So much can be said about love. The beloved 1 Corinthians verses, such as “Love is patient, love is kind” (1 Corinthians 13:4–8a), are in many a wedding ceremony. But it’s when life gets hard that we draw on God’s love, who we love, and who loves us. Dr. Melvin E. Banks, the founder of UMI (Urban Ministries, Inc.), has 25 biblically based, two-minute podcast shorts that cover tough love, love and sorrow, love and relationships, beloved hymns, unconditional love, peace and love, and loving Jesus.
Anyone familiar with the schedule kept by the Rev. Howard-John Wesley, pastor of Alfred Street Baptist Church in Alexandria, Virginia, was not likely surprised by the news that he is stepping away to take a much-deserved sabbatical. Rev. Wesley was known to be on call to answer his parishioners’ needs 24 hours a day.
I’m grateful that Wesley, in announcing his sabbatical, also shared his reasons for it — feeling far from God, tired in his soul and needing to recuperate mentally and physically. I hope his message reaches beyond his church and denomination and spurs action for kindred clergy who find themselves having similar feelings.
The Rev. Howard-John Wesley. Photo by Dave McIntosh, courtesy of Alfred Street Baptist Church
In 2015, 52 church-appointed Methodist pastors agreed to be interviewed by me and my fellow researchers at the Duke Clergy Health Initiative, write down what they did every hour of every day for a week and score their activities for meaning and enjoyment.
In this study and others, including a survey that compared 1,726 clergy to thousands of other North Carolinians, we found above-average rates of depression, obesity and chronic diseases, all of which are substantiated by other researchers who studied clergy of other denominations. One reason for these poor health patterns is how clergy respond to the demands of ministry; their call is so sacred that they often stretch themselves too far.
We also found that, not only can clergy combat burnout, they can flourish in their vocation.
By comparing the behavior of flourishing clergy and those experiencing burnout, we were able to identify four strategies for clergy to flourish: caring for their physical and mental health, setting boundaries for their work and personal lives, nourishing friendships and mutual relationships, and working in alignment with God.
Taking care of one’s health is a particular challenge when a pastor’s schedule is at the mercy of parishioners’ needs. Flourishing clergy not only proactively made plans to attend to their physical, mental and spiritual well-being, but also made backup plans to adjust for their unpredictable schedules: If a meeting preempts plans to attend a morning exercise class, walk with a parishioner at lunch. Called away for a hospital visit? Then play basketball with the youth group in the evening. They also reported finding time to practice spiritual devotions and walk in nature.
We found that flourishing pastors reminded themselves often of where God was leading them, especially when they faced criticism. The work of clergy is quite visible, and parishioners sometimes feel free to disapprove of their pastor’s message and say so publicly, immediately after pastors have poured their hearts out from the pulpit.
After hearing criticism, pastors who experienced burnout in our study reported feeling distressed. Those who were flourishing recognized the criticism and worried only if it related to God’s larger goals for their work.
We all know that friendships and social support are important, but in our study those hourly activity logs that clergy completed during the research revealed that only flourishing clergy took the time to share the joy of their small successes with friends and family.
We’ve also found that parishioners play an important role in clergy well-being. The clergy who do best have parishioners who remember they are human.
If you’re a parishioner, you can ask your pastors about their family, their interests, their vacation plans. Suggest that your pastor have a guest preacher any time a month has five Sundays. Encourage your pastors to keep Sabbath and then remember what day of the week their Sabbath is, and don’t schedule any non-emergency work on that day.
Think about how you would like to receive constructive criticism and offer it the same way, perhaps over a cup of coffee that you buy and with an offer to help.
My heartfelt wishes for health to Rev. Wesley, then, and to those reading this: these lessons about clergy, I suspect, pertain to us all. We are more likely to flourish if we share our joy with others, have back-up plans for healthy activities, and align ourselves with a greater purpose.
(Rae Jean Proeschold-Bell is an associate professor at the Duke Global Health Institute and research director of Duke Divinity School’s Clergy Health Initiative. The views expressed in this commentary do not necessarily reflect those of Religion News Service.)
