Race-work, Race-love

Archive for May, 2013|Monthly archive page

Conceptualizing an Educator Identity

In Uncategorized on May 26, 2013 at 11:57 pm

The longer I work in education (as a student or administrator), the more convinced I am that educators who reflect negativity on students, are really projecting their feelings about themselves.  The reverse, then, must be true – thus, reflection is key in the lives of educators. I was inspired to write this because another group of my beloved students graduated and the night before their graduation, I had a conversation with a recent graduate of Teachers College, Columbia University. This motivated me to write about how I am conceptualizing my identity as an educator and took to twitter a couple of days ago about this. I modified those tweets for my blog because I am committed to race-work via education.

When an educator says, “That student doesn’t belong in college”, I am now more convinced that the person really means, “I am not equipped to help you succeed”. My students graduate today. These students were deemed inadmissible to attend private, four-year colleges. Their educational histories are riddled with messages that they are not college ready. These messages came from important people in their lives, some who held their educational dreams in their hands. Because they didn’t understand this important task and awesome responsibility, they were not capable of nurturing these dreams.

We know that colleges and universities do create standards to shut some students out of their institutions.  For this reason, college admissions standards make the message “Some students aren’t college ready” true making certain institutions incapable of educating all students. These standards limit the university and make them deficient in preparing college bound young people. Unfortunately, rather than perceiving the college as deficient, we create deficient bodies among our students. Opportunity programs were created because policy makers recognized that certain postsecondary institutions were just not able to educate students who come from economically and academically “disadvantaged” backgrounds; they believed that this was not a sufficient reason why students from these backgrounds should not be able to attend private, four-year colleges.

Recognizing the institution’s deficits means that as educators we must also look at our own deficits in being able to educate students.  Who are you capable of educating? Who are you not able to educate? Once students reach your doors, do you turn them away? Or do you find a way for them? If so, how do you do this?  Should you be expected to educate all students, all types of learners? Or, can you accept that you just cannot be the SuperEducator?

I have also been told that I don’t belong in a doctoral program and that I am not a good writer. As soon as I heard these messages I made the decision to prove all these people wrong. Today, I know better. These individuals who believed that about me, could not educate me or get me through the educational pipeline. It was true – I needed support to help me learn how to write as a graduate student. Should I have come knowing these skills already? If so, what is the point of training and instruction? Today I know that these educators were not equipped to handle me. I should have run in a different direction and sought guidance from people who could guide my educational journey. Most importantly, because I want to be a good educator, I should have sought individuals who demonstrated compassion, reflection, and honesty in their practice, as these are values I hope to espouse in my practice.

The compassionate educator is the honest educator. The one who understands her strengths. The one who can honestly say, “I am not equipped to educate you”. The compassionate educator would not look at a student who knocks at her door and say, “You don’t belong here”.

A student who knocks at an educator’s door is a good sign, a good indicator that the student desires education. What do you do when you get that knock on your door? Whether that student looks eager, tired, uninterested, joyful, or they may act friendly or act out…what do you do? What are you equipped to handle as an educator? Who are you equipped to educate?

To be an educator is to hold dreams, nurture them, and then release them. I will miss my students. I hope they know my doors are always open. Today is Commencement Day. Graduations are “wins” for all of us.

And, in case you’re wondering, I am of the firm belief that when a student graduates, an educator gets her wings!

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