We All We Got: Teaching as an Emancipatory and Healing Practice

I’m fat.

Dark-skinned.

Black.

A woman.

Unconventionally beautiful.

There aren’t many privileges this world affords me because of my intersecting identities and standing joyfully in them.

But one privilege I DO have is as a teacher and a teacher of mostly Black kids. The traits and identities the world sees as ugly are the very things that help me thrive. And as I’ve been reflecting on these six years as an educator, I keep returning to this idea that teaching has liberated and healed me.

There’s liberation in accepting the call to be my fullest self in a classroom setting and righting the wrongs of my educational past; there’s healing in recreating the classroom I never had but desperately needed, in being the teacher I always wanted and needed but never had.

Me at 4 or 5

The little girl in me needed to see a joyful, fat Black woman who proudly took up space and advocated for herself. She needed to bear witness to that same woman gassing up little Black girls who didn’t yet see their beauty because of their chocolate skin, awkwardness, expanding figures, or intellect. She needed evidence that having piercings and multicolored hair and joining in on the screaming melodies of Glassjaw and The Deftones in no way diminished her Black womanhood. (Cuz Blackness ain’t a monolith, right?)

She needed to see from a Professional Black Girl that how she talked, fluently speaking AAVE and academic English everywhere she went, was indeed not “talking white” but was perfect. (Cuz Black folks talk how Black folks talk, right?) She needed Black joy not only integrated within the curriculum but at the very heart of the classroom climate.

Curious to know how my friends, fellow Black teachers, and school colleagues felt about teaching as an emancipatory and healing practice, I asked first grade teachers Marisa Hall and Brinisha Johnson and special education teacher Jessica Adams their thoughts.

Quick Black teachers pic before a faculty meeting. (l-r) Marisa Hall, Brinisha Johnson, Jessica Adams, Tiffiny Baker, and me.

How does teaching as an emancipatory and healing practice manifest in your teaching?

Hall: So many things that we are told to teach goes against who I am as a person and as an educator, but when I am able to teach students the truth about their past and bring it into their present, I feel free because I’ve allowed the students to know that they too can obtain power in their education.

Adams: It’s manifested for me in creating bonds and being a resource to students academically and emotionally.

Johnson: My mom always said one thing people can’t take away from you is your education. I believe that education is power and has value. Once you learn something you can’t unlearn it! Even slaves learned how to read in secret and it made the white man mad.

How does teaching liberate your inner child?

Hall: Maaaannnnn, I wish I had a teacher like me when I was growing up. I think this is what I was missing. Oddly enough, I feel like I have made her proud because of who I have become as a teacher. I say oddly, because, even though I knew I wanted to be a teacher when I grew up, I didn’t know I was going to be so bold and influential.

Adams: It made me realize I want to be the adult I needed as a child to reassure me that I am enough.

Johnson: While teaching I see glimpses of myself in these students. They remind me so much of myself growing up. It reminds me that by working hard and being persistent anything is possible. Your home life, sister’s life, or home neighborhood DOES NOT DEFINE YOU!

How does your teaching liberate and heal your current self?

Hall: I know that what I’m doing, saying and how I’m speaking, how I care and the choices I make on what to teach are RIGHT. Wholeheartedly. When I am able to do what I need to do for the kids, I feel liberated and that is overwhelmingly healing.

Adams: It makes me want to acquire more knowledge that I can pass on to my students to be successful members of society.

Johnson: I see myself instilling knowledge into the next generation. It feels good when I see that light bulb go off in someone’s head, to know that I have taught that person something that they could never forget.

How does your teaching liberate your students and their families?

Johnson: My teaching is all about Maslow’s (hierarchy of needs) before Bloom’s (taxonomy). I genuinely care about my students and families. I have built relationships that move way beyond the four walls of a classroom. My students and families respect and trust me. And I trust and respect them.

Adams: Students and their families see me as an extra support system. I believe as a teacher I fill relationship voids (mom, sister, aunt, etc.).

Hall: “She’s woke.” “I trust Ms. Hall.” “I love Ms. Hall.” “ I don’t have any worries when my child is at school with you.” “ I wish my child was still in your class.” “Please keep an eye on her, Ms. Hall.” “Thank you for being the person we need.” “Thank you for teaching my child about her history.” “She still remembers everything you taught her.” All of those are quotes from past and present parents and students. I am beyond FULL. This is how I know that I’m exactly where I need to be and through the hardships of this profession, I’m setting young minds and hearts free and reassuring “older” ones. This is liberation. This is healing.

In this time of so much uncertainty, I’m grounded in knowing that Black women, that Black teachers are continuing to reimagine what school should be and are reclaiming the classroom as a safe space for Black joy. We reimagine and reclaim in spite of what was done to us. And that makes me so damn happy.

This blog post is part of the #31DaysIBPOC Blog Challenge, a month-long movement to feature the voices of indigenous and teachers of color as writers and scholars. Please CLICK HERE to read yesterday’s blog post by Dawn Quigley(and be sure to check out the link at the end of each post to catch up on the rest of the blog circle).

third grade teacher. plant mama of 30+ baddies. Professional Black Girl since 1985. ✌🏿

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