A Couple of Black Teachers' Thoughts on the Teaching and Learning Conference

I hadn't seen Strick since the day I got back from hiding from the world in Cuba. I wasn't on the run, I just needed to silence the voices. Anyways, it was my last day in Baltimore. He helped me move everything from my small storage on 25th and Howard into my Uhaul truck. He'd been the last person I said goodbye to before my drive to NYC and ironically, the first person I saw at this weekend's professional development in DC. 

I was making my way to the front of the main hall, in search of my friend Jose, when surprisingly, Strick approached me. Not that he didn't belong there; after all, he is a math teacher and special educator. But he works in a public school in Baltimore. I don't know them for sending their teachers to professional development sessions outside of the ones provided by the district. He and about 40 other brothers were  suited down, resplendently disrupting the status quo. At first glance, I thought they were they were the Fruit of Islam, which sadly speaks volumes about the fact that I'm not used to seeing that many brothers, in suits, in educational settings. 

"What are you doing hereeee!?" Our embrace was one of friends who'd missed one another. 

"I'm a Carnegie Fellow." His ebony brown cheeks rose and gleamed with pride as those last two words left his lips. I noticed the conspicuous green ribbon, embellished with gold letters hanging under his name tag. Then, I looked at the other brothers, and they all had the same green tags a well.

"Beautiful." I smiled. 

I'm used to being one of a very small percentage of colored faces in these types of functions. I'm talking 5:100 types of ratios. But from Marc Brackett to Marley Dias, I felt like this was one of the only conferences that I've attended that was intentional about including Black educators, and more importantly, mindful about providing all educators that teach children of color with tools that can be immediately implemented into our practice. 

After the final session was over, Strick and I rode back to Baltimore together. 

"...but wasn't this a good weekend of PD? I loved it!" 

"I wouldn't really consider that PD," he turned the radio down to further explain. He knew me well enough to know that I would need an explanation. "You want to know why PD doesn't work? Because you sit through it, because you have to sit through it and after, there's rarely any follow up or accountability on the follow through." 

"That's true but I really want to know why you wouldn't consider the Teaching and Learning Conference professional development?" I wouldn't let up. 

"How can we consider this a professional development? In school, we don't have the luxury of choosing to go to a PD that is chosen by us, based on our needs and interests. If districts were smart, they'd do it like this, just like the National Board. They would bring someone to help design 2-days of professional development like this, a few times a year, that would allow teacher leaders to present on topics that span across a variety of topics." I could see the thought bubbles bursting around his head, he was really on to something!

"Man! Can you imagine if the entire Baltimore City would do that?! It would push teachers to be greater leaders and it would give new teachers exactly what they need, from the people who know exactly what they need - the model teachers! But what about the big panels? How would that look?"

"There should be panels comprised of administrative leaders, where teachers and even the kids can ask questions on policy and pedagogical practices. There should even be a panel of kids." 

"I wish we had the means to plan it." I began to think about where we would begin, who we could consult, and what it would take to get our districts on board with this idea. "This is really what PD should look like in all districts. Imagine what the kids would get out of it, not just us. But just look at how much we got from it! What was the biggest take-away for you?"

"Honestly, Clay, that this is the work we have to do. This is the work that we've been called to do. As much as I'm spinning my wheels and pulling my hair out, this conference revitalized me and reminded me that the work has just begun. I'm learning. It's been 8 years of teaching and this weekend felt like school for me, in a good way." Strick has never been easily impressed, so for him to say that, I knew he meant every bit of it.

"Which session had the greatest impact on you?" I asked him, hoping he wouldn't ask me after he answered because I still wasn't able to choose just one. They all left me feeling pumped, even the luncheons. 

"Emdin's session was the most powerful for me. As great as I think I am, he made me question, am I doing the best for my own people. Do I know us as much as I think I do? Do you I really know us? How can I keep getting more to give my students more?"

"Don't you think that every teacher should be sent to this conference? Like, I wish my whole school could've been here." I immediately thought about my principal, whom I tried to get away from the building for this, to no avail. 

"All teachers should come but, unfortunately, all won't get something from it. A lot of times, administrators waste money on sending teachers to events like this because those teachers come back and don't contribute to the community. It's a waste. And why are there only 3 guys from Baltimore here and it's right up the street?"

"I feel you Strick, but for me, this was the most Black people I've ever been at a conference with. What was your take on the crowd?"

"The crowd is a representation of the system in which we work. There's no surprise that there's only 2% Black male teachers in this country. You might get us together in a room this weekend but most of us are still going back to our schools where we are the only one there."

"But, how do we change that?" 

"There should definitely be a push to recruit teachers that look like the communities in which they serve. Like Johns said earlier, 'We've got to get over political correctness' and all that, it's time to take our schools back. The same way we push to support Black businesses, we need to support Black schools. Other people have taken over our neighborhood schools, made promises to better the education that our kids get, taken the kids from our community schools and aren't doing what they promised to do. So now what? After we leave here, that's when this suit comes off and the work begins."