“Kelisa, why do people seem to make things about race? I personally don’t see race.” My friend stated as we were eating lunch.
I thought over this concept that evening, as I did not readily have an answer for her. The next morning, over breakfast, I said to her, “When you were the teacher of the year, how were you introduced?” She explained that her introduction consisted of her name, and where she taught. Mine, I explained, consisted of my name, where I taught, and that I am the first minority teacher of the year.
Don’t get me wrong, I am proud of that fact, but, as Courtney Cochran, 2017 Arkansas Teacher of the Year, said to me, “We have not earned the right to not see our students by race, creed, color, or gender.” We should SEE them – completely for who they are inside and out.
I recently wrote about the fact that my vision is worsening. I often find myself reminiscing about my life before 30 – before glasses, when my vision was 20/20. I wish I could see the way I used to I often think, yet, I have realized that we can see with more than our eyes.
The week after I had this conversation with my friend, I travelled to DC with the 2017 Teachers of the Year. It has been written about and chronicled extensively, but I wanted to reflect on the teachable moments of the event, as I always ask my students, “What can we learn?”
I am honored to be amongst such greatness in this cohort of teacher leaders such as Sydney Chaffee, who is our 2017 National Teacher of the Year. She advocates for our schools to be SEEN as social justice greenhouses. Nikos Giannopoulos, 2017 Rhode Island Teacher of the Year, advocates for his LGBTQ students and every other student within his school to be SEEN. Casey Bethel, 2017 Georgia Teacher of the Year, who encourages us to SEE ourselves as leaders and use our voices.
The teachable moments I had after the DC week, and even thinking about how we see others was this:
- Equity matters: Students across this country are not receiving the same quality education based on their area code and socio-economic status. We were treated differently by happenstance of the year in which we received the honor of Teacher of the Year. I wondered, are we ensuring our students receive a quality education every day, for every student in every class from year to year? Are we treating students fairly and equitably, or have we identified them, labeled them, and made them feel different, as Casey was made to feel?
- Educators must have a voice: Unfortunately, Sydney did not give a speech while we were at the White House, but that represents a broader issue of how educators are often not allowed to voice their thoughts when decisions are being made. We have to be a part of the conversation – we have to be present, seen, and heard.
- Every child must be visible: As Courtney reinforced, every person needs to be SEEN – not just with our eyes, it is not enough, but with our ears and with our hearts! We should see our students for who they are. We should learn about their backgrounds and relate to them. We should immerse ourselves into the cultures that make them diverse and beautifully unique. We do them a disservice if we do otherwise.
We should all aim to see and debunk the idea that it is wrong to see. In seeing, we are acknowledging that 1. I see you and 2. I want to understand you.
I see, as Sydney so eloquently describes, the need to create social justice greenhouses; I see Nikos’ students for who they are, and I see, as Courtney compels, that none of us have earned the right not to see!
With my failing vision, I see these things better than I have ever seen before –
The question is: Do you see it too?
Kelisa Wing is a Language Arts Teacher at Faith Middle School in Fort Benning, Georgia. She is a 2016 ASCD Emerging Leader and the 2017 Department of Defense Education Activity Teacher of the Year. She is also the Continuous School Improvement Chair for her school. She is an Army veteran and a proud graduate of the University of Maryland University College and the University of Phoenix where she earned her Educational Specialist degree.