I Was “Canceled” From Private School As A Black Male Educator
By spring of 2019, I had been in the latter portion of my second year as a Teach For America corps member. Not only was I on the verge of completing my terms of service but I was exhausted. I was drained physically, mentally and emotionally from having to deal with the uphill battle that came with working inside of an impoverished school within a poor district. After showing frustration and venting about how I felt to my girlfriend, (who is also a teacher) she provided me with a viable option after hearing me talk about it day in and day out. “Start looking for jobs in another district.” As soon as she said it, a light-bulb instantly went off in my dome. Of course, Kev. Look for a job elsewhere. Move on.
That spring, I wasted no time as I embarked on a job search. Around that time I must have gone on five interviews in which I received three offers. When it came down to the wire, there were two schools that I heavily considered joining. One was a public magnet school and the other was an all girls private school. I remember going to the private school interview, where I felt welcomed and an enthusiasm that I had never encountered on any prior interviews. For once, I felt as if an institution valued my talents and potential contributions as an educator. In that meeting, I didn’t feel as if I would just be a body or a correctional officer there, to fulfill the role of disciplinarian as opposed to educator. At that point in time, I felt truly valued and couldn’t wait to start the school year.
As summer faded and the school year began, I remember getting the first true taste of what it felt like to be Black within a culturally conservative space. Over several weeks, I found myself trying to fit in within the framework of an institution that I had never experienced growing up. Upon hire, I instantly became entrenched within the predominantly white, educational program that was the prestigious school. Personally, I thought that I had moved up within the social ranks. I was no longer at schools with “problematic black children” that would impede my passion and duty to teach at the highest level. I finally had the true opportunity to work with children that “valued” their education and came from “great” families that wanted nothing but the best for them.
However, only a couple of weeks into teaching, I learned that as a Black man, my place was firmly defined. Thus, on one day in particular, all faculty were expected to be on campus to meet and greet parents on “Back To School Day” where the students reconnected with their old classmates while meeting new teachers within the process. And so, although, I did have an opportunity to meet a couple of my students, I remember feeling as if I had been placed under a microscope. By that I mean I could feel my presence wasn’t accepted and possibly posed a threat to the history, culture and establishment of the institution. It seemed as if they had been shocked that I would be teaching their children and that I actually was one of the faculty.
Nonetheless, I did my best to shake the thought from my conscience as I went about my business. Until one day, I remember one of my students walking up to me and saying: “Hi Mr. Anglade, my parents wanted to know more about the book we’re reading for class and how you’ve been so far as a teacher.” Upon hearing her words, my thoughts had been confirmed. The parents didn’t trust me nor did they see me as an appropriate fit for the job of educating their daughters. Still, I persisted and assured myself. I vowed to prove them wrong. I vowed to be the extraordinary scholar and educator I had always been.
Two weeks into teaching, I thought I was on my way to doing so until one weekend, I received an alarming call from my supervisor in the wee hours of the morning. Upon calling her back, she told me about what had transpired as I had played two videos the day prior. One video called “7th Grade” depicted a Black girl experiencing a day in the life as a middle schooler and another called “Darkskin vs. Lightskin” that focused on a Black woman battling issues of colorism within her very own community. Now, the reason I chose to play those videos was to use them as supplements in providing context to a discussion we’d been having around self-identity for colored girls via the book “The Skin I’m In” by Sharon G. Flake. However, upon showing them to students, madness ensued as parents were in an uproar and wanted justice for what had transpired.
I remember being told by my supervisor and Dean of Faculty that I had to write a letter to families justifying why I had shown the video and it had to be done in a timely fashion. And so, I did it to the approval of the school as they tried to support me as best as they could. However, it didn’t go over well with parents as they were calling for my head that entire weekend. Throughout the duration of being in limbo, I remember reading e-mails from parents commenting on my lack of professionalism and error of my ways. Many of the letters were scathing pieces with racial undertones as to why I wasn’t qualified in the first place to teach their children.
