Tuesday, January 14, 2014

I'm Destroying Lives because I was born.

The Oppressor: White Male American... Me

I was talking with a group of white americans tonight about a book called "The Pedagogy of the Oppressed." In the book the author, Friere, talks about who are the oppressors and who are the oppressed. Our conversations around the room immediately drew lines of race and how being white usually stirs the thought of oppression and male is the cherry on top of oppression, inherently evil. In fact, our group was easily persuaded that being white male and American places you in the category of oppressor.

I'm here to say that I'm a white male American - proud and happy to be such. At no time have I sat in my room thinking, 'I'm privileged because I'm white, male and American, let me destroy everything that could work.'

My personal opinion is that regardless the societal system a person is born in, they are not inherently going to be an oppressor or the oppressed. If I were a white male born in Jackson, MS and attending the inner-city black school that I currently teach at, I would not necessarily be oppressed and I would not necessarily be the oppressor.

Our image of the white male American being the oppressor is not fair to the bulk of white male americans.

Yes, privileges have been bestowed upon men for centuries in every country and in America whites have had privileges others did not. But when the two descriptions fit together, you shouldn't get a picture of a privileged and sadistic person.

In fact, I learned most of my characteristics from my white female mother. Her life's mission was to provide love and compassion to all those around her. I now desire to do the same, focusing on positivity in the classroom.

The point is that by blaming white male americans for the many things that have gone wrong is forcing many white male americans to be scared of fixing the system so that they won't be branded as part of the problematic white male American.

We tell black youth to take ownership of their heritage and their race, white male americans should take ownership of theirs while focusing on how change can be made.

Those calling white male americans the problem need to realize that white male americans may be their enemy by perception but could be their strongest ally if they looked in the right direction.

This argument can be applied to the black community as well. People saying young black male americans are of certain qualities argues against those that have a positive outlook, forcing those with bright prospects to lose hope and give up on the possible riches of the future. (riches, i.e. enjoyment and fulfillment)

I truly hope that as humans, we stop placing blame on groups of people but instead focus on solutions to problems. (which getting rid of white male americans is not one) Blame rarely creates change and only creates more disadvantage.

Please feel free to leave your own thoughts as this is a dialogue, but don't forget that we all must keep open minds otherwise you are being oppressive.

Sunday, March 31, 2013

Being an LGBT teacher in the black south

Well, the title says a lot and I'm not sure that I can really address all the issues.

I know that my personal experience has always been one of comfort. I came out first as bisexual in the 10th grade and soon after came out as gay. I tested the waters by changing the sexual orientation label on my MySpace (I'm dating myself) and looked for what the reaction would be.

First I got a couple questions, then I was labeled. At no point did all the dominos in my life fall. I was scared that would happen.

I came out to my father when I was in the 11th grade and I'm pretty sure he was the last one in town to learn.

I've always tried to avoid being overly gay. I went through the girl jeans, concert phase with eyeliner and long emo hair. But that was because I was a teenager experimenting with all that life offered.

I realized I want to be "normal."

"Oh alright", I hear from you all as you read that... "Normal".

Never did I think about what I was saying when I said "I just want to act normal and not be automatically labeled gay on first impression."

Normal was and still is the "straight" way of doing things. I try not to raise my voice at the end of sentences; I attempt to use my hands only to express myself as much as an Italian, but less than a gay; and I try to interact in a way that sends off vibes that I like women.

Now, I have had relationships with women and will never rule out the possibility in the future. (A bold statement I really haven't said to many people) However, part of me still feels like I'm not being 100% truthful. I attempt to act "normal" (*cough* straight) but in fact I am not straight.

How does this relate to the Black Southern community and teaching?

Hmmm, a beastly amount.

Regularly you can hear students, parents, community members use the word "gay." I understand its gone mainstream in many circles and its not an immediately demeaning or derogatory word to use. Unfortunately though, it's overused in an environment where people are suppressing their true identity.

