Updated: Dec 9, 2020
We’ve all faced a moment or two (or 100) where we have felt fearful and unsure of our next steps. If one is connected to their inner self, you probably are a lot like me. You hear your inner man wrestling with thoughts, ideas, and visions that have been planted within you (for me...God sends me these ideas and visions). The wrestling occurs because I am not sure of the outcome and am stalling my dreams’ full development into reality. This fear is quite natural though, but if not dealt with productively, can be the root to unrealized greatness that I believe is rooted within us all.
So to provide a bit of context, let me go back to my childhood. As a kid, I always played school and was always in a position of leadership. I led the school choir, led most of the work groups I was in at school, and I was the oldest of four so leadership came quite naturally. The funny thing is though...I never dreamed of actually becoming a teacher but I did enjoy imparting knowledge and sharing my gifts and talents with others. So fast forward to adulthood...I went to college, graduated with an English-Professional Writing degree and thought...What can I do with this degree?
So I searched for careers and one of the options was teaching. I pondered the idea, scoped out the pay, and thought...why not? As I began my teaching career, I immediately enjoyed working with middle schoolers and relished in the immediate connection I made with my students; I was hooked! So since 2008 in Memphis, TN, I have been educating and empowering the youth and now I am blessed to work with educators striving towards being fully culturally responsive. My passion for teaching and reaching beyond the curriculum grew as the relationships with my students grew. I began to take in the massive need my students had to experience love within the school walls. But I couldn’t deny the extreme gap between grade-level expectations and my students’ current displays of intelligence. It was mind blowing!!!
I couldn’t understand for the life of me why children in the 8th grade were reading on a second grade level. I mean, for real y’all... I. WAS. STUNNED!!! So as a new teacher, I had an amazing mentor (Shoutout Ms. D. Mickey) who actually gave me meaningful content, strategies, and ideas to first connect with my students through establishing routines that would create a space conducive to teaching and learning. Students were used to running off new teachers, but they didn’t know me. There was no (insert expletive) in my blood!
So I took off and began to really reach and teach my students and was motivated by the incremental gains and changes.
My goal to work with students went far beyond just reaching data goals, but actually giving them a hope for the future and shining the light on the greatness that was already planted within them. So here is where fear came in...there were teachers (oddly those who looked like me- a black woman) that did NOT believe in the intellectual ability of our students. They would make comments like “these kids can’t read” and “you have to curse them out because that’s what they understand”. But for me, I never felt comfortable with that sort of mindset informing my work and practice with my young scholars. I made a bold choice to reject those sad sentiments and decided to go against the grain. I went against what other teachers believed would work, those who had been teaching longer than I had, and developed a program where young ladies could talk and work together with me to explore the trope of womanhood and integrity as growing young ladies in neighborhoods where violence and poverty were top tier. And I persisted…
I chose to courageously face the fear of ridicule, shame, and rejection from my peers so that my students could know that I was not that teacher that would curse them, not that teacher that would shame and ridicule them, not that teacher that would reject them and embarrass them in front of the class...I chose to NOT conform to the typical behavior of other teachers who did NOT believe in our students. I faced the fear of not belonging so that my students could feel like they did belong. That first taste of professional fear has been the foundation to my purpose and is oftentimes a great marker for reflection when I am reassessing my teaching philosophy and recalibrating my focus and alignment with my greater purpose: to serve.
Now we are at a moment in time where I am facing my fears everyday through entrepreneurship. Starting and maintaining your own business is challenging, but well worth it when the mission and vision of your business align with the purpose and calling for your life. I know that I was called here to serve God by serving His people. And the people I serve are young adults...those loose-lipped (as my parents would say as one of their old school sayings) middle schoolers and high schoolers who think they know everything (just like I did). I think back to those feelings of disconnection, isolation, and confusion I faced as a young woman growing up in a world where I had little control over my environment, but yet was trying to make sense of things I did not fully understand. My experience fueled my purpose and serves as my testimony for those times I share my personal struggles and victories with my young scholars. When I remember my “why”, the fear of how, what, when, and where begins to subside.
