Saturday, February 9, 2019

Hey Teacher...But I Don't Need You...


Note - If you are a teacher or a parent of at least one Black child, I wrote this short piece for you...from the perspective of the child. Check it out and share with someone who could benefit.


Hey teacher…I’m a young Black boy living in inner-city USA. Statistically, the odds are stacked against me and the challenges I face toward living my dream are REAL…

…but I don’t need you feeling sorry for me though. You feeling sorry for me is not going to get me to where I want to be. I just need you to understand me.

…but I don’t need you getting angry with me when I make decisions that are not consistent with your expectations of me though. I just need you to steer me in the right direction. If I’m not moving at your pace, I just need you to be patient with me. Some of us take longer than others.

…but I don’t need you quitting or giving up on me when the task of working with children from “my world” seems overwhelming though. I just need you to understand that many of us lack the “privileges” that many of our peers from wealthier communities were born with.

…but I don’t need you teaching me as if all of the students in my class learn alike though. Although I am quite young, I am smart enough to know that children learn differently…we do not all learn the same way. I just need you to make sure that you teach me according to how I learn.

…but I don’t need you to judge me based upon my home environment which may be very different from your own though. My environment is my environment. I just need you to appreciate and respect what I call home.

…but I don’t need you assuming that kids from my neighborhood aren’t Ivy League material though. We are and I was born brilliant! I may not show it all the time, but I am truly intelligent. If I fall, I just need you to either pick me up or teach me how to get up on my own. I just need you to maintain very high expectations of me and if you do so, I will meet them eventually.

…but I don’t need you thinking that you know me because you know my name, address and telephone number though. There’s more to me. I have my own experiences, reality, challenges, obstacles, needs, interests, goals and dreams. I just need you to make getting to know the fullness of me your priority.

…but I don’t need you lacking knowledge of my history though. You can’t teach me at a high level if you don’t know me historically. You will see me through the wrong set of lenses. I just need you to know that my story begins in Africa. I don’t know where in Africa, but I know it starts on the African continent. My African past includes discoveries and contributions in science, medicine, technology, mathematics, engineering, architecture, carpentry, agriculture, writing, astronomy and astrology just to name a few. My story does not begin as a slave. My story begins in Africa…the cradle of civilization.

Copyright © Baruti K. Kafele

For more Principal Kafele resources, visit PrincipalKafele.com.


Saturday, February 2, 2019

Black History, Black Children, White Children and Equity


As I begin to write this essay, it is 7:00 a.m. (CST) on a Saturday morning and I am scheduled to speak in a 3600 seat room at the National ESEA (Title I) Conference at 11:30 but before I do, I woke up with this topic burning on my mind and needed to share it with you immediately.

Today is February 2, 2019 – the 2nd day of Black History Month….my all time favorite month of the year because of the richness in history that it has to offer. I recall vividly (everyday) that for a ten-year period of my life, beginning in my freshman year of high school, I was on a trajectory of destruction. I hated school while having no career ambitions outside of the unrealistic goal of becoming a professional basketball player. I attended four high schools over a five year period and graduated with a 1.5 GPA. I subsequently enrolled in a junior college and stayed there for 5 years as a full time student (while seldom attending classes) and never graduated. Ten years wasted!

In 1984, I decided to give “life” a try and enrolled at Kean University in NJ. I had no major in mind – I just felt that I needed to be in a four-year institution, given the fact that my friends now had their undergraduate degrees with me having nothing to show for my wasted ten years. Making the decision to go to that school was the best thing that could have ever happened to me because as soon as I got there, I literally stumbled on Black history…on Day 1! It was like I tripped over it! I literally stumbled upon a book about the lives of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Malcolm X entitled, To Kill a Black Man and my life transformed before my own eyes and everyone’s eyes that knew me. I was so inspired that from that point, I read every book on Black History that was humanly possible to consume while carrying a full load at Kean University. I was immediately a 4.0 student and graduated from there Summa Cum Laude! What happened? In a nutshell, the Black history I was reading was the mechanism I needed to unleash the God-given potential that I had within me toward completely altering my trajectory. The academics of Kean became so easy for me because the history made me aware that I was much more than I previously thought I was. I have been riding that wave ever since.

When I think of American classrooms, which is literally a 24/7 thought, I think of my aforementioned story. I think of the role Black history played as a tool toward my growth, development and success. Well, it works the same way with children. Here, I want to focus on the Black child. When a Black child winds up in a classroom with a teacher who does not understand the “power” in Black history, that child is immediately placed at a deficit. Said differently, when a Black child winds up in a classroom with a teacher who isn’t knowledgeable of Black history, that child is immediately placed at a disadvantage. Black history has been one of America’s best kept secrets throughout the history of the country and the consequences of this deprivation of viable information are visible and well documented. Black history serves as a mirror for Black children. It tells them exactly who they are both historically and culturally. It tells them whose shoulders they stand upon and what their responsibilities and obligations are moving forward. It informs them of their greatness. It gives them a much more accurate view and picture of the world upon which they were born into and exist within. As a teacher, it is absolutely imperative then that throughout Black History Month and BEYOND, in an interdisciplinary fashion, you introduce your children to their history. Said differently, you introduce them to themselves.