Close-up view of ancient stones during sunset at UNESCO World Heritage Site at Stonehenge, Wiltshire, UK.
As we immerse ourselves in the holiday season and get into the full swing of the Christmas season, I’ve heard people accuse this celebration of having origins in paganism. Yes that’s right paganism. I’m talking about the good old garden-variety orgy and sacrifices paganism.
If you don’t know your church history you will be taken aback. When you find out that this holiday that we have known as the celebration of the birth of Jesus is rooted in ancient Roman fertility rites it may throw you for a second.
This same holiday that has inspired so many songs and beautiful movies was also inspiration for people to release their inner lusts. Yes Christmas has pagan roots, but that isn’t a reason to drop it just yet. I will get into the reasons for that but first let’s start with a little history just in case you are not convinced of its pagan origins.
Christmas was created as a holiday that coincided with the pagan Roman holiday of Saturnalia, a week-long festival that involved sexual license and human sacrifice that revolved around the Winter Solstice and the pagan god Saturn. Early Christians succeeded in converting large numbers of pagans by allowing them to continue to practice Saturnalia as “Christmas.”
In fact no one knows the actual date when Jesus was born. The date of December 25th was chosen to coincide with the Winter Solstice in which the sun was reborn. This seemed to be a likely date for the “Sun of Righteousness” (Malachi 4:2).
So yes Christmas does have some pagan origins and many of the things we do to celebrate Christmas (Christmas trees, mistletoe, gift giving) are leftovers from the older pagan holiday.
But it would not be fair or factual to declare that it’s a complete pagan holiday. It is a Christian holiday with some practices that contain pagan roots.
Whether we should celebrate or not celebrate Christmas is an issue of conscience. Paul wrote in his letter to the Romans regarding holy days:
In the same way, some think one day is more holy than another day, while others think every day is alike. You should each be fully convinced that whichever day you choose is acceptable. Those who worship the Lord on a special day do it to honor him. Those who eat any kind of food do so to honor the Lord, since they give thanks to God before eating. And those who refuse to eat certain foods also want to please the Lord and give thanks to God.. For we don’t live for ourselves or die for ourselves. If we live, it’s to honor the Lord. And if we die, it’s to honor the Lord. So whether we live or die, we belong to the Lord. Christ died and rose again for this very purpose—to be Lord both of the living and of the dead. (Romans 14:5-8)
In other words it’s not about the origins of the day but whether you can give honor to God with a clear conscience by celebrating that day. For most people, Christmas is a celebration of Christ’s birth and the arrival of hope in the world, not a pagan festival.
This is the way they have grown up and it does not offend their conscience because they partake in festivities in honor of Christ’s birth and not to the Roman god Saturn or to celebrate the rebirth of the Sun.
Others may have a hard time with it due to knowledge of the origins of Christmas. This is their prerogative. The key thing is whether it will bring glory to God (1 Corinthians 10:31).
And that brings me to another reason we shouldn’t drop the celebration of Christmas and condemn those who do. Christmas is for pagans because Jesus is for pagans. What do I mean by that?
I think the story of the three wise men illustrates my point. The three wise men from the east were unchurched “pagans”. They weren’t schooled in the rabbinical schools at Jerusalem. They weren’t raised as children to observe the Mosaic law.
They were pagan astrologers and all they had was a star. But what that star led them to changed their lives.
Christmas is for pagans because everyone needs Jesus. Today we are always in danger of being inordinately focused on our gifts and presents. While we are decking our halls and making our lists we may be ignoring those who need to find Jesus.
If this season of toys and wrapping paper and office parties can be used as a springboard to talk about the greatest gift God has given the world then let’s keep celebrating. We must figure out ways to turn it away from the consumer-driven season it has become and make it more like the star that attracted the wise men to Bethlehem.
Let’s focus on Christmas being a tool to inspire people to worship the God of the universe. This is what the world needed back then and this is what the world still needs now.
My 13-year-old son’s shocking confession forced me to confront my tendency to obscure Jesus behind the “religious” parts of my faith.