I won’t front like they magically disappear, but I consciously decide that my purpose is bigger than this temporal emotion of fear. My calling is what pushes my yes; it pushes me to remain in tact with what I am called to do and why I am called to do it. So I persisted past the fear and wrote and published an E-book, created resources, and even launched a Soul Scholar Apparel line and with every new thing I created and pushed out to the world, fear was right there knocking at the door of my heart attempting to invade those treasures planted deeply within. But the choice I made to walk in faith believing that “everything I do that aligns with my purpose will prosper” superseded the fear that attempted to delay and deny the creations that were destined to come forth.
Here are a few things I keep in mind when I am working to move beyond the fear:
I make a choice each and every day to continue in stride towards productivity and meaningful, reflective practice.
I am determined to NOT make room for my thoughts, when rooted in fear, to take a life of their own. IF, and only IF, I allow them to take root, and continue to water them with more pessimistic thinking, fear wins. Fear CANNOT win!
I refer back to my purpose and practice and self-inquire… “Am I creating this for notoriety, vainglory, and the acceptance of folks? Or am I creating this to empower and educate educators’ mindsets and practice so that they can do the WORK effectively?”
Fear upheaval begins in the mindset and is carried out through our ability to JUST DO IT! Even if fear is present...JUST DO IT! Even when others may doubt and try to rain on your parade...JUST DO IT! Even if you doubt your own abilities, refer back to your purpose and research the HELL out of the topic, do the work, and put your best forward...JUST DO IT!
The presence of fear may NEVER be annihilated while we are here on Earth, but neither should our persistence and determination to keep going. If you’re just starting out on your culturally responsive teaching journey, it WILL feel overwhelming and your brain will perceive some moments more as a THREAT than an OPPORTUNITY, but JUST DO IT!
Keep learning more about you and your foundation.
Understand how your foundation informs your biases, perceptions, and assumptions and CHECK THEM DAILY!
Do the work of researching and learning the roots and meanings of culturally responsive teaching and equitable education.
Make a commitment each day to conquer the fear and practice cultural responsiveness until it takes hold through the concept of automaticity. And even then, keep checking those biases, keep learning, keep reflecting, and keep growing.
You won’t always feel like you’re doing it right and sometimes that comes with lower levels of cultural competency, in addition to those thoughts of “I can’t reach those kids because I don’t relate to those kids”. But remember: you were a kid once.
Learn more, connect more, reflect more, and then correct more.
In order to grow, it takes being connected with others. Within the work of culturally responsive teaching, it is important to learn from those of us who are BIPOC educators and leaders who do this work. I am currently offering my E-book Making Culturally Responsive Teaching Work on sale now as a tool to help facilitate the journey towards becoming more culturally responsive.
Head over to the "Shop" tab (or click here) and make your purchase today. This E-book offers an overview of background information on culturally responsive teaching. While this is not a fully comprehensive text, it is a great starting point to help teachers understand this arduous, but necessary work. In addition, the resources provided in the back of the book offer teachers a great starting point to begin their practice.
Here's a sneak peek into our chapters and the resources at the end:
CRT...What's the Buzz? Defining CRT.
It All Starts with the Mind: Identifying, Challenging, and Overcoming Implicit Bias.
Let's Break it Down: Understanding the Terminology and Theoretical Framework of CRT.
The Role of Social-Emotional Learning
The Need for Rigor
Restorative Justice in a Nutshell.
Our resource guide includes the 12 Terms Every Educator Should Know and the Benefits of CRT guides to provide background knowledge around equity in education and CRT. We have also designed a series of instructional and behavioral checklists to assist educators and administrators on their CRT journey. Lastly, our lesson plan template aligns with the Understanding by Design (UBD) framework which focuses on the bigger picture...what do we want students to know and what essential question should students be able to answer by the end of this lesson/unit?
Melanie Desmuke-Battles, PhD is a 12 year educator who has worked the majority of her career in the inner-city loving on BICOC. For the last few years, since she has attained her doctoral degree in Reading Education, she is now an instructional coach and the founding consultant for Scholars for the Soul. She is passionate about helping teachers to become culturally responsive through an ongoing commitment to self-reflection, self-evaluation, mentorship, and growing their teaching practice towards equity and high student achievement both academically and socially. Dr. Battles is a woman of God, wife, and mother of two daughters. In addition to instructional coaching, she teaches as an adjunct professor at a local community college and serves her community through mentorship, volunteer work, and by building familial relationships with the teachers, students, and families she serves. Stay connected to Scholars for the Soul: Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/scholars4thesoul/ Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/scholars4thesoul/ Website: scholarsforthesoul.com