If you can find that, that’s amazing. You can also find those connections online, in education chats on Twitter. I love participating in chats, because I can raise questions in a nonjudgmental space and get positive, solutions-based responses. Finding an educator group you identify with – whether it’s #EduColor, #HipHopEd or more aligned to your interests – can help you find your community.
Reach out to other teachers who need support. As a black educator who has been in the trenches a while, it’s my duty to reach out to teachers I see having a hard time. I reach out in person when I can, and another way I reach out is through my podcast. When I couldn’t find a podcast that resonated with how I was feeling, I started The Black Apple Podcast myself, for educators who are passionate about enacting social justice practices in their classrooms. My episodes are about seven minutes long and geared toward teachers of color. It’s meant to be something that you could throw on during your lunch break and get some new ideas for how to teach content or deal with tough issues.
The key is doing things you care about with your students and remembering that every single day, you are making a difference. Even if we are having those hard times or are feeling down about ourselves, we can put our values back at the center of what we’re doing – and it can remind us why we got into education in the first place.