African Development: How Black Women Educators Are Making It Work
Alexis Carpenter, an elementary school teacher in Oakland, began the last school year without a working printer. It took a five-minute drive to the nearest school campus to find a printer to prepare handouts, reports and assessments. “The printer was shared among all staff on both campuses for the first month or so of school,” she recalls. “We finally had a printer set up at each campus.”
Never mind that she had to share that machine with at least 18 other staff members. Every year, Carpenter resorts to storing away copy paper, as there’s always a shortage. She also finds herself coming out of pocket for classroom materials to support the development of all 135 students in her class, 35 of whom are English-language learners. In Essex, Virginia, a low income Black community on the other side of the country, first-year teacher Kamia Rucker started her career and the academic year expecting to jump r right into the state’s fourth-grade writing curriculum.
Fourth graders are expected to learn to write research-based papers and pull relevant evidence from texts to support their thesis before the end of the school year. Rucker soon realized that she would have to temporarily abandon these goals and hunt for resources and materials to teach skills and concepts that her students should have grasped in previous grades. “A lot of my students come in not knowing the basics and the foundations for a fourth-grade curriculum,” she says. “So I had to teach them basics like nouns and verbs, just to move forward with their writing. They didn’t know how to compose a paragraph. They didn’t know the writing process at all.”
The prevalence of inadequate support and lack of student readiness followed Black instructors into their remote-learning classrooms when U.S. schools went into lockdown in March 2020. The global pandemic brought out the educators’ resourcefulness while simultaneously exposing new ways in which educational disparities uniquely harm low-income Black children and families. Faculty members like Shaunice Sasser, an English teacher at a STEM middle school in McDonough, Georgia, prioritized staying in touch with students’ families so they could stay abreast of weekly learning goals.
“Part of our communication plan was to increase our social media presence,” Sasser says. “We built PLNs [professional learning networks] with other educators using Twitter, posted videos and pictures to Instagram and YouTube, and went live on Instagram and Facebook for parents. It was important for us to consistently communicate our expectations. Every day we posted morning messages and closing messages, at the same time that we would have had we been in school.”
With the support of the school administration, Sasser was also able to launch “Parent Lunch and Learn,” a weeklong series focused on helping parents think in terms of earning additional income through tutoring. “So many people were out of work,” explains Sasser. “As a parttime entrepreneur, I knew that this was a perfect time to inspire parents to tap into their genius to make money.”