I can not tell you enough how many times I have discussed with friends in my community about the "down-low" black gay community. In fear, they turn to Craigslist, grindr and other anonymous services to express their desires.

It's not healthy for them, or the gay community.

Again, what do I have to do with that?

My children are the ones using the word. Ironically, my students now think I'm straight after first accusing me of being gay.

However, when they use the word gay in my classroom they know that they will be told to broaden their vocabulary.

What makes me upset is that I have not told them why they shouldn't use the term. I build character into my classroom everyday but I have somehow overlooked something that I can personally speak about and alter my students perceptions.

Why haven't I capitalized? I am scared. I'm so used to being "normal" that I'm afraid to now be labeled. I don't want to affect relationships when the students and I have worked so hard to build what we have.

I'm also afraid if becoming a martyr. No, I don't think I'll die or that I'll be injured. I am afraid of being accused of sexual misconduct just because I'm gay. There seems to be this illusion that if you're gay you're more likely to engage in illegal sexual acts. Unfortunately that is how our media (and unfortunately the elected officials causing the scene) have created it to be.

I want so desperately to expose myself as someone that is different (or perhaps more relatable to some). It is simply taboo in the South and even more stigmatized in black communities where I work.

I'm looking for a way to create these character traits in my students to be open and to be willing to sacrifice for what is right. Who knows, maybe there would be just as little struggle as there was when I became the first openly gay male in my high school. I won't know until I try...

Any advice and opinions are completely welcome because I can't just think deeply and come up with an answer. Discussion and support will create more energy for me to talk about it with my students and the community.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Creating a Goal Plan

What I've been thinking about lately are the abundance of thoughts that have gone through my head since coming down to Mississippi. I've opened up about religion, education, politics, and biases. The unfortunate part is that I'm not a journalist .

By that I mean I have not put down all my thoughts at the time they happen. It's an interesting process coming up with so many ideas and then somehow losing them because you forgot to write it down.

I've tried to mitigate this before by downloading the blogger app on my former phone, but that clearly didn't help. I've bought little black books to write down ideas, but I left them at home or at other various random places.

Because I've been thinking so much I have such great ideas for the future of my community and myself. Somehow, I've gotten lost in the ideas for the future.

Developed are broad stroke ideas with some very detailed steps - there just lacks a route to get to the steps.

Now starts the process to organizing my future. Creating small goals, a month out, six months out, a year out.

I have plans to become a Senator, but what are the monthly steps I am taking to get there. Impatience can take its toll, but I am taking the chance to make sure I don't let impatience create inaction. I am creating plans and working toward my broader ideas.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Not Always Rosy, Turning It Around.

As many people know, my car got stolen last Thursday from the school parking lot ironically while getting a pep speech in the auditorium from the Superintendent of JPS.

Now, I won't go into the transaction of events, because in reality it doesn't matter how it happened just that it happened.

The hardest part was keeping calm in front of the students. Maintaining composure as I realize, hmmm, my car isn't parked where I thought I parked it... maybe the students weren't kidding... my car really is stolen.

The day that the events transpired, I was fine. I was the happy Mr. Wright that everyone knows. My students in my third period were actually confused by how happy I seemed despite the circumstances.

I'd like to say the rosy picture continues, joking about the student not stealing my lunch or leaving me an 18 track rap CD to listen to in my car... but it's been hard... fo'realz.

The tipping point of anger, frustration and sadness came when I had to go to the detention center where the student is detained and press charges.

Most teachers and administrators told me to "Hell yes, press those charges. Teach all the students a lesson that they can not do that." And in reality, the boy broke the law and should be given a punishment.

The reason the frustration set in was because it takes a lot of emotions out when you feel violated. To have someone steal your phone, laptop and car just to sell the former and leave the latter behind a gas station in the middle of nowhere.

What bothers me most is the frustation that is transpiring into my teaching. Yes, I'm angry but for some reason my students are getting the brunt. Understandably, they shouldn't press my buttons right now, but I used to happily help a student when they needed help. The last two days, I don't care to help... it's an attitude of "what don't you understand, I taught you and you should have learned."

