White Teacher Privilege

Nearly 600 teachers at this conference and I could only count 6 who were black. I'm the biggest proponent of solidarity. I truly believe that we are one, however, I was utterly disappointed to find myself at a conference that did not reflect this ideology. 

This was in Philly, where according to my research, "Black and Latino students showed a 29-point gap in reading proficiency rates compared to White and Asian students."

I went to learn from one of my favorite authors, Jenn Serravello. Her books are like my teaching bibles. During the PD she took her expertise from one deminsion to 3-D. Multiple ways to confer with students, seeing data as student work- not standardized tests, and using goal setting to intrinsically motivate students were just a few of my takeaways ... but I was literally in tears, at the fact that other teachers of students who share the same dismally low desire to read as mine (according to the data, Philly children and Baltimore children are pretty much equally ranking lowest in the country) were not invited to the conference.

As I was leaving, I said to my principal, "I am still hurt about how there were no black teachers here! Especially because we are in Philly!" She didn't answer me because the only other brown face in this video - not the lone waitress - but the fair-skinned woman in the front row, jumped into my mouth and said, "Well, Im from Philly! And I am a district ______!" She spit some title I don't care to remember. I said, "Great but where are your people?!" Her response was so wrong on so many levels. 

She said, "They are in class!" Still sitting next to her colleagues, who looked just as disturbed by her tone as me, she continued with, "Who is going to cover their classes if we let the teachers come to a professional development?" I said, "They can miss one day. The children in this city can't afford for their teachers to not have this kind of training. They need this more than anyone here!" She started explaining how she works on the district level and she is getting "them" books and blah blah blah I stopped listening because she was making it all about her. Finally I said, "This isn't about you or what you're saying, it's about the fact that we are in Philly, at a conference, with no teachers that look like us! And you, as a district lead, had the power to get them here but you did not."

I walked away and reclaimed my time instead of continuing to go back and forth with her. Bottom line is, she was wrong. 

Whether it was intentional or not, moving forward, Heinemann: Please don't come into our cities, make money in our cities, and not do your best to include our teachers. 

The under-representation of educators who teach children of color, at really effective professional developments, is something that I have written about before. From Chicago to California, I have sat in large conference rooms amongst a majority of white women. Is this a living example of white supremacy in education and the ploy to keep children of color underserved? Is attending "good PDs" some sort of white teacher privilege? Why does it seem as though white women are the gate keepers of American education? The asking of these questions bothers me so much because I really am doing my best to move my peers away from thinking about the implications of educating our children from a racist perspective ...but how can I be silent to what I am seeing? 

Please don't misconstrue my point: I want to see all teachers in spaces that will empower us and educate us. I don't want to resort to creating a black teachers' PD conference, even though that would most definitely be amazing to attend, it is not a solution that will result in solidarity. I believe it would further divide us if we relied on that alone and would give the oppressor exactly what they want. What I want is to see publishing companies and big names in education create spaces that bring us all together to learn from one another. Learning from one another is bound to promise high impact changes on our work, our students, and our society. 



  1. It’s almost as if you are in my head. What barriers do you see that teacher of color face? Is it access? Funding? Or is a Mindset shift?

  2. Great read. This is why EdCAmp Nj created this http://www.edcampnewjersey.net/2017/04/leading-with-intention-and-being.html?m=1 organizers of conferences need to take the lead.

  3. Thank you for this. It needed to be stated!

  4. Your shine so bright Valencia. I first came across your rays on Instagram then your website, now your blog and as someone who's life lane is education, I am enamored by your passion for knowledge sharing. My role in life is to produce and promote amazing educators and educational experiences. Currently working within the arts but with all that's going on in this world + all of the confusion and distractions I am looking to start expanding beyond the arts and into life education. I would love to have a chat about the key elements of what current life education should entail. My email is Mitchell.C@Rootedthoughts.com

  5. African Americans have got to begin taking ownership for doing what is right and will promote growth...we cannot continue to label everything a black this or that to get their attention or entice them to participate.

  6. This is my struggle as a white teacher. What to do? How do I talk about culturally relevant issues? How do I meet the needs of my learners? There is always a barrier between me and my black/brown/Latino/Asian scholars. What do I do to break down those barriers? How do I address racial/cultural differences in the south? I am always seeking guidance and always fail to receive anything of value, until I found you! Nevertheless, my teaching is not what they need. In this version of me, there are inadequacies galore. Regardless of my personal efforts, in the south there is an understanding that you either skirt around important topics (especially of race/identity/politics) or you get fired. This fear has been instilled in me from a young age and now I am struggling to overcome it for the greater good. I feel this gigantic, mounting pressure all around me, every single day. I know the importance that education has in the lives of young people. It is "always the beautiful answer that asks a more beautiful question," an iteration that goes infinitely onward.


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