J is my little brother. He is 5 feet and 6 inches tall, weighing about 150 pounds. He attends Leadership Prep Brownsville Middle Academy Charter School in Brooklyn, NY. He is in the 6th grade and significantly larger than his age group peers. Two weeks into his 6th grade year, J gets suspended for slapping a student. His suspension letter reports: “Specifically, J slapped another student in the face while riding the school bus.” He is not allowed to take the school bus for two weeks in addition to the three days he is not allowed to attend classes. He has attended a total of 7 school days out of 10, which equates to a 70% attendance record thus far.


I asked J for his story. “I did not slap that girl.” He is resolute and drops his hands at the sides of both his legs. And when I try to give him every reason he might have had motive, he adamantly insists that he did not slap his classmate, and that he instead went to block her blow and knocked her glasses off in motion.


“Yeh, sure. Cuz I was born yesterday.” I give him leeway. “J, dude, you’re growing. You got ahead of yourself. Maybe you didn’t mean to hit her hard. You don’t have to lie.” Maybe this wasn’t the best choice of words. But I could see the same frustration on his face that would seize the countenances of my black male students when they were wrongfully penalized. I didn’t want to do that to my little brother. “Okay. I’m going to believe you. I’m going to your school tomorrow.”


The Brownsville Middle Academy is one of the highly reviewed charter schools under the UnCommon Schools public charter school system. It is one of two schools in the building, and one of the 23 Uncommon Schools in New York that aims to give poor kids (“poor” is unp.c. for those who qualify for free-lunch) a fair shot at graduating from college. Before showing up at the school, I call the main office to schedule an appointment with the principal or someone who could explain to me why J deserved such a harsh punishment. Let’s be clear, banning J from the school bus for two full weeks punishes his parents more so than him. They can either hustle to coordinate drop-off and pick up times, or chose faith in J making it to school safely on his own via public transportation being black, male, and adult-sized at 11 years old on the L train.


At 8 am, I leave a message with the secretary that I’d like a conversation with the principal about J’s suspension. I am assured that I would receive a call back. Again, I call at 9:30. Still no promise of a return call, and no way to schedule an appointment. How does the principal not have an appointment book? By 11pm, I grow uneasy watching J sit on the couch when I know he needs to be at school. By 12pm, I am seated at the front desk of the Administrative Office. I wait and wait.


What a privilege it was to not be a working parent so that I could attend to my brother’s school matters. Most working parents do not have a flexible time-table; they work during school hours and that’s that. Nor would they have the time to be persistent enough to tease out an appointment with school authority either. I wondered how few parents have the privilege of time to be persistent, because for poor people, time is a privilege. Besides this, most poor parents simply don’t assume that it’s their right to show up to their child’s school whenever they want and for whatever reason. Over the years, I’ve noticed a distinction between parents of different backgrounds engage with their child’s school. Middle class parents tend to feel entitled to show up, ask questions, make academic demands of their child’s school, even if what they were asking for was inappropriate or outright impossible. Parents who’s first language isn’t English demonstrate the polar opposite manners; hardly anything to say besides “Thank You!” and “Okay”. Black parents (yall, hear me out) have a relative easy time coming to their child’s school if there’s a fight to be had on the physical or emotional well-being of their child. Seldom do they show up for anything else though. Even middle class black parents have little to say about what is on their child’s curriculum map, what’s in the student conduct code, or what’s fair about school policy. They don’t review the curriculum maps, the content, the materials and rarely make demands about the need for more kinesthetic activities or black historical texts. But if someone calls their child a name they don’t like, or talks about their hair, Panther moms show up and show out.


I wait to be seen for 3 hours.