I know this isn't the right attitude and nobody can convince me that it's okay. I can be bitter, but my innocent students should not receive the negativity of my situation.

Luckily, I have some students that have tried to correct my attitude... "Mr. Wright, you need your own negativity jar, because you're making us lose our positivity points." My students realize that I am angry, which isn't good, but they're also trying to help me make it through. Our system of focusing on positivity has helped my students put me back on track.

I'm far from the right track. I'm far from where I normally would be. I have no desire to laugh, I have no desire to talk to people. But I know that as my students help me move forward and as I see the changes that need to be made in my own attitude, things will get better.

I hope that tomorrow will be a better day in my attitude so that my students can continue to succeed. They have worked too hard for me to tell them to give up. They now want to learn. To squash their desire would perhaps ruin it for the rest of their lives... I don't want to be blamed for that.

You were probably expecting some rosy picture as I always paint, but this week is not where I want it to be. There hasn't been much to paint a rosy picture of except my students pushing me to have a better attitude. Thank God I have taught my students something, that a positive attitude matters more than anything else.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Commitment Complex - An Emotional Burden

Something that has interested me since arriving in Cleveland, MS to begin my teacher training back in June, 2012 is my commitment to the "mission."

I've always wondered how committed I was to reforming education and how I was going to do this. I felt like I knew nothing about education's faults and that there was little I could do to actually change them.

Now, nearly 7 months since the start of my journey, I'm teaching my heart out. I love teaching and I love growing my students in character and intellect. I see the changes that need to be made, I identify the holes in our school system and I make the changes I can in my classroom to correct the injustice.

The hardest part though is what I call the commitment complex, that I'm not committed enough. Granted, I tutor at my students' houses weekly, I build literacy initiatives into Algebra I, insert "positivity and respect" character building in the classroom and the list goes on... but it's not enough.

It's an emotional burden to feel the need to stay up all night, to work at all hours to end the injustices but to physically not be able to. At the same time, I'm building my own Jackson community. Perhaps this is all on the path to creating the most change, but I'm impatient.

I want to be that person that in year one has accomplished far more than most teachers accomplish in their entire time. I don't want to be the "best teacher" but rather the "most transformative teacher". I'm not talking Teach For America speak. I'm not talking about being the transformational teacher, I said "transformative."

I want to see the change in Jackson, as a whole. I think that it goes beyond my classroom and spreads throughout my school. There is so much potential and so much passion to back up the initiatives, but it's just never enough.

I want to build a connection and influence those I meet to help me build this momentum but the power to influence takes time, especially in Jackson. I have many connections and networks now, but the ability to use them will take a bit more time as they get to know me and I them.

I don't know how to change this emotional burden into a forward thrust of action, as I am constantly pushing forward already. It's only up and forward with my students, school and district, but I want to see it all happen.

I guess this commitment complex is a blessing in disguise. As Pastor Rhodes said today, "We are all missionaries that must go and teach. We're all destined for greatness."

I'm just waiting for the never-ending desire to do more to turn into something great, something wild that has lasting impacts. Chances are, my time is being spent wisely but the changes are piling up silently. This way, I will forever keep pushing since it will truly never be enough until all is equal.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Are you the CEO of your classroom?

CEO - Chief Executive Officer.

We think of a high-paid corporate person. They make the last decisions that either make a successful business or one that fails like Enron.

But, aren't you a CEO?

The Chief Executive Officer of your own classroom. A leader with a vision for the success of those whom follow.

That's you, that's me.

How do CEOs lead?

Let's think.

They have:

A Vision
Clear Expectations

The most effective CEO has:


Now, reflect... what do you have? If you're Teach For America I know you have a vision... don't lie.

What you must also have is charisma to some degree, otherwise TFA wouldn't have put their trust in you to "sell" their idea.

