When Black Girls Teach: Community, Conversation, and Career Contentment in Urban Education Through Social Media
by Danielle L. Apugo - April 03, 2017
This commentary highlights the urgency of establishing and nurturing communal social media spaces of resistance for Black women in urban education to support sustainability, retention, and overall career contentment.
Throughout my time as a Black woman teacher in urban K12 schools, I struggled miserably with the lack of support I had at almost every level. As a new teacher, I was not consistently supported as a professional and I was barely being supported financially. I quickly arrived at a point in my teaching experiences where I expected very little from those who had once spoken so passionately about me teaching in their school. Going from one school to the next, the story never changed, only the faces and my level of being fed up with teaching did. It was during my second or third school in only three years that I sincerely realized that my white fellow teachers and leaders were experiencing what was happening to the Black children they were responsible for quite differently than I was. Even having been born and raised in rural north Louisiana and being deeply conscious of the differences in racialized experiences between Black and white when it comes to education, I was still struck by how lightly the blatant mistreatment and miseducation of Black children and teachers was taken even in the most resourceful and abundant areas of the country.
I realized that because I was a Black woman responsible for Black children and their education, certain things deeply bothered me that did not seem to bother white teachers. For example, there was a lack of dignity in behavioral consequences, an absence of passion for teaching children about their history, overtly racist and micro-aggressive interactions with students, and an inability to see Black children, families, neighborhoods, and their lived experiences beyond the narrative that pervades the history of Black education in the U.S.
As a Black woman and a teacher, these observations were and still are a deep source of pain and despair. The mental anguish, disgust, and exhaustion of having to bear witness to these occasions, while also advocating for better within the school and beyond is exhausting and mentally unsustainable. Over time, this tug-of-war breaks you down. Not just as a teacher, but as a human being.
It was through these shared experiences that a longtime friend, a fellow teacher, and myself decided that if we wanted to experience our careers as urban educators differently, then we had better create a way to do so. We knew we could not depend on those who hired us and claimed to want a higher number of Black teachers to provide the type of teaching climate, support, and contentment that our Black children deserved in a teacher. We could not depend on those that claimed they valued our presence in the classroom, but did nothing to ensure that we felt valued and appreciated. Unfortunately, these positive experiences were not part of our careers as teachers. In our many long talks and conversations about our next moves in urban education, we decided that establishing a space for Black women in urban education to have the types of critical conversations that were needed would have to be created. We couldnt wait for the powers that be to decide to notice our needs and provide a space for us. Furthermore, we did not trust others to act on behalf of the educational future of Black students. It became our desire to establish a space that acted as a means of fostering conversation, community, and career contentment for other Black women.
For us, social media was a valuable tool in reaching as many Black women educators as we could that might be experiencing the same professional and personal struggles as others. Creating #BlackGirlsTeach on the social media platforms Instagram and Facebook has become a way for Black women educators to connect and be encouraged around issues that are not often prioritized as worthwhile points of conversation or discussion in many urban school spaces. The space is energized by the unique perspectives of Black women educators. Our mission supports the building and cultivation of sacred spaces for Black women teachers that promote balance and restorative reflection through inspired professional development, networking opportunities, and identity affirming rituals.
Since co-creating this space, it has become increasingly apparent to me that Black women educators must consistently experience community, conversation, and contentment if they are to remain in educational contexts where they are grossly underrepresented. Historically, Black women have forged spaces of resistance and communal support from the most unfortunate of social circumstances. #BlackGirlsTeach functions as an alternative public space for Black women educators to engage in educational activism and responsiveness to the topics and issues that matter.
COMMUNITY, CONVERSATION, AND CONTENTMENT
The opportunity to connect with other Black women educators is powerful and inspiring. We are often unaware of those who occupy spaces that we may want to enter. As a result, it is critical to forge lines of communication and support from those who are willing to invest in our triumph.
The power of forming a community around issues that impact our students and ourselves can be difficult, particularly if there are insufficient opportunities or spaces available to do so in. For Black women, building community around our lived experiences is powerful and allows us to experience the full richness of our connection among one another. Establishing and nourishing a communal space also creates channels of resistance and platforms for us to reject institutional norms that do not affirm or embrace our culture, our ways of knowing, or our intellectual traditions as Black women educators.
Spaces and professions where Black women are recruited based solely upon meeting a diversity quota are dangerous. In these instances, Black women are often heavily recruited only to be hastily counted out of the agenda for professional development and support critical to their existence in settings where they are the diversity, or as a friend of mine once called it, the only chocolate chip.
The call to consciousness for those exercising positions of power in the hiring and retention of Black women in urban education is to embed these spaces into the fabric of schools and other educational entities that Black women occupy as the few, the proud, and the brave. Deep and intentional inventories must be taken to ensure that the voices of Black women from multiple platforms count towards representation in our nations schools.