At the end of the school day, finally wind gets out that I’m not leaving until some authority addresses me. Out comes Ms. Amy Kiyota, Director of Operations, a cherub-faced seemingly early twenty year old who presumably functions as damage control. She pulls me into a side room, greets me, and thanks me for my patience. She insists that it would be impossible for me have a conversation with the principal as they all have a meeting immediately upon dismissal. She uses lots of fluffy language to assuage my now seething unrest about the topic she learned I came to discuss. She repeatedly refers to the students of the school as “scholars”. She dangles phrases like “for learning” “high standards” “leaders” “zero tolerance” “prepared for college“ in a jumble of sentences that sounds more like a pitch to buy into the school’s mission. She doesn’t speak to the concerns I express about being ignored the whole afternoon. There is barely a moment for me to even mention J’s suspension before I’m invited to accompany her to the doors for dismissal. Before we get up, Ms. Kiyota does clarify one thing for me though: “even for self defense” is a student penalized for inducing physical harm. She gives me her email and assures that the principal would contact me once I sent her an email requesting a planned meeting time.


Despite leaving in poor faith, I receive an email from Principal Mark Stulberg within six hours of sending. He does not acknowledge the failure of my three attempts to simply schedule a meeting with him, but he did the politically safe thing by affirming all the positives I mentioned to him in my very long and very thorough email.


A week later, J is back at school already, and I finally get to have a conversation with Mr.Stulberg. He is a professional educator, and exudes pride in his school. He is approachable and collected upon sight, relaxed shoulders, wide eyes, and slight smile. I listen to his speech about school policy. Again, “zero tolerance” “leaders” and “high standards” seem to weave their way into the justification for J’s suspension. All I ask for are the details of what happened. Mr. Stulberg makes claims that based upon what the other students reported, all affirmed that J “got up, walked over to a girl student, slapped her on the face, and knocked her glasses off,” he says. On the day of suspension, the dean of students wasn’t around, and Mr. Stulberg made the judgment call himself. I ask to see the reports.


Maybe Mr. Stulberg wasn’t prepared for such an explicit request. Ironically, many parents don’t know that it is within their right to ask for proof of your child’s performance. Truth be told, in my Bronx teaching days, I never anticipated needing to present any student work or materials to my parents of color during parent teacher conferences. I would just sit and talk, and parents believed me. Comparatively, middle class parents want to see the grades and hold the graded papers in their hands. I have to be prepared to flip through old quizzes, journals, even tests with their own signatures on them to prove student performance, the good as well as the bad.


Mr. Stulberg retrieves the student reports and read them aloud to me. One after the other, we read four reports of students who were eye witnesses of the said event. Did a single one of them say that J got up, walked over and slapped a girl? Nope! Not a single one.


Now, if you know middle school kids, it’s perhaps the most god awful stage of life, emotionally, socially, and physically. Yet, one thing top tier world class education facilities understand is that the middle schooling years are certainly obliged to teach academics with equal emphasis on socialization skills. It’s critical to use that time to teach kids how to get a grip on their emotions, how to use their words to negotiate through differences, how to apologize with actions, how to grapple with the surging bursts of estrogen and testosterone that torment them. Rich kids fight, pull hair and bully too. And they rarely get suspended for it. Instead, they find themselves meeting with the counselor, who actually has time allotted to counsel them (by the way), and they get mediation with the offended party. Both get guidance on how to use their words to advocate for themselves, as well as, express frustration, disappointment, even anger. Why was J and this student he supposedly assaulted never asked to talk to each other about what happened? Why weren’t they given any guidance about proper conduct on a school bus? And don’t even start to analyze the degradation caused when black boys are unfairly vilified in the learning environment. This is just J’s first round of black manhood versus the world.


I went through the Student Code of Conduct with Mr. Stulberg to discern the behavior violations not met with suspension. There were none. Simple put, every choice of poor conduct was handled with negligence—namely, suspension.


Many folks would retort: “Well, it ain’t the place of the school to teach kids how to behave. It’s the job of the parents!” But you’re fooling yourself if you believe that’s entirely true. Kids come to school to be with their friends. Yes they come to learn, but they are motivated to come to socialize, and all want a positive experience even if that’s not what they’re going to get that day. Why shouldn’t the schoolhouse be a place that they get behavior guidance?