How can we all grow? Let's focus on our leadership style, not our teaching style.

"Leadership [is] the use of power and influence to direct the activities of followers toward great achievement"

Isn't that what you want?

Students (your followers) that are influenced (by you) with super high-level thinking?


We need to realize that we can and we have to LEAD by influencing and not by assuming our followers will follow.

My students, if left to their own devices, would just wreck havoc in the classroom. I have to give them the opportunity to see their ability to grow. I, the CEO, the leader, must leverage my influence (by building relationships) to show my students that they can.

It's not as easy as it sounds. Business is easy to read, but hard to implement since it takes time to see effects. I assure you, there are ways to ensure that your students see you as a CEO.

For example, try being patient. A student that throws their pencil isn't your enemy. The enemy is the negative energy. Encourage that student with positive words because you are trying to lead him/her toward success.

Try seeing yourself as the CEO, as the leader. Don't let your students lead, but also don't let the "power" go to your head.

DO NOT be that teacher that stops teaching and says "I'm getting my paycheck regardless." or the teacher that screams at their students (another topic to be discussed later as "abusive supervision").

Put yourself in the students' seats just as an effective leader puts themselves in the seats of their followers. See what they see... a screaming adult. Something they might see regularly at home (as you may hear) But if they're getting it at home, maybe YOU should be the person that leads them to better actions. Yelling will not push them to do better long term, it will push them to look for a reaction in the short-term.

Reflect on whether you are an effective leader. Would you follow your vision if you were the student? Would you understand where you were going if you were looking at the goal or expectations? And if you, as the student, understand the vision, goals and expectations because you have an amazing teacher (since you're still in the student mindset) then you must look at if the teacher's actions are effective in manner.

Does he/she react harshly to situations? Does s/he show that s/he cares in some way through positive actions? Does s/he stand yelling at me throughout the day? How does s/he motivate me (perhaps through long-term INTRINSIC motivators of growth, or maybe one-time-only ways of candy/chip rewards)

Seriously, I don't expect you as a first/second year teacher to want to sit and ponder this for long. But take at least the two questions that are highlighted and reflect... and then if your answers say yes to intrinsic motivators and patience in heated situations, you're doing something right. If you're answering in the negative from the point of view of a student, then you may need to change your LEADERSHIP style... not your teaching style. Remember, an ineffective screaming manager spends 25% of their time on conflict. How nice would it be to have 95-100% of your time dedicated to teaching?

Sunday, November 4, 2012

The Days I Want To Cry

It's all my fault when I want to cry. No lie. Yes, all first year teachers go through those emotions, but I burnt out and stopped doing what was keeping me sane -- planning.

I love planning, but teaching is a whole nother level. It's non-stop, everyday. But let me tell you, when I've planned for the day, the day is amazing -- no matter the lessons faultering steps.

The problem is when I'm not feeling planned for the next day. I was just about to cry a couple of hours ago on the phone with my best friend from home. "Boohoo, I miss you, I love you, and I just want to hear your voice and see you."

Ultimately, I wanted to cry because (yes, I missed her) I wasn't feeling adequately planned for the morrow.

Now that I have spent the last 25 minutes really prepping for tomorrow with a better vision of the lesson -- I'm happy. No need for the wine bottle.

I just need to realize that I need to up my game to do what I was doing at the beginning of the year that made me love my job. Prepping for the days adequately and looking at each day as a chance to break ideas down.

I don't really have many behavioral issues anymore. Occasionally, yes. All the time, no. I've controlled them and set those standards -- even my principal has complemented me on staying firm.

Unfortunately, I peaked out on the LPing. I no longer sit for 4 hours to plan 4 LPs with powerpoints and all. I leave the powerpoints and exit tickets to the night before and I start to feel inadequate.

My goal is to change what I can control and to better what can be bettered. If you identify the problem, you're more likely to succeed and I'm aiming to enjoy my job again.

Sincerely, Previously-Disillusioned First-Year