As is the case for many Americans, I use the Christmas and New Year holidays as a time to reflect and try to gain perspective on matters near and dear to me. So one recent evening, I sat down with my sons to discuss where we are spiritual as a family, and to get a read on their individual faith journeys. I never could have imagined what I heard or the impact it would have on me.
Our conversation began simply enough. I asked each of them to share how they feel about where they are with God. I intentionally left it open-ended so they wouldn’t feel like I was steering them in a specific direction. I could see the antennae going up in my 13-year-old’s brain, so I reassured them that this was not Mom on some kind of surreptitious fact-finding mission, looking for ammunition to blast them to kingdom come if they didn’t give the “right” responses. The antennae retracted, and the words began to flow.
Me: So, son (the 13-year-old), how’s it going for you spiritually?
Son: OK, I guess … Well, maybe not so OK.
Me: What do you mean?
Son: Well, I’m still praying some, and I kinda remember to read my devotions sometimes, but … I don’t know …
Me: It’s OK, just be honest.
Son: Are you sure?
Me: Yes, I really want to know how you feel.
Son: Well, I love God and everything. I know I need to follow Him and do the right things, but it’s just … the Christianity thing.
Alarms went off in my head, and everything in me went on full alert. What did he mean “the Christianity thing”? He was about to tell me.
Son: I mean, Christians … all they talk about is going to church, which movies you shouldn’t watch, do this, don’t do that … this music is bad, don’t look at porn …
[ Me (in my head): OH, LORD … porn?!?! Maybe I’m not ready for this conversation after all. ]
Me: OK, so what’s the problem? We should be obedient to Christ, right?
Son (now getting more animated): Yeah, I know, but it’s just the way they are … everything is do this, don’t do that … blah blah blah.
Me: Are you saying you don’t want to be a Christian anymore?
Son: No, Mom.
Me: Well, are you saying you don’t want to walk with Christ anymore?
Son: No, no, that’s not it. I want to walk with Christ. It’s Christianity that doesn’t interest me.
Whoa. What was my boy saying? And how was he able to draw this distinction between Christ and Christianity? I assumed he considered them to be one and the same. But then, a flash of revelation hit me, wrapping some concepts together that I have been grappling with and teaching on during the past year.
Just like many of us adults, my child is feeling a disconnect between who he envisions Jesus to be — and what He desires and requires — and the way in which professed Christ followers go about relating to Him and requiring others to relate to Him. Are we bombarding our young disciples and those who might become disciples, with rules and regulations without stressing the Person of Jesus Christ?
My son is no theologian or scholar, but at a visceral and instinctual level, he is resisting the system we have created to facilitate a relationship with Jesus. I know that obedience is important, and apparently so does my son. But he confessed to me that he is bored with our packaging of what is supposed to be a dynamic, life-giving, robust sojourn with our Lord.
In the midst of all this revelation, another thought hit me. I am probably one of those “Christians” to whom my son is referring. After all, he has more exposure to me than anyone else. It’s not completely surprising that a teenager would feel this way since parents often stress behavior and conduct in our attempts to control and manage our offspring. Our discussion highlighted the fact that our goal should be more about influence and guidance rather than control. Also, Jesus needs to be front and center when we demonstrate Christianity; we are following a person, not just rules.
This dichotomy of Christ vs. Christianity has intrigued me. I believe it has potentially powerful implications for everything from youth ministry to family spiritual life. In my next two columns, I’ll explore this topic from different angles. First, I’ll present a roundtable discussion with other young people to find out the biggest questions and concerns they’re facing as they attempt to live out their faith in the real world. Then I’ll finish up by asking a few urban youth leaders for their thoughts and responses to my son’s and the other youths’ comments and questions.
Consider how you might be presenting, or re-presenting, Christ to the teens and young adults you know. Are we, as the bride of Christ, obstructing their view of Him with a heavy and unattractive veil of “Christianity”? I pray it won’t be so.
Raymond Blanks said he wants to be an example for the young men in his classroom. PHOTO CREDIT: Devna Bose/Chalkbeat
Raymond Blanks knows Newark gets a bad rap beyond its borders. He also knows “how beautiful” his hometown can be. After college, the University High School graduate said returning to teach the children of Newark felt like a personal responsibility.