It’s a tough pill to swallow. The schoolhouse has been a socialization institution for forever in the story of man. It is the first place outside the family structure that little people learn to be respectful, to collaborate with others, and to demonstrate independence which they typically don’t get when under the coddling of their parents. Schools may look different across cultures and continents, but the human element requires that we socialize and thereby be socialized to “fit in” with society at large. It’s completely logical and appropriate that school provides a shelter for socialization.


Yes there is an ugly side to this. Historically, our great country used the schoolhouse to “civilize” the Native American Indian and the Negro, making them palatable in a white supremacist society. I went to college across from the historical Carlisle Indian School, which exclusively transformed Indian children in the late 1800’s into western groomed house servants. Black folks were only allowed to receive schooling to be socialized as obedient Christians for hundreds of years. So stop acting like our government would suddenly stop using the school institution to groom it’s underclass.


There is a positive side to this. Schools reflect the hands of society. Schools can catch the slack that parents don’t or simply can’t because if you know a child, you know that it does take a village to raise one well. Today’s parent can’t compete with all of social media’s mixed signally, and so it’s totally reasonable to rely on schools to support nurturing a healthy child. I’m not saying that schools need to be burdened with disciplining delinquent kids. I’ve been hoisted across a room by Blood Gang members that wanted me out of the way so they could jump in a fight in the hallway behind me. Schools must prioritize safety. But if schools and parents collaborated on “teaching” constructive behavior and communication skills (and we don’t have to claim this as perfect world talk either), kids that make behavior mistakes would see the value in choosing responsible action over being reactionary.


World-class top tier international schools mediate conflicts between kids because quality instruction calls for educating the whole child. Why is archaic punitive practices in middle schools still being enforced when the UnCommon Schools claim to be bringing the prep school experience to kids who normally couldn’t afford it?


I say glare into his face and shake my head. I say, “Mr.Stulberg, it doesn’t sound like J got up and maliciously slapped someone at all.”


In one of the reports, a student said that the girl “got up, went over to J, slapped him, so he got mad and slapped her back and she started crying.” Report after report echoes the same words: J “knocked her glasses off.” Mr. Stulberg’s eyes widen.


He does not nod in agreement with my statement, nor does he apologize for misinterpreting the other students’ words. Mr.Stulberg is learned enough to know that the simple words “I’m sorry” would undermine his choice to suspend J. New York educators are equipped with CYA (cover your ass) strategy. Maybe he got the same training I did. Nonetheless, at that point there was an air of tension between us now that it had been made clear that Mr.Stulberg added his own negative language to the accounts, a spin that facilitated slandering J.


I will say this: I truly do believe that Mr. Stulberg is a principled educator who wants to empower his students. Maybe it shocked the hell out of him when it surfaced that some unconscious bias arose in his rash interpretation of what happened on that unsupervised school bus. He is white and male and highly stressed after all. Maybe it was too easy to jump to the conclusion of J’s guilt because a girl was hurt and J is much bigger than her. Either way, J missed three days of school which accounted for 30% of the school year, which was only one week deep at this point. One thing we know for sure is that attendance makes a difference in student performance, and when that student is 11 years old, and black, and male, every minute lost is a tip of the probability scale towards the wrong side.


For J, he feels that his school treated him unfairly, and that no matter what fault is found with him, he will not be able to defend himself. Not even his opinionated fairy-like sister from out of town could win the battle to prove his innocence. Scary.


So folks, alls I’m saying is to keep your eyes open when your kid goes to a charter school just as you would any other public school.


