• Toni

Teachers That Look Like Me

Updated: Feb 7

Miss. Robertson, Mrs. Lamb, Mrs. Hite, Mrs.Payne, Mr.Meeks, Mr. Crutchfield, Mrs. Adams, Mrs. Portis, and Mr. White, the teachers that graced the hallways and illuminated the classrooms throughout my secondary education.

Thank you Mrs. Rainey, my student counselor at Auburn High School, that helped me graduate a year early. And that would conclude the list of African American school faculty I’ve interacted with in all my years of education. I was to young to realize how fortunate I was to be amongst so many brilliant teachers of color at Ellis Arts Academy. I remember the natural connection, the freedom, the understood cultural body language, tone, and mannerisms. Classroom full of vibrant boys and girls that could easily be my cousins and siblings.

There was this constant sense of peace when teacher and student were in union, something I didn’t quite understand until it was no longer my reality. Although my high school was in the ‘hood’ and majority of its students were not just of color but African American, I had not ONE teacher look like me. I think because the student body looked so much like me I wasn’t concerned about teacher representation.

Plus I was in high school my mind was on M.B🤣 not the effects of test scores, self-esteem, and subconscious beliefs in relation to underrepresentation in the authority figures seen daily.

My first two years of college were completed at Highland, a junior college where a very small percentage of staff were of color, still no Black professors for me. But again the student body was diverse enough to feel seen and understood.

Then I went to Midland University, a private Christian institution in Nebraska. Surprisingly, there were several students of color attending Midland, HOWEVER, I didn’t cross paths with them often. As a junior in college most tend to stick with the people that have similar majors and classes. In the psychology department for the two years I attended, there were only about 3-5 Black students in this field. I also have a minor in business which held the same fate as before, limited diversity within students and no diversity amongst professors. I immediately realized I was an outsider. The looks said it all. I started having anxiety attacks every time I had to present my work to a crowd full of individuals who didn’t look like me and who didn’t care to hear me speak. It got so bad that I began hoping a injury, illness, or emergency came up so I didn’t have to deal with the anxieties of presentation day. I was so upset with myself because I had proved them right. Black people are unintelligent.

First semester of junior year was complete. School was never hard for me when I was supported with teachers and students that resembled me, but babyyyy that semester was though.

Three more semesters to go!

I even decided to try to talk to the schools therapist. All I have to say is, she put zero effort into our 2 sessions before terminating our sessions altogether with no recommendations or resources.

Naturally, I began being comfortable with the uncomfortable feelings I experienced. My hesitation to boldly ask and answer questions started decreasing, grades started improving, but there was still a huge void. Many of the topics taught didn’t resonate, weren’t inclusive, and were borderline bias. And who could I talk to about this when all faculty, besides coaches, were White. Honestly I don’t even think I could have articulated how I felt effectively to induce change at that time.

This isn’t a Highland or Midland issue, but a universal issue several students of color face in all levels of education. I learned so much at Midland on a academic and personal level and I am grateful for my experiences.

I know for a fact I must go to a HBCU to complete my Masters in psychology because I have a mouthful to say and I need a neutral and safe environment to completely share my thoughts. I called Fisk University and the student center receptionist said “I’m going to call you right back” and right then I knew I wasn’t going to get a call back, and that’s when I felt at home! All jokes aside, teacher and school faculty representation matters. We spend the beginning of our early years at school, when one doesn’t see themselves in the adults they see more than their parents, what does that subconsciously tell them?

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