Back in high school, Blanks was inspired by his then principal, Roger León, who has since become the district superintendent. “He used to tell us that he worked for us, and whatever we needed, it was his job to give to us,” Blanks said of León.
Now, with seven years in the classroom under his belt, Blanks is as determined as ever to serve his community and “pay it forward.” According to him, he is currently one of two black male teachers at North Star Academy’s West Side Park Middle School, a charter school where he teaches sixth-grade math.
Black men like Blanks remain underrepresented in America’s teaching force, making up only 2% of teachers nationwide. Research shows that when students have teachers who look like them, their academic performance improves. But even in Newark, where around half of the students are black, black men make up only about 8% of the teaching force.
Blanks talked to Chalkbeat about what it’s like being one of the few black male educators in the city, getting to know his middle schoolers through music and video games, being awed by his students’ “grit” amid adversity, and showing them how math is relevant to their lives.
This interview has been condensed and lightly edited for length and clarity.
Was there a moment when you decided to become a teacher?
If there was a conscious decision, it was because of the stigma I hear about my own city and what I would hear about our failing schools. That was something that motivated me to be someone who could maybe change the narrative — only 2% of teachers across the country are black men. It was that, and seeing the correlation between illiteracy and education and crime. So there wasn’t just a moment. It was a really strategic decision, and a lot of things played a factor.
Tell me more about the stigma you heard about living in Newark and what in particular struck a chord with you.
There’s a misconception that the whole city is dangerous when that’s not really the case. Even in college I had experiences where I’m articulating myself to a dean and they’re surprised that I’m from the city of Newark because they think that everyone from here is a certain way. I know how beautiful Newark can be.
How do you get to know your students?
I like to get to know my students by eating lunch with them. Sometimes I’ll just ask them who their favorite artists are and what video games they like to play. They take a liking to me being interested in things that they like to do that’s not math or academics. They may talk about a rapper that I have no idea about, and it lets me know that I’m getting older, so that’s funny. And I’ll say who I listen to and they’ll say I’m old, so we can make jokes about it.
Tell us about a favorite lesson to teach. Where did the idea come from?
I used to teach high school, so it’s a high school lesson about stop-and-frisk in Newark, [when] police stop people for random searches or checks. The lesson was about ratios and proportions, so I was still bringing math into the classroom. What I had them look at was the rate at which men of color are stopped and the rate at which white men are stopped.Then we looked to see if the numbers were proportional, or if black and brown men were stopped at the same rate as white men. We found that it was disproportional. So that lesson empowers the students through mathematics. When they can see how math ties into something relevant, it’s a little more powerful.
Raymond Blanks, a sixth-grade math teacher at West Side Park Middle School. PHOTO CREDIT: Devna Bose/Chalkbeat
What’s something happening in the community that affects what goes on inside your class?
The kids are a little mindful of the lead situation. They’ll tell me,“Hey, Mr. Blanks, the water fountain is on red. That means the filter needs to be changed.” … In this West Side Park community, you see a lot more single parent homes, and we get a lot of mixed emotions every day. And as an educator, you’re trying to figure out how to reach this kid so that they feel safe and comfortable enough, so I can deliver this lesson. Sometimes in the classroom, you find yourself being a guidance counselor, and you have to figure out a way to persevere. I try to ask, “Hey, is everything okay?” before I jump to conclusions and ask why they aren’t working. It could be something from home that spilled over into the classroom.
Tell us about a memorable time — good or bad — when contact with a student’s family changed your perspectiveor approach.
There was a situation where a student was struggling with hygiene. It wasn’t a situation that got to the point of bullying, but the student was self-conscious about it. We were able to get ahold of a parent, and we realized how some of our students experienced neglect from their guardians and are basically raising themselves. And it’s like, “Wow, they have a lot more grit and perseverance than I had at that age.” My perspective has definitely changed. I definitely try to be more patient. Being from this community, I know it involves a certain grit that you have to have, but these are things that I wasn’t exposed to. So I really have an appreciation — or a certain level of love and affection — for children who have to go through that and are still able to do what they need to do at school.
