Dear Teachers: Black Students Deserve Your Time Too

Dear Teachers: Black Students Deserve Your Time Too

Jimmy Rodgers and Diana Guerrero at George Westinghouse College Prep in Chicago. (Photo: Eric King)

I was afraid online learning would not be for me because of my negative experience with teachers. But to my surprise, sitting in front of my computer for hours, it’s the first time my teachers are making me feel seen. I guess it took a pandemic and a remote classroom for me to stand out. With so many students turning their cameras off, I’m taking advantage by keeping mine on.

I would describe myself as a self-motivated student who has always enjoyed learning. When I was in middle school I was reading at a high school level; I’ve been on the honor roll and I developed an early love for science. Growing up on the west side of Chicago, I’ve attended schools that have a majority Black population while most of the teachers are white. It’s difficult to pinpoint why I’ve struggled to be seen by teachers but one reason could be because I’m Black. If there were more white students in my classes, I wonder if teachers would be more invested. 

The idea that African Americans and other minorities are incapable of learning are ideologies that we’re still fighting decades later. In 1926 Carl Brigham invented the SAT test as a way to measure student’s intelligence. But for years, it’s been debated that the test was actually created to prove that Black people weren’t worthy of being taught. In the year 2020, so many decades later, thinking like this still plagues me as an African American student.

Even with good grades and a high GPA, I feel like I’m constantly having to prove to myself and to others that I belong in advanced classes and that I’m worth the same attention as everyone else. It feels like the only times my teachers have paid attention to me are when I misbehave or when I talk too much with my peers.

Since the pandemic and online learning, I find myself working even harder than before and it feels like I’m finally getting the appreciation I’ve been looking for. But then again, it’s pretty easy to feel seen when no other camera is on. 

 Negative experiences with teachers aside, I enjoy learning so much that I want to be a teacher. I want future students like myself to have positive experiences in school and feel valued. Plus for all the students who look like me, they would have a role model that’s different from many of my teachers who are non-Black and have their own biases they sometimes don’t even realize. 

I don’t mean to say all teachers are bad. In fact I’ve grown to build very good relationships with some of my teachers. A few of these relationships I would even consider to be life-changing. But when I think about all the teachers I’ve had in my lifetime, I would say that there are many that I wish I just didn’t come across. 

I have no idea how I’ve managed to stay optimistic when I’m constantly being discouraged and let down by educators.

While the latest recognition from my teachers comes a little late, I’m not settling. I’m working twice as hard to prove people wrong and maybe that’s what keeps me driven.