013 Marking That Box

June 23, 2017

When filling out an application, there’s usually a point where you have to mark a box that indicates what race or ethnicity you identify as. For many, it’s a fairly innocuous part of the application process. However, for many people of color that box doesn’t always fit neatly to one’s identity. When I talk to my guest on Episode 13 of Tea with Teachers, Ranya Khalil explains her thoughts about marking that box as a 2nd generation Muslim American woman.  For some, it’s straightforward. For others, well, it’s complicated.

Ranya lives just outside of Seattle in a suburban town called Edmonds. She has yet to enter the classroom as a teacher, but is on the path of getting her teaching credential and masters.  However, you will hear about the time she volunteered in a 2nd grade classroom and the spark that moved her to pursue a career in education. In my interview, she speaks honestly about her sheltered upbringing just outside Los Angeles as a token minority in her school, but still having the opportunity to be a part of close-knit Muslim community.  She reflects on the power of her trips to Egypt that help form her identity as an Egyptian woman. Also, how that identity can create misconceptions of her and even her bi-racial and bi-religious children. She knows that her journey of self-identification will be different that that of her children and wants to ensure that they get the best of both worlds by being bi-cultural. Ranya envisions what her classroom will be like and hopes that with the diversity of her future classroom, she can push her students to create a community of hope and inclusion while critically thinking of what it means to live, work and play in a diverse community. 

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012 My Salvation

June 15, 2017

When we think about our identity there are always different layers to it. For myself, my racial and ethnic identity is central to me - and it’s central to me because that’s where I’ve struggled the most. In every other aspect - gender, class, sexual orientation, ability, language and even citizenship. - I walk this world with privilege. In a lot of ways, I’m one identity away from having every privilege in the book.

In episode 12 of Tea With Teachers, my guest Damian Mendieta doesn’t get to look at the world that way. In fact, his and his family's identity was used during last year’s election in the most vile and exploitative way I ever witnessed by a politician. His parents are undocumented, he is brown-skinned and he grew up in poverty. That’s a lot to overcome. But there’s more to Damian and his family than that.

He and his family challenge assumptions of what it means to grow up in a typical patriarchal structure of a Latino family.  His older sister provided him the encouragement and hope by being a role model to him by going to college first.  His parents sacrificed their lives to give him and his siblings a better life.  He posits that there’s value in growing up in a tiny apartment with extended family around him. He is honest about colorism within the Latino community, especially toward people who have indigenous roots. He comes clean about poverty as it relates to mental health which some consider to be taboo within the Latino community.

Damian provides a fresh, forthright perspective of a first year educator at DC Bilingual, the charter school where he works as a teaching resident.

 

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011 Jesus, The Kennedys….and The Red Sox

June 13, 2017

Boston - It’s one of those quintessential American cities that evoke a certain nostalgia for me. The history, hidden taverns on cobblestone streets, Italian grandmothers sitting on sidewalks in The North End, the all too familiar accents and certainly its legendary sports culture.  On Episode 11 of Tea With Teachers, I talk to Beth Dussan. I had the pleasure of working with Beth when she was my instructional coach about 7 years ago at a school here in Washington, D.C.  I experienced 3 principals and a tumultuous time trying to navigate a somewhat toxic culture because of ineffective leadership. However, the classroom teachers I worked with were nothing short of amazing. The experience left my cynical, but the teachers gave me hope. In today’s episode, you’ll hear Beth and I recall some of our experiences at this school. You’ll hear Beth talk about her Boston Irish Catholic upbringing and the influence that had on her as a teacher and a mother, how raising a biracial, bilingual daughter brings her the best of two worlds and what it feels like to be a mother as a former educator when she walks into a parent-teacher conference. Also, she reflects on her experience as a young, fresh-faced teacher at a local private school that educates mostly Latino immigrants and how that experience resonates with her in today’s political climate. 

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010 Tzedakah Part II

May 13, 2017

On the previous episode, I spoke with Emma and Evan about the impact of Judaism in their lives, specifically the influence of the concept of Tzedakah - justice or righteousness in Hebrew.  In Episode 10 Part 2, we hear how this influence trickles down into their work. Evan knows he needs to be a positive role model to his students, especially how he approaches the relationships between his male and female students. He also understands how he needs to strike a balance as a facilitator when it comes to teaching history under today’s political climate.  As for Emma, she provides a reality check about the hopes and fears of the high school graduates she counsels at her nonprofit, College Summit. She also offers an insight into some of the noticeable differences between the students she works with and the students Evan teaches even though they live just a few miles apart. Furthermore, they both delve into their mutual skepticism of standardized testing, while they posit about their mutual belief in the significance of teaching social skills in schools.

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010 Tzedakah Part I

April 27, 2017

Long before the civil rights movement in the South, Jewish shopkeepers were practically the only ones to respectfully acknowledge their black patrons as “Mr. and Mrs.” Jews from North were early supporters of the NAACP and comprised a decent portion of The Freedom Riders who boarded buses down to the south to help with voter registration and marched alongside black civil rights heroes.

In Episode 10 Part 1 of Tea With Teachers, I talk with Emma Levine and Evan Rosenthal. Emma is a counselor who works for College Summit, a non profit that helps low-income students apply to college. And her fiance, Evan, is a high school social studies teacher who currently works at Winston Churchill High School in Potomac, MD.

Emma proudly wears her social justice badge based on her family’s history. Her grandfather was part of the auto workers union in Detroit, her father advocated for low-income housing as a lawyer and her mother was a social worker.  It’s part of her DNA.

