A recent post at Spoon Vision entitled, “’Take Your Hood Off,’ and Other Teacher Microaggressions,” upset more than a few people and resulted in almost 30,000 views in the last ten days. Much of the criticism was constructive and resulted in some very important self-reflection on my part. I especially appreciate those educators of color who responded and provided some clarity on the issue of high academic and behavioral expectations for students of color, particularly African American students. But a strong percentage of people who were offended by this post were white teachers who spoke about two things: 1. the role of public schools in preparing students for the workforce and 2. the teacher’s responsibility and obligation to enforce school rules.
The relationship between the classroom and the workplace is an often used narrative to explain the primary purpose of education, particularly high school. There is a lot of talk about high school graduates being “college and career ready.” It seems many teachers take “college and career ready” to mean that the classroom should function exactly like a business where the teacher is the boss and the students are the employees. And if a certain behavior is not allowed in the workplace, it should not be allowed in the classroom.
There are a multitude of ways that the classroom / workplace simile is problematic. The bottom line for me is that the job market in this country is in no way an environment on which I wish to model my classroom. I cannot justify the mistreatment of students at school by citing their future mistreatment in the workplace. I want my relationship with my students to transcend that of employer and employees. I want my students to actually enjoy my class. Enjoying the daily work of a job or career is a luxury far too many working class people in this country simply cannot afford. What we need in K-12 education is a paradigm shift away from career readiness to something more holistic, something that inspires students to be change makers who find their life fulfillment outside of the confines of jobs and paychecks.
The job market in this country is in no way an environment on which I wish to model my classroom.
I was fully unprepared for the second argument against my suggestion that a teacher’s obsession with students taking off their hoods is microaggressive. Many of the comments in various Facebook and Twitter threads were in agreement. The basic argument was that, regardless of teacher motivation, no hats or hoods is a school rule, and the teacher’s job is to enforce the school rules. This argument allows the teacher to draw a very clean line, and race becomes a moot point. In this argument, the teacher’s race and the student’s race are both irrelevant. As one comment read, “It is a world of rules, and you must play by them.”
Others expressed concern over losing their job over non-enforcement of school rules. I certainly do not fault anyone engaged in the cautious, protective, and well-guarded game that teachers sometimes call “Cover Your Ass.” It’s a game we all play. Never be in a room alone with a student. Always, always, always document an incident that occurs in your classroom. The list goes on. Even in states where the union is strong, teaching is a precarious field of work. But in all my radical ways, I could never imagine losing my job because I refused to be a hard ass about hats and hoods in my classroom.
I speak only for myself when I say this, but I will choose non-enforcement of a school rule every time if it creates more equity and justice in my classroom. Consequences be damned! Maybe that’s a selfish position. Possibly that makes me not a team player. I am prepared to wrestle with this reality on behalf of my students. I will not blindly accept school rules “regardless of race.” As much as possible, I try to always regard race when making decisions as a white teacher.
I will choose non-enforcement of a school rule every time if it creates more equity and justice in my classroom.
I honestly don’t know how often my students utter that phrase in other teachers’ classrooms, “But, Mr. Baker lets us do it.” My guess is not as often as I might think. My guess is that students are often quite skilled at adapting to teachers’ whims and pet peeves. And just to be clear. I routinely ask students to remove ear buds when I see them under a hood. I routinely correct student language, especially derogatory language directed at other students. And I wake students up when I am convinced it is in the best interest of their whole person. But first, I consider my motivation as a white teacher. Second, I try to find a way to redirect the student without involving school-wide disciplinary consequences or administrative referrals. And third, I try not to take it personal or be an ass about it.