I Am Black and “I, Too,” Belong in the Classroom and Everywhere Else I Want to Be!
By Raven Jones Stanbrough, College Section, Lead Ambassador, Detroit, MI:
Prior to becoming a teacher education educator, I was an elementary school teacher and English instructor in Detroit – the same city where I currently reside. Having been born from a loving, strong, no-nonsense, and practicing-what-she-preached Black woman, I knew that regardless of the educational and non-educational spaces I occupied, I would boldly embody these same characteristics – this included my doctoral program, specifically, in my role as a field instructor for elementary education majors and pre-service teachers.
As you read the following words, I welcome you to accompany me on a teaching and learning journey – a journey that has led me to turn without using my traffic signals. A journey that has caused me to foolishly run stop signs. A journey that has made me give out violation tickets. A journey that propelled me to wisely cut off the driver next to me because . . . well, they should never have been on the road. Ultimately, my stories and this journey as an educator and field instructor have been rewarding, challenging, but most importantly, life changing.
Our first stop takes place at the College of Education at my learning institution. In fact, it was August 23, 2011, the day I met my cohort members at our PhD orientation. Tired and overwhelmed from the daylong lectures and sessions, where we met countless advanced PhD students and faculty members, I had to find some energy to get ready to take my doctoral photograph, which would be displayed in the hallway on the 3rd floor. While walking outside on the grass, I head in the direction of some of my colleagues, who are standing near the photographer. I am humming and smiling because the sun is shining so beautifully and all seems to be right in the world.
I was wrong.
Unbeknownst to me, I stepped on a ground nest and upset a mass choir full of bees. They obviously were not impressed with my humming and attacked me from head to toe. Screaming at the top of my lungs, I am now fighting what look to be over 100 bees – and attempting to escape. I am unsuccessful in my attempts. Now, I can feel several stings – on my hands, arms, legs, back, and head. Two of my colleagues assist me with fighting the bees. Not wanting them to endure my hardships, I run back inside the building. My body is beginning to swell.
After being rushed to the hospital, it was determined that I had been stung over ten times and would continue to feel discomfort, despite the medicine I was given. Looking back on that day, I have come to realize that each bee sting represented a dichotomy: one of pain and healing. To be more specific – the pain would come in the form of certain mentor teachers’ pedagogy and parlance against their students and interns; the healing would manifest itself through relationships and responsibilities with interns, caring mentor teachers, and other educators.
Approximately two-and-a-half weeks after my encounter with the bees, it was time for me to report to work as a new field instructor. Naturally, I was nervous and excited. I had already met my eleven interns and was working hard to foster my relationships with them. While I had sent a few emails to their mentor teachers, I had never met them in person.
Today was that day.
After walking to our next stop on this journey, at what I will call Hope Elementary School, and introducing myself to the secretary and principal, I greet two of my interns whom I see walking toward me, coming from the teacher’s lounge. Next, I arrive at the class of my intern, Patrice (a white woman in her early twenties). I sit outside until it is time for me to walk in. Her mentor teacher — for the sake of this story we will call her Ms. Ridiculous – is a white woman who has been teaching for more than 30 years. Ms. Ridiculous walks pass me and enters her classroom. A few minutes later, I hear her yelling at her class – calling them lazy. I also see Patrice, standing near students in a corner. She looks so defeated. Ms. Ridiculous sees that I am still sitting in the hallway. With an annoyed countenance, she turns my way and asks, “May I help you?” Extending my right hand, I stand and say, “Yes, I am Patrice’s field instructor. It’s so nice to meet you!”
Looking me up and down, she barely shakes my hand, but boldly states, “You look entirely too young for this. How old are you and how long have you been teaching?”
Caught off guard, I immediately get annoyed by her unprofessionalism, but before I can respond, she blurts out, “Are you the ONLY field instructor for our school this year? I have not worked with a Black one before!”
I am silent.
This could end badly so I remain silent for a few more seconds to gather my thoughts. She just stung me and did not care. She just cut me off in traffic in the worse way and rear-ended me. Now you see why her name is Ms. Ridiculous! To address her inquiries, I simply exclaim, “I have quite a bit of teaching experience and yes, I am the ONLY field instructor for the school this year.” After this exchange, she invites me into the classroom so I can informally observe Patrice. Patrice, a naturally cheerful person, is not herself. Even while she was introducing the language arts vocabulary words, something was off about her. Once we debriefed in the hallway – away from Ms. Ridiculous – Patrice burst into tears. She could not talk, but the tears just flowed.
So what did I do? I hugged her and cried with her.
Afterwards, she shared with me some oppressive and discriminatory words and actions she had heard and witnessed from Ms. Ridiculous. I asked Patrice how she wanted me to proceed. I knew what I wanted to do, but at that moment, I thought it was important for her to advocate for herself – to use her own traffic or teaching signals. To move through the green light. She told me that she wanted to meet with my supervisor. In turn, I told her that I would set that up. After walking Patrice back to her class, I sat in the parking lot of the school. Feelings of anger, oppression, and confusion engulfed me.
Moving forward, what will I do as an English educator and field instructor to ensure that the interns and students I work with do not experience situations like this? How will I create a culture and community of care that affirms humanizing practices for the betterment of education and all students? Lastly, as a Black woman working, teaching, and mentoring in predominately white spaces, what will I do to disrupt the mainstream narrative that exists, regarding my presence?
A victim of Ms. Ridiculous’ lexical lacerations, I was immediately reminded of Langston Hughes’, “I, Too!”
Written in 1925, Hughes authored this piece in an effort to call out the injustices from the perspective of a Black individual. This poem is still taught in many classrooms today and allows its readers to identify and call out segregating and marginalizing practices.
After my experience with Ms. Ridiculous, I sat in my Honda and with a tear rolling down the left side of my face, I quoted “I, Too” to myself – as a reminder that I, Too, belong at the table, despite the countless times I’ve been stung. I, Too, belong in the classroom. I, Too, belong at the university. I, Too, belong in the building as a field instructor for those I have mentored – even if they do not look like me. I am ready for the first day of school and the days to follow. I am ready to use my teaching signals to be a page turner – to move forward. Are you?