Evan, who grew up comfortably in a middle class suburb of Washington, D.C., posits that his Judaism is integral to his identity based on the values his family gave him.  In fact, he enlightens me with the concept of Tzedakah - a word that literally means justice or righteousness in Hebrew.

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009 An Enormous Responsibility Part II

April 20, 2017

I have to admit something. I still sometimes hold on the belief that teaching at a private school is easier than teaching at a public school. For those of us who do work with students and families in under-resourced neighborhoods I have to ask: Do we own a self-serving pride that comes along with working with our most vulnerable in society? My guess is Yes. Not for all of us, but certainly for many of us.  And I’m one of them.

On Episode 9 Part II, I welcome back Jay Tucker, a 4th grade science teacher at private school Georgetown Day, located in one of the wealthiest neighborhoods of Washington, D.C. 

However, let’s not forget that kids are kids, regardless of how and where they spend their spring break. Yes, students who attend Georgetown Day have access to many more resources than a majority of the students in D.C. but that’s a surface observation. There are still students who struggle with their own sexual orientation and I find out how Jay’s school creates an environment where being part of the LGBTQ community is normalized. I learn that, though Jay grew up with many privileges, he struggled as a student and wonders if he should have had an IEP for a learning difference. I also realize that maybe sometimes there’s no value in comparing poor kids to rich kids. 

In the end, I must remember to push myself to acknowledge that regardless of zip code….teaching is hard. And that Jay and his school know fully well that they have that Enormous Responsibility of ensuring their students understand their role in society and how germane inclusion, empathy and acceptance are in our society. 

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009 An Enormous Responsibility Part I

April 11, 2017

What images come up for you when you think about The South? This region of the United States can offer many stories, some hopeful, some tragic and some, well, just normal. My guest on Episode 9 Part I is Jay Tucker, a science teacher at private school Georgetown Day in Washington, D.C. He provides us with some insight and some of the paradoxes of growing up in the South.  

Jay grew up in a small, tight-knight Jewish community in South Carolina with shared experiences, albeit segregated from African-Americans. When he reflects, he has vague memories of seeing the confederate flag, but never really felt the sting of prejudice toward him. While Jay continues to defend the South, he doesn’t shy away from acknowledging the troubled racial history that, in some ways, still exists. In fact, his mother worked at the same school Dylan Roof attended. As you recall, he was the shooter at the Charleston Church massacre in South Carolina.  The inner dialogue he has with himself about his Jewish identity doesn’t discount, in his own words, the enormous responsibility of being white and the privileges that accompany that. So much so, Jay was able to forge a conversation about race and privilege with  his parents using an article about the case for reparations by writer Ta-Nehisi Coates. 

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008 Venus Fly Trap Part II

April 3, 2017

When I introduced my guest, Dave Carr, in Part I of this episode I set up the discussion by describing Los Angeles on fire. Literally. In 1993 the city was still reeling from the repercussions of the riots the previous year. Compton, where Dave taught, was dealing with a major demographic shift as more Latinos were moving into the city populated by mostly African-Americans.  While the racial tensions were real and the riots had long lasting effects on the city, there was also another reality. A reality that many of us can forget. I forget sometimes. That it was also a city of people working, praying, shopping, laughing, mowing their lawns, going out to eat with their families, kids playing in sports leagues on any given weekend. Just living.  In Part II of Episode 8, Dave helps us understand that, at the end of the day, despite divisions or struggle and lack of access to resources, progress is possible - whether it’s young people coming together through music, a low-rider show or even Latinos joining the basketball team.  Dave also reflects on his own evolution from teacher to principal. As a teacher, he learned that sometimes young people need discipline and structure and as principal, sometimes young people need a shoulder to lean on.

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008 Venus Fly Trap Part I

March 29, 2017

On Episode 8 Part I, I talk to 24-year veteran educator Dave Carr, Prinicipal at L.A.'s Promise, a new Charter School in South L.A.  He reflects on what it was like entering his 1st year of teaching knowing that South Central L.A was continuing to deal with long lasting racial divides between African-Americans and Latinos after the Los Angeles riots.  Dave’s parents, originally from the Caribbean, moved from New York to Watts when he was just a child. It was then, he got a sense of the strain and stress of everyday folks just trying to survive.  Knowing that life for Dave might have been too difficult under these conditions, his parents moved out to a suburban enclave closer to the Pacific Ocean.  Surrounded by Yugoslavian and Italian immigrants and their families, Dave begin to realize his difference. He found comfort in music and watching black characters navigate the white dominated world on old 70s sitcoms. Dave took these experiences to the classroom in Compton. He was faced with questions about his “blackness” by young black boys from Compton, but still continued to work with young Black and Brown kids to bridge racial divides.  That, and, well, trying to figure out how to teach 56 Latino immigrants in one classroom while standing on a desk. 

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007 Do What They Tell You To Do Part II

March 15, 2017

I continue my conversation with Cheryl Jones in Episode 7 Part 2 of Tea With Teachers. Cheryl was, in her own words, “blessed” to have a host of positive role models in her life - her no nonsense, hard-working parents, her extended family, her teachers who held her to the highest standards and the church community in Houston, where she grew up.  The church is where, of course, she accepted Christ and also furthered her love for music. These influences have guided her as a Wellness Chaplain, providing healing for veterans as they process the moral injury of war. Cheryl will always believe in the power of music and the affect it has on children and herself, especially when she remembers one of her most profound influences, Joyce Young Franklin, her paraplegic piano teacher. 

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