This task is somewhat easier in America’s all-Black schools but all Black students do not attend all Black schools. But there’s an advantage here as well. White children and children of all other racial / ethnic backgrounds need to know the history of their Black peers too. Given the inundation of depictions of Black people in the media and pop culture, there has to be something to counteract this barrage of negative and destruction portrayals which in part formulate how the Black community in America is perceived worldwide. Well there is something….Black history and Black History Month for all of your students. Everyone benefits in this regard. The greatest challenge however is you the teacher. You have to be conversant in this subject matter. You have to be able to take you curriculum and “breathe Black history” into it across content areas. In other words, you have to make it relevant for all children.

Lastly, one of the biggest buzz words in education today is the word, equity. I use it daily. Equity is being fair (not equal) to all children. Equity is meeting children where they are. Well in the context of this essay, there is no equity when there is an absence or marginalization of Black history in the classroom. When this viable tool of the empowerment of your Black children is absent from the classroom, despite all of the strategies that have been implemented to bring about equity, the absence of Black history negates them all. Black history must be an inherent part of the existence of your classroom.

For additional reading, I thought I would provide a link to my suggested reading list for teachers of Black students which include some historical books that I recommend.

For further Principal Kafele resources, visit PrincipalKafele.com

Sunday, January 27, 2019

The Only Place For a Classroom “Equality Mindset” is in a Museum!


“Classroom equity,” “school equity,” “excellence through equity,” “equitable practices,” etc. have all become buzzwords in the education world…some might even call them “the latest fad in education.”  When I noticed the uptick in the usage of the word “equity” as a part of education parlance, I immediately paid attention because it was relevant to who I am as an education professional.

My teaching career began in 1988 in Brooklyn, NY. I did not have language to apply to “equitable practices” in my classroom as a brand new teacher, but it was more than evident from day one that the learning, social and emotional needs of my students varied widely and I therefore knew instinctively that if my students were going to be successful in my classroom, I had better meet them where they were.

I eventually moved on to East Orange, New Jersey to continue teaching in the city that produced me from birth. Once again, I had no language to apply to “equity”…I simply knew that equitable classroom practices were a necessity because the needs of my students varied. When I became a principal, although I was no longer a classroom teacher, I was now an instructional leader. That role in and of itself demanded that I possess an “equity mindset.”

When I say “equity mindset,” I am saying that the teacher in the classroom has to be fair. The teacher has to consider each student as a unique individual with a focus therefore on meeting the unique needs of each and every learner in the classroom. As the teacher examines the learning needs, the social needs and the emotional needs of the student, the teacher is in a much better position to meet each of these needs via bringing to each student in the classroom an “equity mindset.” An “equality mindset” on the other hand might not only be devastating in “real time,” but can potentially have life long adverse implications as in the following scenario.

A baby is born into a family. She receives sustained love, care and attention from her parents. The home environment is pleasant and there are no major challenges such as poverty that the family has to contend with. What stands out for this baby from the very beginning is the mother’s attention to cognitive development, language development and listening skill development. Mother is constantly talking and reading to the baby in the first year of her life prior to being able to pronounce words. Eventually at around a year old, the now toddler starts to develop a vocabulary, listening skills are developing and overall cognitive development is intentional. Mother continues to talk and read to toddler and by the time she is three years old, she may have a grasp of anywhere from 250 - 500 words.

At the same time another baby is born into a family. He too receives sustained love, care and attention. This home environment is comparable to the aforementioned home environment. The major difference between the experiences of both babies however is the attention to cognitive development, language development and listening skill development. Yes, this baby is loved and cared for but the intentionality of cognitive, language and listening skill development via purposeful talking and reading to this youngster is just not there for whatever the reason and consequently, there is a higher probability that this toddler will have less of a vocabulary by the age of three than the first one.

At age three, both sets pf parents enroll their toddlers into preschool and they are in the same class. Clearly, one is behind the other relative to language development, but to no fault of the child. What distinguishes them is essentially how they are being raised in their home environment. Now that they are both in school, how they proceed in the classroom will boil down to two words – “equity” and “equality.” If the teacher brings an “equality mindset” to the classroom, both children will suffer. In the teacher’s effort to strike a balance, the first child might not be fully challenged predicated on her prior experience and the second child might not be met where he is predicated on his prior experience. An equality mindset simply will not work in this or any scenario. This scenario therefore begs an “equity mindset.” The teacher must identify where both children are relative to their own language development and meet them where they are toward true equity in the classroom. And just imagine if you will, that both children go for several consecutive years with "equality mindset" teachers. The gap in language development would never close and the implications would be potentially devastating...particularly for the second child.

The only place for an equality mindset in a 21st Century classroom is a museum. It is a relic from the past and has no place in a modern classroom. The equality mindset shortchanges children. It undermines their ability to maximize their potential. If the playing field is going to be truly level for all children, they must be afforded the opportunity to enter schools and classrooms where equity abounds for everyone.

For more Principal Kafele resources, visit PrincipalKafele.com.

Hey Teacher...But I Don't Need You...

Note - If you are a teacher or a parent of at least one Black child, I wrote this short piece for you...from the perspective of...