Ten pieces of advice for the teachers of young brown scholars, by Dr Michelle Johansson
1. Raise the bar. Don't dumb it down because they are brown, respect them enough to expect their best, and when they bring to you less, say THIS is not good enough, not YOU are not good enough. They've been told that enough and it's rough and they're tough, but the stuff that they're made of is enough.
2. BELIEVE unfailingly in their limitless potential. They will look in your eyes and know if you are lying.
3. Feed them. Literally. Feed them. Feed their minds, feed their mouths and feed their hunger for justice. Break bread with them and remember that when you take communion a covenant is made and there was a promise in that supper, that blood shed and shared means sacrifice.
4. Laugh. Laugh at yourself. But not at your jokes. Your jokes are dry but you are funny - And in laughter there's power; and in humour there's humility - and this ranks higher than their academic standing or rank score - it is more.
5. No one ever changed the world by yelling at it. Fear might change their behaviour but respect will change their mind.
6. Know that you are in the presence of warriors. They have fought. There are fighting. There are battles behind their eyes; and you cannot possibly understand the arms they bear, the scars they wear. Don't make the classroom another trek behind enemy lines. Sometimes they need a soft place to land, a safe space to stand, someone willing to understand. And if this is not the lesson you planned? perhaps it is the lesson YOU need.
7. Be the grown up and own up when you're wrong, be strong enough to fail sometimes, to ask for help sometimes. Be the mistake maker, the risk taker, give them permission to do the same. Be fallible, be malleable - take the shape of the tool that's needed coz ako means that if they’re not learning then you’re not teaching and if nothing ever changes, then nothing ever changes.
8. When they rage at you - and often they will coz often they're fill up and fed up with their lives and they throw words like knives at your feet - don't throw them back. Pick those knives up and see them for what they are. Not weapons thrown to hurt YOU but to relieve THEM. They could not carry them anymore. And you? Pick the knives off the floor, throw them out of the door and begin again.
9. Defend them. Inherent in their postcode. You will hear stories of failure that's prevalent in the pigment of their skin and Don't let that shit happen on your shift. It is your duty to tell a new story.
10. Stand WITH them and FOR them and BY them. Speak with them and for them. See them and know them for who they are. Hold them - in your arms, in your thoughts, in your prayers.
Don't let go.
Fight for them.
And keep fighting.
They are worth it.
And If you back them when they're 15?
They will have your back for life.