“health class.”

for the past two weeks, my mind hasn’t been into my job. honestly, i’ve felt insulted a few times over these past several days.

don’t get me wrong, i love the work that i do. the relationships i’ve built with students have been some of the most rewarding aspects of this work, the most impactful. yet, i’m watching one of my biggest concerns unfold in my school, right before my eyes.

i teach and design a college prep course for a well-known charter network. i have experience working in both k-12 and higher education. out of curiosity, i wanted to be in the classroom. i wanted more experience engaging students academically. so i tried something new. my experiences between the classroom and charter networks have been nothing short of emotionally draining and exhausting, especially attempting to survive in new york.

a very real shortage of black male teachers is one of the first things i discovered upon transitioning to K-12 education. most schools have at least one. If it’s a more diverse staff, they may have more.  this inquistive topic gaining traction within the field of education. so many sources want to know: where are all the black male teachers? why aren’t black men involved in our schools? i’ve done a number of things; developed leadership curriculum, grant-writing, diversity training and more. but for the last two weeks, i was reminded of the most necessary function for my school.  i’m the enforcer, the warden, the bodyguard. i run detention for my high school, find skipping students, handled suspensions. i handle the “tough kids.”

my pressing issue with charter schools is their obsession with controlling people of color; not just the students- but the staff of color too. that’s what it feels like. that many charter networks prioritize data, and that the best way to achieve desired results typically has something to do with conformity. there’s even a graduate program designed solely for the purpose of supporting teachers in this desired outcome; how to manage a classroom, how to track data, how to “improve” instruction. but what is really changing in our schools? is this a model that we can trust to implement change for students?

i’ve struggled to locate the rationale, yet and still, all of these networks are struggling to accomplish their vision of “closing the achievement gap.” i would think to myself, it’s better that someone who has empathy for these kids, work with them balance discipline with love and concern. there’s popular jargon used in the charter-wave of education. often this is termed as “warm and demanding,” the latest take on “high expectations.

still, i think a lot. about a variety of things. as of the last two weeks, i have been wasting my time in a “health class” that has interrupted my college prep class. i do not teach health, but i am required to sit in each period to ensure that the class “goes smoothly.” This loosely translates into me calling the class back to order from discussion; issuing consequences to maintain classroom structure, and at least one trip to the dean’s office for an unlucky student. while the purpose of this class is not only noble, but necessary for students to graduate with a high school diploma, i get annoyed at the amount of time or the decisions made by school leadership that me, as well as other black people, are best at controlling classrooms.

and what’s beyond fascinating, is that a lot of staff, black or white, marvel at the “tough love” or “high expectations” that i hold for our students as if it’s that exceptional. in reality, i am modeling the black women who raised me, mimicking the black women from our churches and neighborhoods. i am attempting to do these things with love, but i feel unfulfilled. i begin to think i am simply another officer of compliance. and the impact makes me believe that maybe, this school, or this work isn’t the place for me anymore.

i often feel like an invisible man, because at the end of the day i am boiled down to making our kids follow directions, without even considering the other work in my school and its network that needs to be done.

and i honestly believe this is why black males, like me, are leaving our schools.