In mid-April, two of our Martinez Fellows made the drive north to Bellingham, WA to participate in the annual Celebrating Diversity in Education Conference, hosted by the Woodring College of Education. Anthony Brock (Graduation Counselor at Olympia High School) and Kevin Henley (Dean of Students at Showalter Middle School in Tukwila) spoke to a room full of aspiring educators about the experience of, and need for, male educators of color in our public schools.
Though both Fellows acknowledged the challenges associated with being an educator, Anthony said, “If it was easy, I wouldn’t want to be there,” reminding the attendees of the significance of working in education.
The Fellows opened the session by describing how they got involved in education. For both Kevin and Anthony, it was a path they pursued because neither of them, throughout the vast majority of their educational career, had been in a classroom lead by a teacher of color. It is of paramount importance, the Fellows impressed, for students to see role models in the field of education that look like them.
Not only is it crucial to diversify the educator workforce, it’s also important to diversify curriculum content and pedagogical practices to include and ethically represent people and minority communities. Anthony described a conversation he had with his white classmates during his Master’s in Teaching program, in which his peers were spoke about their challenges engaging students of color to read a particular novel. “I can explain why those student don’t want to read your book,” Anthony said. “This curriculum only talks about black folks in the context of Martin Luther King Jr. and slavery. What’s it like to be painted as a slave in the 21st century?” This poignant question serves as a reminder that students of color have rich and complex identities that are, by and large, not typically represented or supported in the classroom. Anthony made it clear that these students have a right to learn about the varied and powerful history of communities of color in America and around the world.
Kevin followed this comment with some sobering statistics from OSPI: in Washington State, only 9% of the educator workforce are teachers of color and less than %2 of those teachers are male. Not only is there a serious shortage of male teachers of color in education in this state, they tend to the leave the profession at alarmingly high rates. They leave the field for varied reasons, ranging from a sense of loneliness and isolation, to microaggressions experienced in their schools. Kevin underscored the need for a sense of community among minority educators (particularly men) as an absolutely vital survival strategy. In regards to the value of community in his personal work, Kevin said that when he speaks with a male colleague of color like Anthony, he is reminded that he is not alone. “I know he knows what I’m going through, I don’t have to say the words.”
Anthony agreed, but reminded participants that being a teacher of color “is a challenge, but it’s needed.” In the face of overwhelming disproportionality in discipline, a heavy focus on a Euro-centric curriculum that excludes the lived experiences of the diverse group of students that exist, and the commodification of educators of color, it is more important than ever for more minorities to enter the field.
After the workshop, attendees were encouraged to ask questions and Anthony closed the session with a brief, but powerful message. “Yes, you should absolutely consider a career in teaching,” he said. “ You’re wasting your time on this earth if you’re not helping someone else.”
Thanks again to Kevin and Anthony for sharing their expertise and experiences!