Is there anyone in your life who swayed your decision to become a teacher?
My old high school principal is Newark’s current superintendent Roger León. He had high expectations for us. He’s someone that really inspired me when I was a student. He used to tell us that he worked for us, and whatever we needed, it was his job to give to us. So that stuck with me even a decade ago when he was my principal.
My former math teacher, Sean Lloyd, was someone I always looked up to. He was so hard on us, but it was always coming from a place of love. He had high expectations, and he knew what we were capable of. So at a very young age, he just really instilled in us how great we were, but we had to put the work in. And he’s someone that I eventually, years later, ended up working with, which was really cool. We keep in touch to this day. He’s gone from my teacher to my friend over the years.
How did it impact you having him, another black man, as your teacher?
For me as a student, it definitely made a difference. I was lucky enough to have, growing up, four or five black male teachers, but I meet kids from my own community who have had zero. Seeing someone who teaches well and cares about students that look like me I think really played a factor in my becoming a teacher. I thought, “What’s one of the biggest ways I can have an impact in my community and pay it forward?”
What’s the best advice you’ve received about teaching?
Be patient with children and invest in them, but still hold them to the expectations that you think they should be meeting.
What part of your job is the most difficult?
It’s just a lot of time and energy that you’re investing, which I underestimated. Like, I’m investing energy in a hundred lives every year. And I get a new group of kids each year, so that takes a lot out of you.
My first year of teaching, I actually was at a crossroads where I didn’t know what to do because I was struggling so much and I didn’t think I was cut out for it. I had a moment where I was like, “Do I change careers?” I didn’t have command of the classroom and that humbled me. I decided that I had to be better, especially when you’re dealing with students who have mixed emotions and are sometimes raising themselves. They’re angry, maybe not at you, but at their living conditions, and they don’t know how to channel their emotions. I think I underestimated how hard this work is right when I first started teaching.
What made you want to stick with teaching?
I like challenges, so I wanted to take on the challenge. Also, intangibles kind of seeped in. For example, I’m from Newark, and black men are good for the classroom. I wanted to be an example for young men and someone that our young women can go to to talk, and just being someone who children can say they remember having and they enjoyed learning with. It’s all coming from a place of love.
Can you tell me about a time when being a black male teacher made a difference in your classroom?
A lot of has been indirect, but I had a parent who I had to call because, unfortunately, her daughter was being rude and not being herself — she’s one of my top students, and I rarely have to call home. The mother said to me, “She’s acting that way because she doesn’t have her father and she sees you as a father figure in her life.” And that was something that resonated with me because, this student has never told me this, but she has at least told her mom. I do know that this kind of work creates situations where I may be filling a void for some students, which is another reason why I do this work. That’s why it’s so important and why especially more black men should do it.
Stacey James McAdoo was named Arkansas’ 2019 Teacher of the Year. She teaches speech and AVID at Little Rock Central High School. PHOTO CREDIT: Stacey James McAdoo
Originally posted on Chalkbeat by Kalyn Belsha on December 3, 2019
Here, in a feature we call How I Teach, we talk to educators about how they approach their jobs. You can see other pieces in the series here.
Stacey James McAdoo has deep roots in Little Rock, Arkansas. McAdoo grew up in the city, attended public schools there, and has spent 17 years working at the historic Little Rock Central High School, where she teaches speech and oversees AVID, the school’s college and career prep program.
Central High School is known nationally as the site where in 1957, a mob of white protesters and the Arkansas National Guard blocked nine black students from integrating the school, three years afterthe Supreme Court ruled that segregated schools were unconstitutional. Eventually, the students — who became known as the Little Rock Nine — were escorted in by federal troops.
More recently, the school was the site of another protest. In October, thousands of parents, students and teachers, including McAdoo, gathered outside Central High School to rally against a state plan that would have returned only some of Little Rock’s schools to local control — those with the highest ratings and largest enrollments of white students. Meanwhile, lower-performing schools with higher numbers of black students would have remained under state watch. Many argued the plan would have set up a two-tiered system that recalled the district’s segregated past.
