The College of Education hosted the latest installment of the Racial Justice in Education Series on Thursday, featuring three Black women educators who discussed their journeys into teaching and the importance of representation inside the classroom.
The panel, titled “Conquering Barriers: The Burden and The Beauty of Black Women Educators,” featured Crechena Wise, director of secondary schools for ABC Unified School District, Debra Logan, a retired educator from Whitney High School in Cerritos and Megan Mitchell, a current educator within ABC Unified.
Wise, who comes from a family of educators stemming back from her grandmother’s decision to ensure that every granddaughter of hers attends college, explained that carrying on her grandmother’s legacy while being a leader in education brings her joy.
At times, Wise’s leadership positions, like being a former principal, allowed her to reevaluate curriculum.
Wise said that when she was a student, many required reading books were “Black pain stories.” Under her authority, Wise explained she successfully advocated for the removal of required reading that contained the N-word so that children would not be put in a position to explain the meaning of the racial slur or have it used against them.
That experience was just one example of how the panelists at the event discussed implementing more diverse materials and how being part of minority groups enabled them to empathize more with their students from marginalized communities better than their white colleagues, despite good intentions.
“One of the joys that I’ve experienced as a teacher is empowering students whose education and their dedication to their academic progress is going to be their ticket to breaking generational curses,” Mitchell said. “Their education is going to be the ticket to not only uplifting themselves, but uplifting their family, uplifting their community.”
Mitchell is the daughter of an educator and said her mother’s passion was to teach, recognizing the power it provides to people. Mitchell, who laughed saying she did not intend to be a teacher, credits Logan, who was Mitchell’s former teacher, for being an impact on her life.
It has also influenced the way Mitchell teaches, telling her students that they will always be her student and ready to stand up for them in the same way Logan once did for Mitchell when she was a high school senior who had faced microaggressions by a teacher.
“I feel like as Black educators, we have to do that a lot because there are times now when I have to check co-workers or that I’ve had to check co-workers in the past because you’re not going to do this to my baby, you’re not going to do this to my student and it’s something natural, something that’s ingrained into our experiences,” Mitchell said.
According to the U.S. Department of Education’s 2016 report, in the 2011-2012 academic year, 82% of public school teachers were white. Likewise, only 10% of principles in public schools were Black.
“I think it’s very important for kids of color to see teachers of color,” Logan said. “Because if they can do it, I can do it. If they can go to college and to come back and come and teach, I can go to college and do what I want to do.”
Logan and Mitchell both discussed not having many Black educators when they were students.
For Logan, it meant staying at Whitney High School so that she could be a resource for any child to help them continue on in their academic journeys.
Wise also explained the importance of having Black educators or administrators, who are able to give students’ experiences a voice based on their own experiences.
“We set expectations for the adults in the building,” Wise said.
Bringing all cultures together in a school environment, according to Wise, helps create better experiences for all students.
“I cannot measure the value of having other people of color, in particular Black women, in particular Women, in particular Blacks, Latinos, to be able to speak to their experience to make a better experience for the generations to come,” Wise said.