The State of Affairs for Teachers of Color in NYC's Department Of Education
By Debra Brunson, Betty Davis & Deborah Jacobs
Historically, the Department of Education (the DOE, formerly known as the Board of Education) has prevented people of color from being hired into its system until the onset of the Human Rights/Civil Rights Movement of the Sixties. The DOE has expanded its war (waged against our youth) most recently by attacking any educator of color who is
( Successful in educating our children
( Willing to expose economic or any other type of fraud or impropriety within the DOE (i.e., whistle blowers)
( Willing to inform the community about problems and policies that are within the system (e.g., removing academically effective programs) that negatively impact upon the education of our children
( Is well-qualified and willing to not only educate but advocate for the academic, professional and personal success of the children
The strategy to continually weaken and destroy communities of color used by the DOE has been to deny adequate education to those communities. Removal of dedicated educationed personnel of color has increasingly become a major tool by which the DOE has affected this negative policy. We call this policy Ethnic Cleansing, which is the systematic removal and replacement of individuals of an identifiable ethnicity. Essentially, any educator of color or like- mindedness who exhibits qualities of commitment, dedication and has success in educating and inspiring students is systematically targeted for all manner of harassment and at worst, U or Unsatisfactory ratings on their annual rating and terminated via the DOE 3020a hearings.
Although educators of color make up a small percentage of the teaching and administrative force, they are experiencing disproportionate numbers of disciplinary actions within the DOE. Case in point, in one high school on Staten Island, although black and Latinos were only 2% of the workforce, they received over 80% of the U or Unsatisfactory annual ratings. This is reminiscent of an analogous situation going on within the transit system. Once the color of the transit workers changed from white to black, the disciplinary rules became more severe and utilized with greater severity and frequency.
Educators of color (e.g., teachers, para-professionals, guidance counselors, assistant principals and principals) are increasingly being brought up on a myriad of false charges (e.g., corporal punishment, sexual harassment, verbal abuse, inappropriate behavior) and accused of incompetence. The tenure system has not worked in our favor as the DOE is using the 3020a hearing procedure to remove tenured personnel so charged from their positions and to strip them of their licensure. A negative outcome of the 3020a hearing procedure renders a DOE employee totally ineligible to serve as an educator from K-12 anywhere in New York State.
Concurrent to the DOE implementation of its policy of Ethnic Cleansing is a policy of replacing eliminated educators of color by persons who are not stake-holders to the communities of children that they serve. The DOE recruits teachers from countries in Europe, the Philippines, the Caribbean and other parts of the world to work in low- performance schools which are primarily in neighborhoods of color (i.e., the Teacher Fellows Program). When the bottom fell out of the technology industries, the DOE began massive recruitment and training from other states and professions, individuals to man the helms of these same schools as principals. Rather than using the time honored practice of training and preparing principals from the teaching ranks, principals having virtually no pedagogical experience are now being recruited to take over failing schools. Experienced teachers are being excluded from job vacancies at job fairs conducted by the DOE which permit only those individuals who have no work history within the DOE whatsoever to interview and be hired to fill teaching vacancies.
The lack of cultural awareness of these pedagogues and administrators has had disastrous effects upon children of color. It was clearly stated by Paolo Freire that the primary tenet of literacy is that the teacher must be able to translate the world and culture of students in order to be able to help them to successfully connect with the lesson and the text. The resulting inability to relate and communicate with the students has only served to alienate these new pedagogues and administrators from their students thereby reducing their ability to educate. The more extreme results of these scenarios have been our children being hung in coat closets and having been accosted by adults who have more than abused their authority. Moreover, educators of color are targeted and even blamed for the failure of the public school system.
Teachers of color are all potentially targets of this policy of Ethnic Cleansing by the DOE even if no action has to date been brought against them. Until a systemwide effort has been made to effectively put the brakes on Ethnic Cleansing, educators of color must be mindful of their potential vulnerability and prepared to avoid certain situations or to effectively defend their positions if they are going to remain educators within the DOE.
In conclusion, we wish to state that this struggle should not be viewed as only a battle to save the careers and livelihoods of our members and others having similar experiences. The quest for solvency within the DOE can also be considered our right to carry out what should be called a sacred duty. This sacred duty is our responsibility to protect the rights of our children to receive a proper education. As conscious educators of color, ours is the quest to not only save our jobs, but to insure that we are able to be the role models, teachers and mentors that our children so desperately need. We must be free to share not only our academic expertise, but the spiritual, cultural and social knowledge we possess that will enable our children to overcome that which so often impedes their academic success. Teachers of color must have people in every level of the DOE in order that our children are effectively educated in a safe, nurturing and inspirational school system.