Rosie Reid, one of the 2019 California Teachers of the Year and state nominee for National Teacher of the Year, talks about what drives her as an educator and how she connects with students and colleagues. Reid teaches English at Northgate High School in Walnut Creek and is a Mt. Diablo Education Association member.
I was raised by hippie parents.
I grew up attending political protests and singing civil rights freedom songs. Dude, I went to Berkeley. So when I became a teacher 17 years ago, I understood — at least theoretically — the need for all students to have voice, the need to disrupt the dominant white male narrative, the need to use culturally relevant curricula and to question my biases.
And yet, it wasn’t until I adopted a little girl who is African American that I began to really push myself to examine my own white privilege and how that impacted my teaching practices. Becoming a mom to a child of color forced me to reckon with my own racial blind spots and made me start pushing for broader systemic change around issues of equity. It hasn’t been easy, and it hasn’t been overnight, but here are five lessons I have learned about myself on my journey of racial self-discovery.
- First, understanding racial justice is a process. Teenagers like to call people who are informed about issues of race, diversity and social justice “woke,” but I believe, at least for me, that that’s a bit of a misnomer. It’s not like I was asleep one day and the next day I was woke. Rather, I needed to keep thinking about how equity could be achieved in various contexts, in the classroom and in my personal life.
- Second, for a long time, I wanted social acceptance more than I wanted social justice. Sure, before I had my own kids, I would write grants to get diverse books for my classes. I would try new activities to engage more students and promote student voice and equity in my classroom. But while I did tell colleagues what I was working on and invite them to join me, I didn’t push too hard for broader systemic change. Why? Because I wanted people to like me. And nobody likes the white lady who’s talking about race all the time.
- Third, when it came to race, I felt ignorant. I wasn’t confident in my ability to have conversations about race. I worried about saying the wrong thing, accidentally saying something offensive or racist. Avoiding inadvertently racist comments felt more important to me than working to dismantle white supremacy culture.
- Fourth, before adopting my daughter, I felt somehow inauthentic talking about race. I wouldn’t have admitted it, but deep down I thought race was a problem for people of color, not for white people, and if I talked about it too much, I would come across as disingenuous or silly.
- Finally, it took a lot of courage and many years for me to become an advocate for racial justice. We like to think that, as Maya Angelou puts it, when we know better we’ll do better, but for a long time, I knew I needed to be advocating more for students of color, and for all the reasons stated above, I still wasn’t doing it.
It wasn’t until I had my daughter that I realized that none of my worries were legitimate reasons to stay quiet about our deeply racist culture and systems. If I wanted change to happen for my daughter and for all of our kids of color, I needed to be an agent of change. I needed to become an actively anti-racist teacher, regardless of how it impacted my own personal popularity index. Just changing my own practices would never again be enough.
And I’m ashamed of that. Why hadn’t I advocated for my students of color as if they were my own children? Because they are. They are all our children, and we must be brave for them, as brave as we would be for our own families.
Each of our kids deserves to know that we see them, hear them, and believe that they matter. This will not happen until we engage in genuine self-reflection, and this we must do together.
How I’ve worked at being an anti-racist educator
Curricular choices: I’ve worked with departments at my school site to incorporate more voices from women, people of color and people in the LGBTQ community, and planned culturally responsive lesson plans for teaching that curriculum.
Anti-racist book club: I’ve created a community book discussion group for anti-racist educators and lovers of education that meets monthly at the public library.
Equity task force: I founded and facilitate a team at my site that examines issues of equity in our school context around academics, culture and discipline, and works with administration and staff to rectify inequities.
Staff trainings: I’ve worked with district and site administrators to plan professional development opportunities for staff at my site to expand our cultural competencies.
English Learner Review Team and School Site Council: I advocate for English learners on my site’s English Learner Review Team and as the ELAC representative on the School Site Council.
Professional development: I’ve attended trainings, workshops and institutes at CTA, the Bay Area Writing Project, Facing History and Ourselves, Constructing Meaning, and other local organizations to develop my ability to scaffold instruction for marginalized students.
Leading professional development: I’ve planned and presented workshops and trainings for fellow teachers across the district and region to share my best practices for facilitating the learning of all students, particularly those who struggle the most.
Professional writing: I’ve dabbled in writing for larger audiences to share my perspectives, approaches and techniques for promoting equity in the classroom.
Back to School 2019: Related content
The links below offer a mix of tips and trends that may guide your journey this year.
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