Exploring Equity Issues - Blog
Retained by Faith
By Kyair Butts
6th Grade Literacy Teacher
Waverly Elementary/Middle #51
September 2013 taught me more about faith than any other singular event in my life. I was a first year teacher with Baltimore City Public Schools System (BCPSS) and I was teaching in Sandtown-Winchester at a “high-needs” school. I taught fourth and fifth grade language arts and literacy to a great group of kids…my kids. I decided that I would do this end-of-the-month incentive I had created called “Books and Brunch” where I would take a group of students out with me on a Saturday, grab some breakfast/brunch then swing by one of Baltimore’s free bookstores so the kids could grab some books of their own and build a personal library at home.
I was stoked for this…my first big incentive. At the end of the month, I decided to send a message to my fourth grade class of about 27 and I selected 6 to join me that final Saturday. I called parents. I sent home permission slips. I talked to my administrative team. If there was an “I” it was dotted. If there was a “T” it was crossed. I showed up to school and waited. Waited. Waited. One student showed up. The student chose to stay and continue the planned day and that moment taught me that teaching is about faith. Black students and black teachers need each other because of the faith we place in each other that “You can and will be something someday because I believe it so.”
There are myriad lessons to be learned in teaching, but when it comes to retaining black teachers and the question of why I stayed that day and continue to stay to this day is because I am prepared for this moment and many others. Issues arise when there isn’t quality professional development or opportunities for black teachers to be more than building culture leads (code for “I need your black presence to keep ‘these’ black kids quiet/silent and in line”). We are more than sergeants…we are teachers capable of being masters at our craft and delivering a lesson to black kids that empowers them to achieve excellence at the highest levels.
Black teacher retention hinges on barriers to entry being removed. How can we look at the experience of blacks that want to teach and create a path of opportunity? Black teacher retention hinges on an anti-racist platform and vision being adopted. How do we create environments where policies, procedures and actions eliminate racism (and oppression) directed at black teachers and black children? This includes teacher training and preparation to know, name and eliminate implicit and explicit biases, understanding, naming and confronting microaggressions, microinvalidations and microinsults. I can’t imagine wanting to stay in a work environment where conversations are overtly or passively racist and directed at either my kids or me. White teachers need to own their part in waking up. There is no middle ground, there’s no “woke-adjacent”. You’re either asleep or woke. BCPSS could make a statement by adopting an anti-racist vision and platform to train its teachers and protect its students from some of the passive and/or overt racism within its schools.
I always look back on my path to teaching and what I am most grateful for is the preparation given to me. I was brought to Baltimore through an alternative certification program, Urban Teachers. During my time in the organization, we received training and opportunities to explore the city, have real conversations about race and racism and practice immersion with the recognition that we were the “other” coming into a community. For some, it was a hard lesson to learn but a worthy lesson to make true impacts. However, for black teachers and their retention, continuous training opportunities to engage others and themselves is critical. BCPSS could also benefit from an equity lens that recognizes that often times blacks are placed in the worst schools because they’re black teachers. Let’s use an equity lens because not everyone needs the same help…how can we differentiate and help black teachers with commonsense workarounds to address burnout? When we can begin to mitigate basic issues plaguing our schools where a majority of the students are black and finding ways to help our black teachers, then and only then can we effectively improve education in BCPSS.
I have been in BCPSS for 6 years and it has truly been a positively transformative experience because of my kids, their families and my colleges. My experience shouldn’t be unique, however. Just as that student had faith in me and stayed that day, we need to put faith in our black teachers because they’re professionals, they’re the teachers that our black kids need and more often, there’s a reciprocal faith that pushes both teacher and student to see excellence in each other. Black teacher retention matters because: Black Lives Matter. Period. Black teachers matter. Period.
The Center for Education Equity (CEE) at MAEC is inviting members of our advisory board, partners, and other colleagues to share their views on current equity issues. Their opinions do not necessarily reflect CEE’s views or those of the Department of Education and we do not necessarily endorse any products or resources they promote.