September, 2016

Black children need quality texts that are diverse in content and rich in vocabulary. Our kids deserve “just right” books that speak directly to them! Immerse your reader in books that depict black characters and self-inclusive cultural content to help nurture the text-to-self connection that all good readers ought to develop. The following is a list of books my young readers have loved over the years. Use the chart to help identify books that are at the perfect reading level for your kid. You want your reader to enjoy the process of reading, so if he or she struggles with more than 3 words per 100 words (or about 2 words per page depending on the text) go down a level or two. Old school parents believe in the sink or swim approach to reading. But who practices drowning? Keep your kid’s head floating upward and above the literacy cut point when you reinforce joy in reading.

If you foster the love of reading in your kid, you have a reader for life!





Do NOT expect these reading levels to correlate to each other. They don’t. Also, I needed to use my professional judgment to “guess” reading levels where none (or blatantly misleading levels) were found.




Book Title AGE       Fountas

& Pinell    



Ellray Jakes (series) 6 – 10 J-P 20-38 451-770
The Color of us 4 – 8 M 18 570
Dyamonde Daniel (series) 7 – 9 M 38 630
Alfie’s Great Escape 4 – 7 J 18 480
Little Rhino 6 – 8 K 15-20 540
Skateboard Party 8 – 10 O 30-40 740
Nikki & Deja: Substitute Trouble 6 – 9 N 30 670
Clayton Byrd Goes Underground 8 – 10 P 30-40 740-770
P.S. Be Eleven 8 – 10 O 30-40 770
Gone Crazy in Alabama 8 – 10 P 50 740
Message in the Sky: Corey’s Underground Railroad Diary 6 – 9 M 20-28 610
Luke on the Loose 6 – 7 I 20-28 360
Little Robot 6 – 7 I 20-28 GN170
In the Land of Words 4 – 8 M 28 551-650
Changing You 6 – 9 K 20 501-550
The Pot that Juan Built 8 – 11 Y-Z 50 1000
Honey I Love 6 – 9 L 24 np
Phillis’ Big Test 8 – 9 S-T 40 930
Astrophysicist and Space Advocate Neil Degrasse Tyson 7 – 11 R 40 780
The Girl Who Buried Her Dreams in a Can 6 – 8 O 34 770
Moses: When Harriet Tubman Led Her People to Freedom 6 – 8 N 30 660
It Jes’ Happened: When Bill Taylor Started to Draw 8 – 10 S 40 830
Howard Thurman’s Great Hope 8 – 9 S 40 840
Harriet Tubman and My Grandmother’s Quilts 6 – 9 N 30 651-730
Piano Starts Here: The Young Art Tatum 4 – 8 O 34 750
Major Taylor: Champion Cyclist 9 – 11 S-T 40-50 1020
Sojourna Truth’s Step-Stomp Stride 5 – 8 M 28 650
National Geographic Kids: George Washington Carver 7 – 10 P 38 731-770
Catching the Moon: The Story of Young Girl’s Baseball Dream 8 – 9 M 28-30 640
In Her Hands: The Story of Sculptor Agusta Savage 8 – 11 M 28-40 630
Charlie Parker Played Be Bop 6 – 7 I 16 260
I am Jackie Robinson 5 – 8 M 24-28 610
Jackie Robinson: Baseball Legend 4 – 8 J 18 490
Jackie Robinson: American Hero 6 – 8 F-J 10-18 840
Promises to Keep: How Jackie Robinson Changed America 9 – 11 W-X 40-50 1030
Paul Robeson 5 – 8 F-M 20-24 600
The Closer 8 – 10 S 40 810
Philip Reid Saves the Statue of Freedom 8 – 11 W-X 60 920–1070
Bad News for Outlaws 8 – 11 S 40 860
A Splash of Red 5 – 7 M 28 610
Leotyne Price: Voice of a Century 5 – 9 K 20 501-550
Pele King of Soccer 5 – 8 L 24-28 551-650
Young Pele: Soccer’s First Star 7 – 9 O 30-34 651-770
Gordon Parks 5 – 7 L 20-24 840
Gordon Parks: No Excuses 8 – 9 O 34-38 770
Rosa Parks: My Story 8 – 10 U-V 50 970
Satchel Paige: Don’t Look Back 8 – 9 R 40 840
Jesse Owens: Legendary Track Star 6 – 9 M 24-28 590
Barack Obama 6 – 7 L 20-24 580
Michelle Obama 7 – 10 T 40 880
