On a random Sunday evening earlier this year I was doing the same thing most teachers do: staring at the pile of work I had managed to grade (and the much larger pile that still needed to be done) and sighing in defeat. I’d have to finish it later. I casually clicked through a few sites before shutting my computer down and ran into a vlog post entitled, “10 Things I Wish I Knew Before I Became a Teacher.” I didn’t really need to watch it. It showed a pretty young white woman looking bewildered while terms loomed above her head threateningly. “Lessons!” “Parents!” “Fights!” “Administration!”
Your people, colleagues, homies, village… whatever you call them... The tribe is absolutely crucial to your sanity as a Black radical teacher.
Though the issues she’d be discussing in the video certainly can be overwhelming, I couldn’t help but feel like the subject matter would be a little trite. We hear stories all the time about how hard teaching is and they often include those aspects. Despite this, I felt no shade towards the vlogger. Shawty prolly WAS overwhelmed and I’m sure lots of people found that video helpful 🤷🏾. She was speaking her truth and that’s what matters. But the vlog launched me into one of my Carrie Bradshaw moments and I couldn’t help but wonder: How different would a Black teachers’ list of “10 Things I Wish I Knew Before I Became a Teacher” be?
I haven’t done my own yet so I still don’t have an exact answer to that question. What I do know is that immediately when I saw the video’s thumbnail, I thought of the one thing no one warned me I’d need but that has turned out to be a pivotal part of my teaching career: MY TRIBE.
An array of dope ass Black women who have held me down in this work from Philly to Nola!
Your people, colleagues, homies, village… whatever you call them... The tribe is absolutely crucial to your sanity as a Black radical teacher. They’re the ones who tell you that you’re not crazy when Becky says something wild in a staff meeting and you wanna check her on it. They catch your eye during PD when someone makes blanket generalizations about Black students and the environments they come from. They agree to happy hours when the day was chill, but a white coworker ruins it by accusing you of being “angry” simply for asserting yourself. If your people are really bout it like that, ya tribe schedules coworking days on some of those Sundays that I mentioned earlier. Sometimes they look over materials you create and help you decipher ways that they can be adjusted to better serve your students.
While I internally struggled with staying at a position that looked perfect on paper... they quietly urged me to set boundaries that would help me stay in the classroom long-term.
This past year it was my tribe that pushed me to step outside of my comfort zone and quit my job (something I had never done before in the middle of the school year). They had listened to my rants and within my stories, heard everything that I had been trying to deny. While I internally struggled with staying at a position that looked perfect on paper- but was clearly going to become a toxic, unhealthy work environment- they quietly urged me to set boundaries that would help me stay in the classroom long-term. With the casual pushing that can only come at the hands of close friends, they broke the news over brunch that they were worried about me and that I should consider quitting. That decision to leave the job threw me into a depression that took a ton of work and time climb my way out of. But guess who was there the whole👏🏾 ass 👏🏾time 👏🏾 ??? That’s right… my muthafuckin tribe! They were alongside me for every step of those mental health struggles. Months removed, I know that leaving that job wasn’t even an option, but an absolute necessity. Nonetheless, it would have been entirely impossible without support from people who wanted the best for me and also understood the job’s pressures/ what it takes to stay in the profession for the long run.
My tribe has shifted, grown, expanded, and shrunk over the course of my career. When I look back over the years, they have been there since the very beginning… when I was a tender grad school student at the University of Pennsylvania, they were alongside me grappling with microaggressions from white peers. Later, they helped me unravel how racism fit into the narratives I saw unfolding in charter schools that seemed to boast only about their successes. They kept me going when I wanted to walk away from teaching altogether and celebrated me when I achieved milestones that people in other professions might not understand the severity of… they called me out on my own saviorism, instances of anti-Blackness, and problematic biases, and overall they have held me accountable to becoming the kind of educator that I aspire to be. All in all, in the nearly 12 years since I started doing this work, they’ve been instrumental to my career. And it is not at all hyperbolic to say that I would not be here, still in the classroom, still excited about teaching in this crazy fucked up system if not for the hands that they have extended to steady me when the steps ahead seem shaky.
They called me out on my own saviorism, instances of anti-Blackness, and problematic biases, and overall they have held me accountable to becoming the kind of educator that I aspire to be.
There’s no telling exactly what would go on my “Top 10 Things I Wish I Knew Before I Became a Teacher” (Highkey this post got me excited to do one so be on the lookout later this summer). But the tribe would be number 1 for sure! If there are any potential teachers who are reading this, the best piece of advice I can give you is 🗣️ FIND YA TEACHER TRIBE! And I’m not just talking friends you already have who work in other fields. You’re going to need folks of color who understand the job and can help you navigate the BS alongside the joys and the growth (my suggestion is to pick em out during the first week of PD). Of course, once you find them, your next goal is probably to find a solid bar with decent drink specials. Y’all are going to spend A LOT of time together over the next year, so you might as well indulge in some good cocktails on the side of all that support.