A Walk in My Shoes: Social Justice in Education Full Documentary
August 27, 2019
[MUSIC] Today’s classrooms are a kaleidoscope, ever changing and presenting a mosaic of learners from different backgrounds, identities, histories and abilities. Educators come into these exciting and challenging learning spaces with skills, commitment and passion. Everyday they practice their craft in a complex society where issues such as poverty, privilege and persistent inequities impact the lives of all their students. This documentary touches on the lives of five dynamic educators whose passion for social justice in education was formed when they themselves where in school. The genesis of their commitment was often their own experiences or observations of critical barriers to quality learning for all, from daily small injustices to monumental structural and institutional barriers. Alex, Tearra, Eli, Amanda and Jim have each taken on the superhero role of enacting their beliefs in a just and quality education for the learners they serve, and there is no doubt that their work reaches far beyond a single classroom or school, they impact the future. I hope these stories inspire you to think about your own story and to reflect on your own journey to create a climate that honors, respects and educates all learners. [MUSIC]>>And when we were in business you know, we were worried about money. When we just went a different direction, you know, all of that stuff we thought was so important back then isn’t that important anymore. [MUSIC]>>Two, three, [MUSIC] Hi my name is Jim Teagarden, I’m an associate professor at Kansas State University. I’m in the department of special education, counseling and student affairs but my area of expertise and passion has to do with emotional disturbance and behavior disorders within the field of special ed.
I grew up in a little town of Frankfort, Kansas. It was small, it was limited, at least it seemed that way at the time. I can remember being really frustrated as a kid about the lack of opportunity. At the same time I guess what I didn’t realize is what I did have, that sense of community that’s hard to replicate any other place. [MUSIC] Before I was born, my father had been widowed and was raising my step sister, and so there was a lot of sympathy for him as a single dad in the early 40s. Having that history within the town, I kind of got doors opened that I might not have deserved. He went on to become a letter carrier, so he walked to every little house in town and then he went home and fired up the lawn mower and went and mowed yards. That’s kind of that work ethic that he had that was kind of assumed I had, but most of the time couldn’t live up to that standard. One of the lessons I learned from my father is to do things cause it’s the right thing to do. Some things I do, I don’t wanna talk about, I just want to do them. And I think that comes from him. When I graduated from high school I got married and my wife and I went to Kansas City to attend college. Looking back I wish I would have gotten an education degree with it, but instead I got involved in running a business. I got to talking to some friends that were interested in expanding a chain of convenient stores and I linked up with them. Running the stores was fun and challenging but it kept me away from home for long periods of time and after a number of years I started about thinking about making a change. One of the customers that we had, his name was Bruce. He was a teacher at Washington High School and we were his coffee stop of the morning. We got to talking, I got to listen to his stories about teaching and one day he made a comment that kind of stuck with me throughout the years, that if I decided to go into education I would either be one of the best or the worst, and I think what he meant was just the way that we talked about and interacted with people I think he saw the fact of being able to deal with diverse populations doesn’t always involve a loud voice and harsh discipline.>>I know that last year that we had the business, he didn’t seem happy. Obviously this was already kind of in the back of his head and he didn’t really know how to approach it.>>When we walked about options and one of them was if we were moving back so our kids could have grandparents and that was one of our driving forces. There wasn’t a lot of jobs that could support us and our kids. Teaching was one of the careers that was kind of on the table I guess, and when Bruce made that comment that kind of triggered that thought. It also gave me kind of a flashback because when I grew up, one of our next door neighbors had a sister whom I’d never met and I didn’t know why at that time. I learned that she had gone up to the grade school like we all did at that time. They told her mom that they didn’t have a program for her there. She wasn’t ready for school, take here home and bring her back when she was. And the mother did that again the next year and finally the mom learned that actually there was never going to be a time when she was ready for school. To me that just kind of brought that story back in my head about there has to be a better way. That kind of drove me not only into education but actually in that kind of sub-specialty of education if you will.>>We both were really nervous about moving back with no aspect of exactly how this was going to work. With his age and that, we knew he had to kind of go through fast. It wasn’t one where he could just take a class here and there. It all worked out and I think after he finally got in and got going then I could see a change in him to where he was happier.>>The first time that I met Jim, he kind of had wild longer hair kind of Einstein-ish looking. And then the first time I met him in a classroom setting, I was very impressed with his sense of humor, how he connected to the students. The respect he demanded without demanding it. He just has a way with people of making you feel important and he always expected more I think than people thought they could do, but they always seem to meet his expectations.>>It’s a reward system and if you remember there’s two parts. One of them is a group reward.>>I got into the habit of filming my own classroom and then watching the film on Saturday. I always thought, if it’s good enough for the football coach, it ought to be good enough for me. Because sometimes those interactions you wonder why in the world this kid reacted the way they did and then when you watch the film, you realize he didn’t start it, you did. It might not have been intentional, it doesn’t matter, just like a football play what you intended for to happen really doesn’t matter, the film shows what did happen. I learned a lot in those early years including how to get feedback from students.>>Sections on these report card, one for work and one for behavior.>>Every nine weeks we send home a report card but they never have an opportunity to fill out a report card on you. And so that’s one thing we did is the day I was gonna pass out report cards, I gave them my report card to fill out on me. They bought into the idea that it was gonna be growth for both of us and self contained, identified emotionally disturbed kids, filled out my report card.
