Teaching Opinion

This Is Not the ‘Leadership’ We’re Looking For

By Christina Torres — January 08, 2016 2 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

Earlier today, The New York Daily News reported that a teacher in New York was fired, and the main reason is because she taught her students about the “Central Park Five.”

The school, ironically named “High School for Arts, Imagination and Inquiry,” told teacher Jeena Lee-Walker that her lesson on the five teenagers wrongfully convicted in 1989 might “rile up” Black students at her school. They were worried it would cause “little riots” in her classroom.

If this is not what we talk about when we discuss “Teacher Leadership,” then I’m not interested. Administrators and education “advocates” keep talking about creating “teacher leaders,” but then look the other way when educators are shuffled to the side and abandoned because they dared help their students question the status quo.

If “teacher leadership” only means providing (often free) professional development and resources to other teachers that only maintains the status quo, I’m not interested.

If “teacher leadership” only means seeking “innovative” and “inquiry-based” ways to deny students knowledge, information, or history that is relevant for them in service of “compliance,” I’m not interested and I’m running in the opposite direction.

As Lee-Walker noted, “students in general, and black students in particular, should be riled up,” because the system is failing them. They should be upset because our society is consistently putting their existence at odds.

If we, as teachers, are not “riled up” about the way many of our students are often mistreated in America, then I’m not quite sure what we’re doing here other than spoon-feeding facts and helping them “critically think” with processes and formats that have been handed down since I was in high school.

We need teachers who lead exactly like Lee-Walker: seeking to put the experiences and information relevant to her student community first. Teacher-leadership shouldn’t only be focused on other teachers. Teacher leadership is seen in the teachers we can learn from, because they put students first and seek to cultivate and honor the power and agency they come into our classrooms with. Those are the teachers I see as leaders.

We should all seek to incite “little riots” of the minds and in the hearts of our students. We should talk about the way our generations and the generations before have messed up and mistreated people so that our students can learn from our mistakes. We should teach them about the people who stood up for those who were mistreated so that they can be inspired to create change as those courageous leaders did.

We all talk about how our students are the next generation that can change the world. If we believe that, we should be eagerly inspiring them to not walk quietly on paths laid down for them centuries ago, but instead blaze trails full of fire, rage, joy and hope in new directions we haven’t even dreamed of.

Image courtesy of Red Alert Politics, AP Photo/The U-T San Diego, John Gastaldo, File

Find Christina online:

The opinions expressed in The Intersection: Culture and Race in Schools are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.