Barack Obama: Out of Many, One 5 – 8 L 20-24 580
Barack Obama: Son of Promise, Child of Hope 6 – 10 M 28 630
Garrett Morgan 5 – 7 M 24-28 570
Magic Trash 6 – 8 L 20-24 560
I and I Bob Marley 8 – 11 Q-R 40 800
Brittney Griner 7 – 11 O-P 34-38 760
Martin de Porres 5 – 7 M 28 640
Nelson Mandela 7 – 9 N 30 680
National Geographic Kids: Sonia Sotomayor 6 – 9 N 28-30 670
Nelson Mandela 8 – 12 O-P 34-38 770
Who Was Nelson Mandela? 8 – 12 S 40 850
Nelson Mandela 9 – 11 U-V 50 960
Nelson Mandela 9 – 14 S 40 860
The Amazing Age of John Roy Lynch 7 – 10 U-V 50 920
A Nation’s Hope 6 – 8 L 24 np
John Lewis in the Lead 8 – 10 U-V 50 950
José! Born to Dance 5 – 8 M 28-30 720
When the Beat was Born: DJ Kool Herc and the Creation of HipHop 7 – 9 N 30 651-690
Martin Luther King Jr. 8 – 9 Y-Z 70+ 1080
As Good as Anybody 7 – 9 N 24-30 680
Marching with Martin 5 – 8 K-M 20-28 720
Coretta Scott 4 – 8 K-M 24-28 720
Martin Luther King Jr.: Civil Rights Leader 4 – 8 K-M 24-28 500
National Geographic Kids: Martin Luther King, Jr. 7 – 8 M 28 630
Mahalia Jackson: Walking with Kings and Queens 4 – 8 F-J 10-18 500
Zora Hurston and the Chinaberry Tree 7 – 9 N 24-30 540
Art from Her Heart: Folk Artist Clementine Hunter 6 – 8 T 40 870
Poet: The Remarkable Story of George Moses Horton 8 – 10 N-Q 30-40 730
I, Matthew Henson: Polar Explorer 6 – 11 Y-Z 70+ 1070
Jimi: Sounds Like a Rainbow 6 – 9 U-V 50 900
Skit-Scat Raggedy Cat: Ella Fitzgerald 8 – 11 S 40 820
Ella Fitzgerald: The Tale of a Vocal Virtuosa 6 – 10 S 40 700
Duke Ellington 5 – 9 S 40 800
Frederick Douglass: The Lion Who Wrote History 4 – 8 F-J 10-18 450-540
Anthony Davis 7 – 11 T-U 40 780
Mo’ne Davis: Remember My Name 9 – 13 T 40 890
George Washington Carver 5 – 8 L-M 20-28 520
Ruby Bridges Goes To School: My True Story 4 – 7 F-J 10-18 470
Hank Aaron: Brave in Every Way 4 – 7 S 40 850
Queen of the Track: Alice Coachman Olympic High Jump Champion 8 – 10 W-X 50 790
I am Cleopatra 8 – 10 Y-Z 70+ 1030
Marian Anderson: Amazing Opera Singer 5 – 8 K-L 20-24 570
Marian Anderson: A Voice Uplifted 10- 14 Z+ 70+ 1210
When Marian Sang 7 – 10 T-U 40 780
Twelve Rounds to Glory: The Story of Muhammad Ali 10 – 15 Z+ 70+ 1230
Muhammad Ali: The People’s Champion 5 – 8 T-U 40 770
The Champ: The Story of Muhammad Ali 5 – 8 T-U 40 760
Alvin Ailey 5 – 9 T 30 880
Ira’s Shakespeare Dream 8 – 10 T-U 40 780
Henry Aaron’s Dream 8 – 12 W-X 60 920
I Love My Hair 5 – 7 S 40 840
Black is Brown is Tan 4 – 8 K 20-24 540
Black Pioneers of Science and Invention 9 – 11 Y-Z 70+ 1230
Shades of Black: A Celebration of Our Children 2 – 3 A-F 6-10 np
Please, Baby Please 2 – 5 C-E 6-10 np
The Snowy Day 2 – 8 C-J 10-18 500
I like myself 5 – 9 L 24-28 230
I Got the Rhythm 4- 6 J 18 170
I’m a Pretty Little Black Girl 3 – 6 F 10 300
Chocolate Me! 3 – 6 H 14 330
Hair Like Mine 3 – 6 H 14 330
Just Because I Am 4 – 8 H 20 330
Mixed Me! 3 – 7 H 20 330
Black Business 10 – 15 Z+ 70+ 1230
One Love 2 – 5 F 10 NP
I’m Awesome Because 2 – 5 F 10 NP
Amazing Grace 7 – 10 N 30 680
The Tar Beach 5 – 8 L 24-28 790
The People Could Fly 8 – 10 P-S 38-40 660
Henry’s Freedom Box: A True Story from the Underground Railroad 7 – 9 J-N 24-30 490
One Crazy Summer 8 – 11 P-S 38-40 750L
Whistle for Willie 3 – 5 J 18 490L
Precious and the Boo Hag 6 – 8 L-M 24-28 640L
Last Stop on Market Street 3 – 5 H-J 14-18 610
Daddy Calls Me Man 2 – 5 A-F 1-10 np
Full Full Full of Love 2 – 5 F 10 np
Bitty Bop Barbershop 4 – 7 J 18 550
We Had a Picnic This Sunday Past 4 – 8 L-M 20-28 570
Visiting Day 5 – 7 J-K 18-20 520
Pecan Pie Baby 5 – 8 M 28 560

