Friday, November 6, 2015

Year 6: Week 10 – Being A Teacher Of Color

I was hired to be a music teacher. A couple years ago, I took on the role as a co-department chair. I have explicitly stated responsibilities with these two roles. There’s another role I have at this school that is not in my contract, a role I don’t get paid any extra money to fulfill, and a role that it feels like it is becoming more and more vital to my job: being a teacher of color.

Race is a clear and present issue in America. Anyone who discusses “moving past race” is trying to placate people who desire an America where the white majority enjoys the benefits of racism without dealing with people of color advocating for equal rights. Issues around race in America are like cancer in this way. You can ignore it and refuse to address this issue but that doesn’t mean that it’s not there eating away at the soul of our country.

When I started as a teaching professional, I knew that Asian-Americans like other racial groups were underrepresented in education. Every time I was the only teacher of color in a meeting or a conference, I was reminded of my race and I felt a slight twinge of marginalization. This really wasn’t all that different than my life outside school, as in almost every situation in my life, I am a racial minority, and when I’m not, like when I’m around my extended family, I’m a minority in another ways.

Being reminded of your race, and having this reminder not always feel good is part of life as a person of color. It’s draining and I never realized how much this would be part of my job as a teacher until I started at this school.

This is the first school I taught at that explicitly talks about racial diversity. I appreciated this but I didn’t really know what to do with this fact. Over the years, I’ve gotten used to Asian kids confiding in me. I’ve come to really enjoy when students who aren’t Asian ask me about my racial heritage and I’ve become more at ease expressing my own Asian heritage in classroom conversations.

When issues surrounding race come up in my school, I get drawn into conversations with administrators and faculty. I enjoy problem-solving and discussing most issues at this school so why wouldn’t I want to talk about issues surrounding race? Because dealing with race in my own life, and facing racism in the wider society is sometimes more than I can handle.

At these moments of fatigue and frustration, being a person of color feels like a burden.  But then I think about my kids and I'm reminded that what may feel like a burden to me is a blessing for them.  Their exposure to a me as part of a diverse teaching population is important in my students' lives.

So I dig deep and lean in.

I've learned to embrace my role as a teacher of color and while it's taxing, it's important.  While being reminded of my race as a teacher is challenging at times, when a reminder is accompanied by a 7 year-old's excitement to find a teacher who is from Taiwan just like her parents, I realize how proud I am to be a teacher of color.

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