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From the Archives – Racializing Students by Track

Recently organizing files on my computer, I found a folder I created that culled several documents I wrote during my first and second year teaching. It’s interesting looking back on these files now. Long before the Ph.D. track entered my mind and long before I had any kind of proficient grasp on my role as a teacher I was interested in the space at Manual as one for exploration, inquiry, and possibilities. The four documents above are all rough and unhinged from each other. I’ll probably share all of them over the course of the next month or so. The first is below and is a short narrative about covering a class on “A-Track.” Now a relic from when our school was on a year-round schedule, A-track was the track stereotypically known to be a bigger discipline problem than B or C track. It was also the track with the most special education students and the largest proportion of black students: when teachers spoke of A-track it was–usually but not always–a way to speak of students racially without having to utter any words about race.

With that being said, I take you back to 2006:

A-Track Coverage Reflection 6/9/06

I had the opportunity today – was asked by administration – to cover a fourth period class. It wasn’t until I showed up that I was told it was an A track special education science class. I was told immediately by the teacher that the class was one of her worst and that I should be prepared. It was clear that this teacher felt bad that I was being given this class for two hours. As she gathered her things to leave a students walked in  and was immediate asked if he had his materials. The students looked as equally stupefied as I did and was sent to the Deans office – apparently he was one of the class’ worst students and the idea of leaving him with me was unfathomable. The TA in the class seemed equally convinced that this student needed to go. The class was fairly quiet as I was briefly conversing with their teacher, though any comment provoked a “there you go” or “what is your problem” from the TA. This was preemptive discipline, if such a term is currently in effect.

Once the teacher left, I handed out the science reading materials and worksheets and we went over them as a class. Fortunately, my limited knowledge in science was able to allow me to engage with the students in a discussion about force, gravity, and inertia without embarrassing myself. The students were fairly quiet and the TA noted that they were being better for me than they were for the regular teacher – though the TA mainly looked up personal facts on the internet about her recently diagnosed medical condition and browsed JET Magazine.

It wasn’t until nearly an hour into the class that things began to break down – the students were done with their worksheet and nothing else was left… I talked with some students one-on-one – read one student’s rhyme-book and talked about Pac and Biggie. Another student wanted to trade me for my red union t-shirt.  One student asked if I had sewn my own Converse shoes. However, the class was getting boisterous and the TA was getting frazzled from all of her yelling.

I taught the students the game Mafia and they were energetic, excited and collected. The behavior problems ended and by the time the bell rang the TA said “thank you” to me, explaining that this was a great class.

My concerns here are the overt, the obvious feeling of racism in place in this class. There were three girls in the class. The rest of the class was males and was predominantly African American. These students, to my obviously limited time with them, didn’t display characteristics that I felt were out of the ordinary from other students. They seemed frustrated and pent up –I thought like caged animals would be. They read through the script that the TA anticipated to them, say something, speak out loud, get reprimanded, repeat. It was a worn out script and one that they seemed forced to recite. This is a prime example of the “a-track” racist rhetoric I’ve seen throughout the year. Teachers and administration speak of “those” students and the problems had when A track is in session. To me, these are not teachers equipped with the skills to teach “Other People’s Children” and are simply perpetuating a history of racism and ostracism of our posterity.

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  1. […] Continuing to mine the mysterious folder of research ideas from my first year as a teacher, I’m sharing below my initial thoughts of teachers as griots. Perhaps more than any other kernel of thinking in this old folder, this one reflects most the direction my research is still oriented. Storytelling and narrative are still the areas I’m focused and I remember distinctly discussing the potential of Youth Participatory Action Research as a digital tool for educational griots at the first Digital Media and Learning Conference several years ago. […]

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