McAdoo wrote a searing op-ed opposing the plan, which was later rejected, though the state board of education did strip Little Rock teachers of their collective bargaining rights. McAdoo said she wanted people to hear from someone who had a personal understanding of how the plan would affect schools.
“I am from this community, I am this community,” she said. “It was just important for me to share that, because a lot of people are making decisions about teachers without having any input from the teachers.”
As the 2019 Arkansas Teacher of the Year, McAdoo is spending this academic year touring Arkansas schools, working on statewide education issues and promoting her passion for poetry. She founded the Writeous Poets, a spoken word collective for students at her school and other youth in the community, who perform at everything from open mic nights to regional poetry slams.
We talked with McAdoo about how she gets her students to open up, how she confronts racism and other “isms” in the classroom, and how teaching in her hometown makes her a different kind of educator.
The interview has been lightly edited for length and clarity.
Was there a moment when you decided that you wanted to become a teacher?
I’ve always known that I was a teacher. When I was little, I used to line my dolls up in my bedroom and play school, and my little brother, Craig, would be my only live pupil. As he got older, school wasn’t as easy for him as it was for me. So I often found myself re-teaching him content in ways that I thought would make it easier for him. And what that looked like at that time was turning everything into a game or song to help make it more accessible.
Even though I knew that I enjoyed doing that, whenever people would ask me what I wanted to be when I grew up, I quickly learned that certain professions were more highly esteemed. So I would almost always tell people I wanted to be a pediatrician. Then you’d see everybody’s eyes light up. That was the closest thing that I could think of that would give me a career that would allow me to work directly with young people, and that would give me the money that I thought I needed in order to be deemed successful.
Fast forward to 17 years ago, my brother died in a car accident, and it crushed me. At that moment, I realized that life was too short not to do what I thought that I was meant to do. So I quit my secretary job, and enrolled in a non-traditional teaching certification program.
What was your biggest misconception that you initially brought to teaching?
When I first told people that I was going to go into teaching, people thought I had really gone mad. They were saying stuff like, “The kids are bigger than you, they’re bad, they don’t want to learn.” And I don’t know that that was necessarily my misconception, but that is a misconception, particularly of urban youth. They think they’re these hardcore kids — they don’t even see them as kids — who don’t care about anything and don’t want to learn. I honestly have never encountered a student who either did not care about something or a kid who was not interested in learning about anything.
Teacher Stacey James McAdoo pictured outside Little Rock Central High School, where she’s taught for 17 years.PHOTO CREDIT: Stacey James McAdoo
You grew up in Little Rock and attended public schools there. How do you think that impacts you as an educator?
Because I am from this community, and have never left this community, I’m still very connected. My roots run really deep and my reach is very wide. I tell students all the time that if they give me a few minutes, I’m almost certain I can find somebody that the two of us know in common.
Also, I live in the neighborhood with the students, they see me at church, they see me at the grocery store. I encounter the students all the time. It helps in a lot of different ways. It helps me with discipline; it helps me with establishing street cred. It definitely deepens our relationship.
What’s something happening in the community that affects what goes on inside your classroom?
Everything that goes on in the community affects what happens in my classroom. That’s everything from jobs to whether or not there are grocery stores that get closed in our neighborhood. At Central High School, there are almost 2,500 students. We are, for all practical purposes, a small town. Students don’t just come to school and forget or wipe clean everything that they experienced or saw the night before. They bring all of that with them to the classroom, and if we ignore it and just expect them to come in and solely be about their academics, and not anything else, then I think we’re not seeing them as humans.
Do you have any special techniques that you use to try to get to know your students?
We do a lot of talking and sharing. Every day, the students have some type of journal that they’re writing. I pretty much use the journals as a dialogue between me and the students. We sing in class every day. I do logic questions and riddles to get them thinking, and we do a check-in on what have you been up to since the last time I’ve seen you, and/or a recap of what we learned last class period, and then we go into whatever we’re doing. Building community is a staple in the classroom.