Sept 3rd, 2015

This is my response to a birthday shout-out from Shanik, a former student of mine from when I was teaching high school history. Shanik has just become a high school teacher herself. She offers me her words of encouragement and admiration. Nowadays, we inspire each other.


Via Whatsapp, I say:
I’m asked everyday if it was worth spending so much time in NYC under the pressure of the DOE (Department of Education). Sometimes, I get bitter, just a little bit, thinking about that awful environment and how it had me feeling stuck. I was consumed by negativity.
But you, woman now, reaffirm that I didn’t waste time, I didn’t defer my dream (to live overseas), I didn’t linger cuz I was scared of letting go of security. There was a job to do. Still is, even though it ain’t for me right now. I got a chance to make a connection with at least one more brilliant mind. The job gave me that. The job gave me you. So keep on! You flap your wings and may you never tire.
You’ll be better at it than I for sure. And I will celebrate you the whole way through.



Let me be very clear: I believe that the joys and merits of my teaching experience back in NYC, back at home, could ever be matched anywhere in the world. I am usually beaming with pride when my old New York City students and I cross paths again, and they spout off something amazing about their lives to me. Jillian, Shanik’s classmate, flew to South Africa on a business trip and aloud me to host her and her colleagues for an evening. How’s that for a full circle!

Kemar just hit me on facebook with words of gratitude. He is leading his own consulting firm. And Joel is a principal of his own school. The list goes on. Across the board, I had no flipping clue in who I was investing my sweat and, on quite a few occasions, tears. But I’m grateful to feel that challenging them when they challenged me made a difference in their lives. It was an investment in my home community. It is by God’s grace that I get the rare privilege of hearing from their mouths that I laid a helping hand on them, and perhaps nudged them in the direction of life success—however they so live up to it. And I encourage any educator, especially educators of color, to start their work at home.


