Listen as Shawnta S. Barnes discusses how she navigates questions from white colleagues that ask her to speak on behalf of her entire race.
Almost every month, there is a report of a child’s education being thwarted because of dress code violations. Students have been assigned detention, suspended, or sent home as a consequence. Some policies seem to target students of certain races and backgrounds and police what is acceptable for them as a person living in our society.
As schools are getting back in session across the nation, we already have a report of another incident. Six-year-old first-grade student C.J. Stanley was sent home from a school he won a scholarship to attend school because he wore his hair in dreadlocks.
According to A Book’s Christian Academy’s handbook, “All boys hair must be a tapered cut, off the collar and ears. There are to be no dreads, Mohawks, designs, unnatural color, or unnatural designs.” This is my 13th year as an educator and I have never had my lessons ruined due to students’ hair color or style.
In response to the public backlash, John Book, Director A Book’s Christian Academy said, “You can see my school, it’s probably 95 percent black. Obviously, I am not a racist. [...] But we try to uphold certain Biblical standards and certain degrees of order that enable us to maintain a school.”
Let me break down this director’s statement and school policy.
- Being around black people does not mean you are not racist. Having a school that is majority black does not mean that your school policies are not racist. I wonder how many black boys at this Christian academy would like to wear their hair in twists, braids, or dreads, but can’t because their parents decided to sacrifice an appropriate way to style black hair so they could attend the school.
- How does long hair interfere with Biblical standards? Besides the manager displays during Christmas, every depiction of Jesus I have seen has him with long hair. Isn’t it a shame that Jesus couldn’t even attend this Christian school?
- We know that dreadlocks is a hairstyle that is typically worn by black people. When you have a policy that excludes a hairstyle that is worn by people in a particular community, it is racist. It is another form of policing black bodies. People are attached to their hair and to make a six-year-old child feel that his hair that has the curl pattern to dread is a problem is unacceptable.
I’m glad the parents switched him to another school because a child should not have to change an aspect of himself that does not interfere with his education because a school leader has a lack of understanding of the children his school is serving.
I attended and wrote about several of the community meetings where Indianapolis Public Schools was seeking input from the community about moving from seven high school campuses to four. One comment I heard at most meetings was about concerns of fights and violence breaking out during the 2018-19 school year. Under IPS high school choice model, which began this school year, students chose their high school based on the academies offered that aligned with their interests. Many community members believed students from various IPS neighborhoods would not be able to co-exist and there would be fights.
Unfortunately, less than two weeks into the new school year, the prediction came true. On Thursday, August 16, a fight that began inside the cafeteria spilled outside onto Arsenal Tech’s large campus. There were various reports with contradicting numbers of how many students were involved, but many reports said hundreds. According to a statement released by IPS:
Eight students suffered minor injuries. Most were treated on the scene, but three were transported to the hospital for further attention. One student hyperventilated, a second student had a hand injury and a third student injured their ankle.
Thirteen students were arrested and charged with disorderly conduct.
As reported by RTV6, student Tamia Murray was suspended for three days for filming the fight and Indy Star reported many students were sprayed with pepper spray and parents had difficulty picking up their children after the incident due to communication issues with the school.
Where does IPS go from here? Yes, the district put in extra security measures after the incident, but will that be enough? As a person, who experienced pepper spray in my eyes and throat last year while working in an IPS high school, I can tell you that it is not easy to go back to business as normal. Even when it did get back to ‘normal,’ it made me wonder if I would get caught up in pepper spray again by just doing my job.
This incident was bad press IPS does not need especially when the district is trying to convince the community to vote for the upcoming referendum. This situation makes me wonder if other community members’ concerns will come true. Maybe it is time to review those community comments again and be more proactive instead of reactive in the future.
The 2017 – 2018 school year was one of the deadliest on record in regard to shootings. Indiana, unfortunately, was not spared from that trend, with the Noblesville shooting occurring towards the tail end of last school year.
Last Friday, Gov. Eric Holcomb released a list of recommendations to improve school safety.
There were 18 total recommendations and they were broken down into three different categories:
1. Enhanced mental health services
2. Safety equipment, technology, tools, and training
3. Policy or legislative considerations regarding school safety
Some of the highlights of the specific suggestions were:
· Require active shooter drills in schools
· Increased law enforcement officer presence in schools
· Sustained funding for school safety grants
· Incorporate school safety training into teacher training programs
Indiana’s report is an attempt to follow the national trend of addressing school safety at multiple levels as opposed to traditional wisdom simply “hardening” facilities:
To remain a national leader in school safety, Indiana must address gaps in areas that that go beyond hardening our buildings and training to respond to incidents. This report suggests Indiana address these issues and more by enhancing existing funding sources and programs related to school safety. In addition, it recommends an increased emphasis on enhanced and expanded mental health services as well as the adoption of additional equipment and technology impacting school safety.
Read the full report here.
My fellow Indy/Ed writer Andrew Pillow recently wrote, “Compensation is the Main Reason I Think About Leaving the Classroom.” I know many educators who can relate to his thoughts, but compensation is also the reason teachers hop from district to district in Indianapolis. Indianapolis is an interesting city where we have eleven different school districts in operating within the boundaries of our city. This means eleven different school district pay scales.
