Saturday, November 7, 2015

Overheard at a Bestuy Cafe: Observations from an Educator's Perspective

I wrote the below very quickly and a bit passionately while the experience was fresh in my mind.  I will go in and revise at some point, or maybe I won't, but here goes.

So I just had an interesting experience at a Bedstuy cafe.  I was writing in my journal about how the “conversation" I was hearing at the table near me between a white woman (teacher/mentor/tutor) and a black boy (about 9 or 10 years of age) was very similar to the one I had overheard earlier between a teacher/mentor (white woman) and a high school student (Southeast Asian, maybe), when the woman said to me, “I know how it looks, but it’s not like that.”  Without addressing the obvious, that she was reading what I was writing, I shifted my body and energy towards her, and opened myself up for a discussion.

Basically she was firing questions at the boy, as he was eating his crepe and drinking a hot chocolate about writing an essay and using math strategies, when he became upset.  She asked why he was upset, and getting no answer, she said it’s okay if he’s upset with her and continued to prod. This was with out giving him anytime to process the situation, perhaps why he was upset and what got him to that point.  That, along with the way she communicated with him, as though he was a mid-teenager at least, told me that she didn’t really have any understanding about how to effectively communicate with children, especially ones who may be frustrated or overwhelmed or not that into having that conversation on a Saturday afternoon.

Earlier, she had had asked the boy what made him angry and after rephrasing the question a few times, she finally replaced "angry" with "frustrated."  I was a bit relieved that she did because a boy doesn't need to be angry to write a persuasive essay.  Why not speak to young people about passions, what they care strongly about?  It doesn't always have to come from a place of anger, though it is very okay if it does.  Nonetheless, I could tell by the way she communicated with the boy that she worked for a charter school, which she confirmed in a roundabout way when I asked her at some point.  Basically, what she was missing and I told her this, was that she was talking to a child, and asking him why he wasn’t doing certain things in rapid succession is ineffective at best.  And if she had gotten my “critique” before, as she said she had, then perhaps she should reflect as to why her intentions and the perceptions from the outside don’t match when it comes to the way she deals with children, presumably young black children.  I also suggested that she incorporate social emotional skills into her “sessions” so that perhaps the boy, and others, can answer those types of questions comfortably.  Being comfortable, or "safe" as she put it came up in our conversation.  Safe being as she put it, a "loaded" word.  I didn't go there with her, as I felt some basics needed to be addressed.  I also reminded her that many adults wouldn’t feel comfortable answering that either, and that she has to consider the many factors that go into how a person communicates, especially children.

I don’t think she was expecting all this when she comfortably let me know that she had read my journal, but after our conversation I still think what I originally wrote stands: here is another instance in the span of thirty minutes where an egotistical mentor/teacher/tutor is loudly proclaiming through their actions for all to hear that they are saving another young person of color or being the factor that ensures their eventual success.  I also named it as "White Privilege" and wrote "get back!"

Thanks to mindfulness practices, and the community hot yoga class I participated in earlier, I spoke to her calmly and in a way that she could hear me.  At one point, she assumed my choosing my words carefully was me trying to speak nicely or sugar-coat what I was intending to say.  But I let her know that it is important to me to speak clearly, in a way that others' can receive what I am saying.  And also I let her know that this is my perception, shaped from my nearly ten years teaching/mentoring and coaching in DOE middle schools and high schools as a special educator.  The fact that I am of color, went unsaid, though I'm sure not unnoticed.

As for the earlier instance, the girl had gotten an interview for admission to Columbia University and instead of asking what support she need or concerns had, her mentor intensely fired a bunch of suggestions and demands the girl's way.  Not once did she ask the girl any type of question; it was all assumption based.  And while I'm sure she could support the girl in this process, I'm concerned with the lack of regard she showed towards encouraging and cultivating the girl's own voice.

Until next time, each one teach one still stands.



  1. As always, your observations were so on point! Good for you for making it a teachable moment. She is now forced to reflect on her practice. The little boy, and the other children she comes into contact with will be better for it.

    1. Thank you for your comment and thanks for reading. I've come to realize that reflection is so important in growing one's practice!