During that time, I remember being adamant in my beliefs that I had done the right thing. After all, upon that day of interviewing me, the school told me that they wanted to propel their social justice component of education within the entire faculty’s pedagogy.
Was I wrong? I thought. Isn’t this why they hired me? To incorporate aspects of social justice within daily lessons of English literature?
Almost a year to the day in which this occurred, I have had time to reflect and come to the conclusion that I was wrong. There was a cultural disconnect between myself and the conservative views of parents as well as the school. However, what I didn’t appreciate was that I never received a chance in making amends for the error in my ways. Not once was I given the chance to return and apologize. There was never an agreement as to how to move forward for all parties involved.
In an e-mail that was sent out to faculty during the unfortunate situation, the school community had been told that I was “suspended” as they persisted in investigating the matter. Furthermore, the students were counseled by a school social worker as well as psychologist for the “traumatic” events that had transpired the week prior in my classroom. Now, I can’t speak for the girls as to what they truly felt but I can certainly say that I’ll never forget how I felt. I couldn’t understand that an institution that had voiced “restorative justice” would deny an opportunity of reform, especially since I had been hired to provide students with a well-rounded educational experience. I soon learned that no matter what they said in press releases or public statements, I was being criminalized and punished for being a Black male educator. I had threatened the status quo of their establishment. They never said it and didn’t have to. Their actions spoke for them.
As time progressed, I realized that I had been a figment of their imagination. I had been the “token” of an agenda to make the school seem progressive. My hiring had merely taken place to serve the fulfilling of the institution’s “Diversity, Equity an Inclusion” criteria. Almost a year to the day that the event transpired, with further reflection, I’ve come to terms with the fact that both the school and myself had blinders to the partnership of the girls’ educational experience. Their blinders were evident as they had not informed me upon the expectations/criteria of learning. And I, myself, had blinders as I had no previous context of what teaching in such an institution looked like.
I remember shedding tears about the experience as I had never lost a job before. I had never been ostracized in such a way that made me feel like a criminal or monster. And I had never known what it felt like to experience true trauma within a predominantly white space. Not only wasn’t I given a second chance at redemption. The day I had been invited to pack up my classroom, I returned (on a dark Wednesday evening) only to find my things packed for me. It was almost as if they were saying they wanted me out as soon as possible and the only way that I’d be allowed to retrieve my possessions was if it was done at night where there was no visibility in seeing me. After experiencing such an event, my only regret is that I wasn’t able to make amends. That I wasn’t able to apologize to the children if I had indeed harmed them, psychologically.
Fast forward a few months later, I now find myself once again working within the inner city with at-risk youth that have been previously incarcerated at a rehabilitation home. However, a part of me feels as if I should have never left the Black and Brown community in the first place. A part of me also feels as if I never want to allow my children to attend private school. Lastly, a part of me feels as if I will never return to such racist and systematic paradigms of oppression, especially if Black male educators aren’t deemed worthy enough in exemplifying “restorative justice” protocols to parents that don’t know anything about them or interested in knowing where they’re actually coming from. Prior to my brief stint at the private school, many of my Black colleagues and male counterparts told me to be “careful” and watch out. Their response was alarming as I wanted them to be proud of me for landing such a coveted position. I reiterated to them that it was a great opportunity and stepping stone in terms of where I projected my career going. However, upon having a year to reflect about what each and every one of them said, I now realize that a white private institution had been no place for a Black male educator with progressive thinking and idiosyncratic ideas. With that being said, I should have listened. Lesson learned.
Kevin Anglade is a writer, poet, publisher, scholar, and educator from Queens, New York. Anglade holds a B.A. and M.A. in English literature from the City University of New York (Brooklyn & Queens College). As an educator, Anglade taught English Language Arts in Hartford Public Schools and is an English professor in the General Ed Studies Department at Goodwin University. He currently serves as a Rehabilitation Therapist with at-risk boys for the judicial branch within the state of Connecticut and is the host and producer of The Wise Guys podcast. He enjoys reading, podcasting, jogging and is the author of the forthcoming poetry collection, A Flower That Rose (2021).
Follow him online: @kevinanglade11