Des Moines, IA.
I was the only white teacher in the City of Little Rock Early Childhood Center, a school partnered with Little Rock School District that hired certified teachers and had a great full-day program for young, inner-city 3 1/2-5 year old students from “the projects.” Many of my young charges had no previous direct contact with people like me, but they soon got used to and welcomed the morning greeting hugs and departing hugs that were routine for my class. These kids brought joy and meaning to my life. Everything went smoothly until we began focusing on a new unit on the family. One day I received an irate, loud phone call from my director, who began yelling at me about how parents had complained that I had pictures of white people all over the classroom, and how inappropriate that was. She sent her assistant over to view the pictures I had, presumably to gain documentation of my inappropriateness. Yes, there were pictures of white people, but they were only of my own family. I never received an apology from her, but then I also did not get written up after all. It still shocked me that my supervisor made assumptions without first checking out the facts. The yelling phone call had shaken me to the core.
I taught there for three years. I held parent workshops that went well. The school district recruited me for a full time teaching position because I became a model teacher on how to get young preschoolers operating at higher levels of thinking, something that they had previously believed was not possible at a young age. I accepted their offer because it paid much more than I was earning, and I also wanted to stretch myself with the challenge of teaching inner city 6th graders. However, when I began to prepare to leave the Early Childhood Center, my director sent her security guard over to make sure that I didn’t take anything that was “theirs” with me. Oddly, no other teacher had that experience when they left. Even more strange, and heartbreaking to me, was that they deemed all of the hand-made displays that I had made, two closets full, as theirs because I had laminated them with their machine. I therefore was forced to leave without all my themed and seasonal displays.
Even though these (and other incidents) were negative experiences, they were so good, too. It was good to experience unfair treatment, as it gave me just a taste of how Black teachers can be treated in a predominantly White environment – how people can make assumptions based on race. It was a lesson worth learning. This took off at least some of my own culturally-induced blinders and hopefully made me a tad bit more understanding and more sensitive.