Perhaps no one reads this anymore due to my lack of posts within the last couple of weeks. I can’t blame you. However, if nothing else, this is a way for me to reflect upon my experiences and provide some insight into my musings. It has been an incredibly challenging past couple of weeks, and I feel as though I have learned so much and been introduced to so many more questions than answers.
One of the largest issues I have been struggling with is that of race. I have had endless conversations with others and spent endless time thinking about how I view my students because of their race. I have come to one conclusion: I am a racist. As hard as I might fight to deny the fact, I cannot. I have biases that I don’t recognize sometimes, and to say that I’m not a racist would be a lie. However, I am going to do everything I can to deconstruct those behaviors and mindsets while constantly evaluating myself.
I have come to discover that I carry a bias by treating my students kindly. Let me explain. When I let inappropriate behavior slide because students “don’t know any better” and I want to be kind/compassionate, I am doing a disservice to my kids. By not addressing any and every act of misconduct, I am communicating to my students that I don’t have high expectations for them; that I don’t believe they are capable of behaving appropriately. I am a tough teacher because I love my kids. Being kind sets low expectations and fuels the fire of disparities that hinders my students in life. After one of my students saw me joking around with other teachers after class, she commented, “Ms. Bradford’s always so serious in class.” This was a great compliment to me, whether my student realized it or not.
I have never felt as ignorant about race as I have in my classroom. (I suppose this is the first step of transforming my mindset and overcoming my unrealized biases). When I walked into my classroom I saw a lot black faces, as expected. My ignorance comes in as I grouped all these black faces into the same cultural identity in my mind. This presumption was thrown back in my face one day as one black student insulted another group of black students by saying “I don’t want to work with the African kids.” My African students retaliated by shouting obscenities and insulting the student’s mother. I was taken aback. Here was ignorant Ms. Bradford who thought that all her black students were one big happy family. Yet there were obvious racial issues between the black Americans, black students from Africa, black students from the DR, and black students who were born here but from another country. It just showed me how multi-faceted this issue really is. It is NOT a black and white issue.
So, I finished teaching my group of summer school students last week. Well, I should say my second group of summer school students. With just one week left of summer school, the school administration decided to reorganize the classes and give me a new group of students. So after investing in my students, they left me. I had a week to “do the best I could” with the new students I was given. Frustration beyond words. I did my best. I finished Teach for America’s Summer Institute. I am a teacher.
My teaching group and I celebrated our new status as teachers with multiple rounds of drinks at a local bar in Queens. Fun night, tired beyond words, went home drunk from exhaustion. The next morning I packed up all my belongings and hauled them by myself to a curbside outside of St. Johns University. I called a cab. The cab picked me up and drove me to Harlem. Fifty bucks later, my belongings were again on a curbside and had to be hauled up three flights of stairs. By myself. For anyone who has moved, you can understand how difficult this process was. However, envision doing this by yourself in a strange neighborhood in a new city with no help. It was physically and emotionally draining. I am living with someone from Michigan who is a second-year teacher. My first night was spent sleeping on an air mattress on the floor. The next day I quickly alleviated the situation and went and bought a mattress. It arrived in all its queen-sized splendor. New sheets. New down comforter. I feel as though I’m living in luxury.
I’ve spent the last couple of days exploring my neighborhood. I live in Harlem, but am four blocks from Columbia University. However, there is a big park with a steep stone wall that separates the Columbia campus from my community (Morningside Park). It is a stark reminder of the racial and economic disparity that exists between just a few blocks. I feel safe in my neighborhood, but I have to be careful at night. I am 1 ½ blocks from two different major subway lines, so I am incredibly well connected to the Upper West Side. My roommate and I discussed tonight about how we feel like we live in a different country. My community is more diverse than any other neighborhood I have ever lived in. I am a minority. In fact, I rarely see white faces. Every few hours we hear chanting from the mosque one block down, and there are always boom boxes blaring outside our building. There is a huge population of African immigrants in this community, and most of them wear their traditional dress. When I step off the bus or subway, I feel as though I’m walking into an unknown area of Africa. Many people don’t speak English on the streets. Needless to say, I am falling in love with my neighborhood. I love feeling uncomfortable and having to examine the source of this discomfort; only to find the feeling unwarranted and allowing it to transform my own identity.
A long reflection to compensate for lost time. I will be better about updating more often with shorter entries. Whatevs. Honna and Cooper are the only ones who read this anyway.