I cannot teach a child that I don’t know. And I think that relationships are the key. Once a student, in my opinion, feels seen, and heard, and valued, you pretty much have them, and they’ll do anything that you ask them to do, and they will almost always exceed any expectation that you place before them.
Do you have a favorite lesson to teach? If so, can you tell me where the idea for it came from?
My favorite lesson is a unit that I call the “isms” unit. We go in-depth where we learn about different stereotypes and all of the different “isms.” I’m sure you’re familiar with Jane Elliott’s blue eyes, brown eyes experiment? She was an elementary teacher. One day she played favorites with the kids. Kids who had blue eyes were the ones that were the smartest. That definitely is what sparked the whole idea for this particular unit.
On the first day, the journal prompt is to pretend that they are the opposite gender and a different race. And they are supposed to write about the benefits of their newfound identity. By this point, they know that whatever they write is going to be considered safe.
This usually coincides around September, which for us is when the Little Rock Nine desegregated Central High School, so that’s when students at Central begin to be reminded of the history. So you would think that they would sort of have an idea of where I’m going with this, but they don’t. We do a visit over to the Little Rock Central High museum. Then they come to class one day, and there are these columns that are written on the board. I’ve gone through all of the journals and every derogatory comment that I discovered in there, I write it on the board under whatever that category is. It has some light stuff, but then they also get really ugly. They’ll say stuff like, if it’s a white student who suddenly became African-American, now they get to benefit from affirmative action and can go to college for free.
I have also divided the class: Males are sitting up front, females are sitting in back. I have a black section, I have a white section, and I have a section for people who don’t identify as black or white. When they walk into the classroom, I tell them there’s no talking today. You walk straight in this classroom, read the sign, and sit where you’re supposed to sit. The students pretty much fall in line. You’ll see them getting upset. After the bell rings and everybody’s in there, I go through all the categories, but I only allow people that are in that category to speak on how the things written about them made them feel. And they can only say, “When I heard this, I felt like…” And that’s how that dialogue goes.
Once we go through all of that, there are signs that are also posted along my classroom that will illustrate all of the different “isms” that are out there. The students are required to stand under the sign that they would least like to be. Then we have a discussion and talk in small groups. I tell the students: Just like you would not want to be in this category, people who suffer from oppression or any of the “isms,” they don’t necessarily choose to be whoever they are, or to be in that station of life. And so we need to think more critically and carefully about how we view people and what we say to people.
There are lots of “aha” moments. During that particular day when they’re physically separated… they’re crying, they’re apologizing to each other.
That next class is where they actually do a presentation on one of the “isms.” It is always about civil rights in this century and what a teenager can do to end the injustices.
What part of your job is the most difficult?
Today. [McAdoo received a phone call earlier in the day that a former student had died in a car crash.] The hardest part about teaching is knowing that your students, their families, are dealing with a lot of painful things that you may not be able to fix. Having a student die is always hard, but it doesn’t have to be a death. I’ve had students that I’ve had to go visit in hospitals because they were committed for various illnesses, or they tried to harm themselves. I’ve been called to the hospital by the chaplain when a parent of a student died and the student didn’t have anybody else to call. I’ve been called to a parent’s house to literally help get a student out of the closet, because the student was suffering from a breakdown. I’ve been called by a parent to help them go find a child that ran away.
The most difficult part is the things that happen in society and how it impacts our students. And not even just the students, teachers too. They bring it to school, and it manifests in different ways. Some of them are able to cope. But a lot of them don’t quite have the strategies to help them process or deal with all of the trauma that they encounter.
I like to check up on the kids, I don’t want them to think that just because they leave my classroom or they leave my presence — I need them to know that they still have my love and my support. We are very, very much connected.
What from your classroom would you be helpless without during the school day?
My students. If they didn’t show up and show out, in a good way, every day, then I wouldn’t have a purpose. I’m extremely thankful and grateful that they trust me, and that they allow me, not just into their lives, but into their hearts. They are the reason, for everything.
Chalkbeat is a nonprofit news site covering educational change in public schools.