Through our Better Together Network, we host activities that continue to connect, inspire, and elevate teachers. This past academic year, through a Better Together grant in partnership with the Association of Independent California Colleges and Universities (AICCU), Santa Clara University hosted an “Empowering Educators of Color” professional development opportunity. Below is a reflection on the impact of this opportunity from one of the teacher participants.
Equity has been a huge area of focus within my new school district and recently, I participated in a district-wide professional development opportunity on the very topic. However, while sitting through the speaker, whose words were powerful, I couldn’t help but wonder why I felt so disconnected from the speaker and many of the people in the room. They were mostly white and while sitting there, the question that popped into my head was, “What can these people tell me about equity and inclusion?”
In the following months, I began to contemplate more deeply about race, equity, and inclusion in education, and our district continued to focus on how staff might better engage with each other in difficult conversations regarding race and equity. But to me, this focus and these discussions felt surface-level and inauthentic. We kept reflecting on different strategies and activities, but oftentimes, my voice felt overshadowed and unheard in a room of people who seemed reluctant to hear the truth or hesitant to have an authentic, yet perhaps uncomfortable, conversation. I wanted to speak up, especially for my diverse group of students, but I felt trapped. Rather than speaking my truth, questions raced through my head:
Can I say how I really feel?
Will I be vilified?
Might my job be in jeopardy if I speak up?
How will people react if I bring up words white privilege, white savior mentality, or racism?
Why must I lose a sense of myself to ensure that others around me feel comfortable?
What options are out there that can help me sort through these frustrations and feelings?
Then, this past fall, I stumbled upon a professional development opportunity at Santa Clara University titled “Empowering Educators of Color.” I decided to apply and was grateful to be accepted. I didn’t know what to expect, but was eager to find others who had similar feelings, thoughts, and struggles in the field of education. As an educator of color, it has been rare for me to be around other educators of color on my campus, in my district, at conferences, or during professional development opportunities. But this group includes 20 educators, who come from all different backgrounds, but who all identify themselves as an educator of color. During our time together, we share our stories, explore solutions, and I have been empowered to speak my truth without fear.
Everyday, I watch my students thrive when they feel heard, when they share their stories, when they use their voices, when they acknowledge the truths of our world. I feel a heavy burden when the very thing I try to instill in my classroom is not something I can achieve with my colleagues. I needed a space to speak freely and openly and I am finding my voice. I still need to discover strategies to avoid feeling overpowered or unheard, but I am feeling more confident. Even as I write, I feel empowered by sharing my experience. The inspiring educators in our group have motivated me to continue to push my boundaries and speak up. Thank you to them and thank you to each of you who listen without judgement and who have the courage to share your own experiences. We need more of that in education. Because when we, as teachers, feel confident, authentic, and empowered, we can better educate and positively impact our students.