My situation is different; pay is not a leading factor when choosing my job, but I still want to be paid what I am worth like my husband is. My husband, who is a Senior Database Administrator - Oracle Team Lead for the State of Indiana makes a decent salary, so my salary does not affect our family for the most part. We are trying to become completely debt free so it is helpful when I have a high salary. Since money isn’t a factor, I have only switched jobs because I wanted to try a new role or because the culture of the school was toxic. To give you an idea of the difference in pay scales between the 11 school districts in Indy, the largest pay raise I earned from switching districts in Indianapolis was $10,000 and the largest pay cut I took was $5,000. Even though I really wanted the job I took when I took the pay cut, I felt angry that I had to take a pay cut to get the position I wanted. Note: If you read some of my other Indy/Ed pieces, you know that I have earned stipends during my career. The amounts I mentioned does not include stipends, just my base pay.
Here are some reasons why 11 different pay scales in Indy is a problem:
1. Teachers stay at schools they dislike.
When I earned the huge pay raise, I discovered that a few of my colleagues wanted to leave. They would complain all the time about the district, the school, and the difficult kids. The reason they stayed is because the suburbs they lived in would pay them less or a neighboring Indy school district would also pay them less and they couldn’t afford a pay cut. There’s nothing worse than a teacher teaching in a school that he or she doesn’t like.
2. Teachers leave schools mid-year for better compensation.
Many teachers have student loans and other financial obligations and are barely holding their heads above water. They have no choice but to choose between their well-being and their school which means some will take a higher paying job mid-year even though this is not ideal for their students they are leaving behind.
3. Teachers can’t live their best lives
Teachers should not have to postpone their dreams because they decided to become a teacher. I heard teachers say they are delaying beginning a family because they can’t afford it. Some teachers have put off pursuing a master’s because they don’t want more student loan debt and Indiana went away from giving teachers pay raises for obtaining more education so that doesn’t help.
4. It hurt students
There is no secret that the hardest schools to staff are schools that have a high number of minority students and/or students living in poverty. Part of the reason this occurs is because those schools many times pay thousands of dollars less than other school districts. Students have long-term subs because no one was ever hired or the teacher left during the year for a higher paying job.
Until compensation evens out in Indianapolis we will continue to have a merry-go-round of teachers switching districts. This isn’t good for Indianapolis students.
Schools all over the country are opening their doors for the 2018-2019 school year. Unfortunately, some of them are going to open without enough teachers. Many school districts are in the midst of an extreme teacher shortage. Some districts are getting creative to try and fix the problem, trying everything from reducing the barriers to entry to importing teachers from different countries. However, deep down most people know where to start to fix the problem, compensation.
As an 8th year teacher, I now have a pretty firm grasp of the teacher compensation conversation. I am recently married and attempting to start a family. Only can I now see the built-in limitations of the profession from a long-term sustainability standpoint.
There is a well-known Chinese food restaurant chain down the street in my neighborhood. It’s by a college campus so employee turnover is pretty high. About once a year they have a “Now hiring managers” sign in the front window. The sign also outlines the starting salary for the job. I have been teaching since 2011 and get around a 1 to 3% raise every year. This year is the very first year I walked by that sign and the number listed was less than what I make now.
That’s no slight at fast-food managers. It's not an easy job. However, it doesn’t require a bachelor's or master’s degree. From a job marketplace standpoint, why would I rack up five years worth of student loans to get a job that doesn’t pay me as much as the manager position I’m already qualified for?
I ask myself that question every time I walk past that sign.
Let me be clear: The only reason I ever think about leaving the classroom is pay.
There are a number of reasons that teachers leave the classroom. Articles that list the main causes of teachers quitting the profession often cite working conditions, long hours outside of school, less autonomy, etc, but no matter what list you look at, compensation will be near the top. People who truly want to be teachers will accept the other challenges that come along with it if they are compensated fairly. They might even accept it if they aren’t compensated fairly…for a while. Then something happens, you get married, have kids and realize you can’t be as selfless at work as you once were. There is a reason many teachers quit within the first five years.
This is the case I find myself in now. I find myself budgeting for the high cost of childcare for my future kids in my head when I sleep at night and then, of course, skyrocketing cost of college. And, I still have to be able to retire after that too.
My family will be fine. My state doesn’t pay teachers much but my school, for the most part, pays pretty well, relative to the surrounding public schools at least. I also have a couple of side hustles. I have no student loans hanging over my head. Two incomes are always better than one and my wife makes good money, though she had to leave the classroom and become and an administrator to do it.
It is important for me to be a teacher. I can take being overworked and long hours of grading papers outside of school. And in a marriage with two middle-class salaries, no children or outstanding student loan debts, I can afford to ignore those signs for GED entry-level work that pays significantly more than the job I went to college for, but there are a whole lot of teachers who don’t fall into that category. So, we shouldn’t be surprised when they leave for better opportunities.