In “Why Teachers of Color Quit,” Amanda Machado weighs in on the conversation about poor retention of teachers of color in the United States urban schools. Being of Hispanic descent, the lens Machado uses is specifically elucidating for those whose experiences too have been diminished by the more popular narrative of the “great white hope” teacher struggle. I’m tired of teacher flicks starring the white manic pixie who while wrestling her personal demons simultaneously wins over brown children, and rescues them from the certain disparity of their bleak little lives. (Ya’ll remember Dangerous Minds and Freedom Riders don’t ya?)
Machado details her personal account of enduring the pressures of being a new teacher to urban black and latino youth, critically aware of the consequences of failure: both hers and her students. She divulges how being an urban TOC lends to true martyrdom. “The job became almost a matter of life and death,” Machado says. Like so, she highlights the sense of urgency felt to deliver impeccable instruction to her students, who she knew needed a quality learning experience if they were to outstand the lags of institutional poverty. TOC know the societal damage caused by a failing educational system, and compete with both this image and the weight of personal defeat in everything that they do. Every breath and spill of ink adds up to success or doom.
As many TOC look to serve the communities they’re from, they don’t anticipate cracking under the unforeseen pressures mentioned in Machado’s article. I know I didn’t. She begins with the back story of what lead her to eventually join Teach for America in 2010. The daughter of self made middle class Mexican immigrants, Machado helps her readers understand why tolerating the lowliness of being an underpaid, overworked, and undervalued teacher, further serves as a slap in the face to the sacrifices of family counting on her success. To be frank, TOC are often suffocated by our own sense of altruism. While our white colleagues get recognition, accolades, even promoted for their service in the trenches of public education, we lay unseen beneath the trenches. This is her last straw. She says, “…with our academic accomplishments comes pressure to choose a career that proves you have truly ‘made it’.” Plenty TOC share this burden. Machado found Teach for America reported that 39% of their recruited teachers of color were Pell-grant recipients in college, so they too have to prove the merits of the education they received.
Surely, these commonly shared experiences contradicts what new TOC would expect when they choose to teach—a seemingly honorable choice of a profession, promising to help kids like you yourself once were. Machado renders that she does not regret her two-year stint, and praises Teach for America for its good intentions. I know I surely don’t regret the seven years I put in to the New York City public school system. Every time I come home from my travels, the adult faces of my old students greet me on subway platforms, on the street, in stores and sometimes even at the club. My students love to brag about their adult lives; always quick to tell me that they’re in college, or that they’re married, or especially what place in the world they’ve just come back from on vacation. But, I certainly don’t want to sign up for another teaching stint back on the home front…just yet. In order to increase the TOC pool, Machado urges to restore the image of the teacher in society. When Machado announced that she was leaving the school to her students, many of whom had openly expressed appreciation and pride in the mere image of Machado as at least one Latina success story in their lives, some of them encouraged her to leave; a dejected view of being a teacher. “Even children could recognize that teaching was not a profession to aspire to,” she says. If the US wants to retain teachers of any ethnicity, particularly TOC, start by improving salaries, hours, and publicly promote the privileges of teaching so as to project dignity in doing the job. My students said the same thing when I told them I was leaving. And to be honest, I remember asking my favorite teachers in grade school why in the world they would choose to teach when they could do so much more with their lives. Teaching doesn’t sound like honorable work.
But I love teaching, and I’m damn good at it. I wish somedays I could go back in time and be the teacher I am now for the students I had first, and give them the good stuff I picked up with a decade of skill building. I am sad to admit that I don’t have the interest in reliving the abuse of the NYC Public School System, the bureaucratic nonsense, the angry administrators, the standardize testing race, just to placate my own fantasy of doing it all over again better. I miss bumping into students at church and at the 711 on the Grand Concourse, fixing their collars and reminding about tomorrow’s homework. Maybe, I always will.