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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
On Tea With Teachers episode 7 Part 1, I talk with Cheryl Jones, a former music teacher who now works with Veterans as a Wellness Chaplain. Cheryl lived a comfortable life in Texas as a child of the 60s in a sheltered, middle class black neighborhood, even though she experienced white flight first hand. Though she vaguely remembers her father dealing with racism at his job, her parents shielded a lot of the effects of racism from her. The positive influences of role models guided her through her teenage years. It wasn’t until the late 70s when she attended university in the Midwest, did she truly began to feel the sting of racism. To do this day, however, Cheryl continues to look at life positively, with just a pestering cynicism as she follows the current political climate and news reports of shootings of black men. Cheryl is now a role model herself as a teacher, chaplain and mother of a college-aged daughter.
Growing up in Austria, Tarek Hbeichi, my guest on episode 6, had a pretty tranquil life. Aside from the occasional teasing, Tarek got on fairly well with others in his community. It wasn’t until later in his life he realized that he was being singled out for the way he looked. Tarek moved to the states with his mother, but lost contact with his Palestinian father after an unpleasant divorce. Despite all this, life continued to treat him fairly. When the 9/11 attacks happened, things changed. As suspicions of Muslims and other Arabs increased, Tarek felt he had, in his own words, a “target placed on his back.” These life experiences shaped Tarek and how he views the world. He currently works in Amman, Jordan as a Special Education Teacher.
On Episode 5 Part 2, I continue my conversation with Jennifer Sloop, a learning specialist in Washington, D.C. She begins with her recollection of the inequities she noticed in her advanced classes while growing up in Indiana and how that’s impacted her views on race. She provides a stark reminder of how privilege can reveal itself when she recalls a meeting with a parent about standardized tests. Also, Jennifer recounts a time when she was told to pursue a minority scholarship even though she is white, how she has come to terms with own racism and finally, why it’s so important to allow kids to have time to play during school.