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.

The profession of teaching is wonderful, especially when you believe that you’ve been called to serve in the role of transforming minds and busting up social inequality. There’s a special place in heaven for you. And sometimes this task can exhaust you of the heart with which you started. It’s okay soldier.

So treat yourself to an adventure—a self-defining life journey. Sharpen your edges again by expanding your skill set. Don’t worry about being a “sell-out”. Le struggle will be there for you when and if you decide to return.

If interested, here are some suggested steps to getting an overseas teaching position:


Steps for Overseas Teaching

  1. Get your papers in order.

Many folks are out here telling y’all that it’s easy to go overseas and land a teaching gig. And if you want to teach English in anybody’s language school, than there’s plenty of truth in that. But if you want a quality academic school post offering one of those sweet (near) all expense-paid contract, then you need a piece of paper from an accredited American/western institution. I don’t know what you’re incentive is for going overseas, but my priorities were in this order: first, adventure; second, make money, and; third, improve the quality of my life. If you’re certified with a degree in education at the BA level at least, you can land a job at any academic or exclusively language. Get copies of your diploma, and all other documents pertaining to your trainings scanned and uploaded to Google Docs or DropBox. Be sure to include any documentation of attended workshops on bullying, autism, CPR, abuse awareness, and even your practicum review forms if you can find them. Professional development records, even better. Tidy up and modernize your resume for sure, and get a new passport if you have less than five blank pages.


2. Let go of the location fixation!

Open your mind to the world. When I first looked to teach overseas, there was only one place in the world I wanted to go. Brazil…oh, how you enchanted my heart. It is my god’s honest truth that I still believe I received a message from the divine telling me that my spirit was created in Brazil. And despite every effort I made, all Brazilian doors slammed hard in my face. My resume caught no ones attention, and the few interviews I landed yielded cold hard rejections. After a month of depression and self-pity, I divorced my location fixation, shelved my dreams of Brazil, and cast my net out into the world. I applied for positions in 18 different countries. And after 30 interviews, I got offers from two schools. My choice: South Africa. And I haven’t looked back since.


  1. Register with an international teaching recruitment agency.

Lots of the upper tier internationals schools rely on Search Associates, International School Search or Association of American Schools in South America to staff their schools. They trust these organizations to filter out illegitimate teacher picks. For you, these organizations do the favor of systematizing your school search. On their databases, you can search for schools by position availability, region, etc. and can get a preview of salary and benefits packages. They also host hiring fairs all over the world. Furthermore, if you’re new to international teaching, attendance of a fair is a rite of passage. After you’re in, you’re in. Yes, these recruitment organizations cost money and the service is certainly worth it. But what’s great is that they store your records so that you want have to go through that record entry stage again when looking for your next gig.

Also, below are links to recruitment services for language school job placement, in case you don’t want to go the academic school route.

Teach Away

Teach to Travel

Teach English Abroad

The International Educator


  1. Find cheerleaders.

Recruit colleagues, admin, and parents to fill out recommendations on your behalf. Before you can actually start navigating the job search sites, you’ll need to complete your profile with confidential references.


  1. Be aggressive.

Send an email to the HR department directly introducing yourself and your interest to fill in a posted or potential position at the school. Mention if you’ll be in attendance at a hiring fair and express interest in scheduling a conversation before or during the fair. Make phone calls if you get no response, especially if the school is not attending a fair or was your random find from a Google search.


  1. Have endurance.

This process can be tedious, especially if you have particular goals. Heck–even after you get the job, you’ll need to begin the visa requirement gathering process, which may or may not be a marathon. I broke down in deep open mouth sobs in the Qatar Consulate in NYC because they told me that I had three more steps to go before I could get my last stamp of approval this past June.  Just assume you’ll never be finished until you’ve crossed the finish line.