Giving Minneapolis teachers of color an opportunity to help students who need them most

I typed fifth grade on my Apple MacIntosh computer when a teacher affected my life.

The task that day was simple: write a poem “Rose is red, violet is blue”. I don’t remember what I wrote that day or what inspired me. My ambitions at the time consisted mainly of lunches, recess and gym classes — not academics. But I do remember Ms. Coleman’s response.

“Wow, Myron!” she said, and I cheered up on the little plastic chair in the computer room. “This is really good!”

She was a black woman, a teacher at a predominantly white school, and one of the few adults in the building who looked like me. Her presence alone is support.

However, her words that afternoon strengthened my resolve to consider becoming a writer in the future.

While conversations surrounding the terms of contracts recently passed by the Minneapolis School District aimed at retaining more teachers of color — who are mostly the youngest, lowest-tenured and most vulnerable teachers — became a national political force in June The lightning rod, but I think about the kids. looks like my kids. Children will benefit the most from seeing teachers like Mrs. Coleman.

“It can be a national model, and schools in other states are looking to emulate what we’ve done,” Edward Barlow, a band teacher at Ann Watin Middle School and a member of the executive committee of the Minneapolis Federation of Teachers, told The Star in June. Tribune. “Even if it doesn’t do all the things we want it to do, it’s still a huge step forward for retaining teachers of color.”

In a district where 60 percent of the enrollment is made up of students of color and only 16 percent of tenured teachers are teachers of color, the battle is well known in a place with a history of opposing BIPOC student interests.

In Booker v. Special School District No. 1, 1972, a federal judge ruled that the Minneapolis school district violated the Fourteenth Amendment—the same Fourteenth Amendment that protects people of color At the heart of legal action over teachers’ new policy — and ‘increasing and contributing to segregation’. According to the Minnesota Journal of Law and Inequality.

Some white Minnesotans who oppose the new language in teacher contracts say they only care about protecting qualified educators, even as the district is begging for more applicants to fill open positions rather than eliminating them. They are also beneficiaries of policies that have historically given white children the best education and the most protections to white professionals in Minneapolis and beyond.

Furthermore, any attempt to protect teachers of color will not remove the systemic boundaries that have been in place for decades to prevent them from getting these jobs in the first place.

As is the case with BIPOC personnel across the country, professional success is often viewed as a condition of our race rather than our work ethic, skills, intelligence, collective experience and qualifications. Getting in the door is difficult, and once you’re in, you know it doesn’t take much to lose everything you’ve gained.

But the toxic conversation surrounding teacher contracts in Minneapolis also ignores the impact teachers of color have on the district as a whole — especially BIPOC kids.

For me, it’s Mrs. Coleman, who pushed me to explore writing in fifth grade. I believe her. Yes, sir. Meaning, a vice principal in my high school and the first black person I know to have power in a predominantly white place. Before I met him, I didn’t know you could stand that high around influential white people. It’s my second grade teacher, teacher. Bonds, he always sees me. It was my college professor, Joann Quinones, who taught a summer course on the history of feminism. About 95% of the students in the class are women. She told me to listen.

But the most influential teacher in my life raised me.

My mother, Barbara Medcalf, walked onto the UW campus in the late 1960s, when she was 16, when she became a bookworm and skipped two grades because of polio. She has taught in Milwaukee Public Schools for over 40 years. I wrote a book about sharks when I was in second grade and she kept it in her purse as if I had won a Pulitzer Prize. She encouraged me and others.

We were all walking down the street near my grandmother’s house one day when a young black man started yelling in our direction. I was startled when he started running towards us. Then I heard his voice.

“Mrs. Medcalf! Mrs. Medcalf! Mrs. Medcalf!” he screamed as he hugged my mother, who had been his primary school teacher. There were tears in his eyes. I don’t remember what they said to each other, just how she made him feel.

I hope the BIPOC kids in Minneapolis have the same experience so they too can meet a former teacher who looks like them and feels grateful. However, the only way to ensure that possibility in one of the most challenging professions in our country is to give those teachers of color — who are often the most at risk of losing their positions in the event of layoffs — a chance to serve those most in need Their people provide opportunities.

Myron Medcalf is a local columnist for the Star Tribune and a national writer and radio host for ESPN. His column appears twice a month in the print Sunday edition and online.

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