Very similar to having undergraduates do t-vals. [LAUGH] [MUSIC]>>One year, Jim had a student that had passed away shortly after graduating school, and his mother had come up to Jim and explained to him how big of an impact that he had had on her sons life. To the day that he passed away he continually made different comments about Jim and the things they did. Jim used to do this thing that where if they were good, they would get tokens for their behavior, and at the end of the year whatever the theme was, he would let them buy and they could take home. And one year he did dinosaurs and this boy had enough tokens that he was able to outbid everybody else on them and his mother had told him how much that set of dinosaurs, and that school year had meant to him. And I know a lot of times Jim came home so depressed because a lot of times what he saw was not getting through and then to be able to hear later that he actually did I think was a real boost for him.>>I have so many kids that I’ll see today, and they’ll say, where’s Mr. Teagarden and how’s he doing? We’d have parents that would come and they’d be in a difficult spot and he would lend them money if they really needed something. Him and his family are such a blessing to me.>>To me social justice means access, it means stability, it means the use of pronoun. And I think social justice uses the plural pronouns it’s we rather than I. I was never a farmer but part of farming as I understand the concept is faith, and that’s that you plant seeds and you do what you can and you’ll never really know whether it’s gonna grow or not. I think coming back and revisiting those kind of places it’s kind of reassuring that it was a good crop. There is no comparison, this is the way to go. [MUSIC]>>There is no hierarchy of oppression, I think a lot of times we get in our own way by attempting to compare whose had it worse than another when we could be working together to make sure that all inequity is ended. [MUSIC] Growing up in the military I didn’t consider myself different. I’d never really thought outside of what was normal for me. I was born in Warner Robins, Georgia. My dad was in the Airforce so we moved quite a bit. We moved to Iosco, Michigan where my little brother was born. We were stationed at Wurtsmith Airforce Base, and then we moved from there to San Antonio, Texas. When I was 11 years old, we made the move from San Antonio, Texas to Ankara, Turkey. Going to a different school from fifth grade to sixth grade and now going to a different country, everything was new. One of the challenges of military life is meeting new people and meeting new friends, and then having to let go of those relationships and then meeting new friends as you go from place to place. I can adapt to really pretty much any situation. It’s not really difficult to meet new people because I was conditioned to do it. My dad had a special job that he was able to work with dignitaries if they came into town. And we went to the hanger and we see Airforce One. President Clinton was there and so we were able to meet him. We took a photo with him and I just remember thinking, wow, he’s so busy and he does all these cool things and he’s able to come and meet me and I thought well I think I’d like to go into politics, I think I’d like to be president. It seems like a good job to have.
So I wanna affect other kids like he’s affected me. Around middle school, I experienced some racial micro aggressions. Once we moved to an area that was not predominantly military, I experienced that much more, just discrimination and why do you think so high of yourself? It was unusual for a black student, specifically a black female student to be ambitious. I’d never really listened to it much. I think my parents did a good job of instilling confidence in me.>>We always encouraged them to be whatever you want, the sky is the limit. You just go for it. You just get your education and you can do whatever you wanna do, there’s no limitation. So she’s always felt that she can do anything that she wanted to do.>>I usually set goals and then I was determined that, that was what was gonna happen so, [family talking at table]>>We were in Altus and my husband had the opportunity for a special duty assignment to actually leave Altus and she came and she was like, no, dad, no. She wanted to be the president of the student body and she wanted to be commander of ROTC, and ‘these are my goals’ and ‘I want to stay’ and my husband looked at me and he said, ‘I understand. This pretty much will ended my career’ And we just kind of made the decision, you know what? We’ll just stay put.>>What’s a promotion if you get to miss out on what’s important in life? She’s always had a big heart and always wanted to participate with her friends and she had a thirst for knowledge of how they went about life and what was going on in their household. She certainly had that choice that she could have went with the status quo of, let me be friends with people who look like myself but she never did.>>I met Tierra our freshman year. We were at a multicultural student orientation, we just hit it off really quickly and became best friends within days. How she’s gotten to experience life living in Turkey and living all over the United States. Her experience and just really her care and concern for people, I think that makes her very good advocate for social justice because she is not just stuck in her little box, she’s really good about being able to relate to other people and I think that’s very important.>>I didn’t really know what I wanted to do when I started my doctoral program. One day I realized my story is a perfect story to work on my leadership so I decide to work on black women student leaders at predominantly white institutions. What are their stories? What are their experiences? Are they similar to mine? Are they different from mine? And really add to that literature. One of the reasons why I’m so passionate about my research topic is because I was a student body vice president at a predominantly white institution. So I was a black woman representing a majority white student population. I was running for student body president until I made it to the final election, me and another guy. Well when I asked for one of the other gentlemen if he would support me, he told me that it was really important that a student body president be in a Greek later organization. When I questioned ‘what do you mean Greek, I am in a Greek organization’ he said ‘well, not that Greek, Greek like me’. I am in historically black sorority and what he meant was a historically white sorority or fraternity. What I hope my research does is create a practical social implication. I hope that it can help black students specifically women to share their stories. I would also like for it to be a social implication that would allow people to see that the Black Lives Matter Movement is more than just a hashtag it’s actually it’s very real and how it affects black women. Social justice is for everyone, it’s a way to make sure that we are all seen as human beings, that we’re all equitably treated.>>When I think of social justice, it means opportunity. We both came from pretty meager financial background. She and I both were not able to go to school straight out of high school. There are people that look like the majority but don’t have the opportunity to enjoy the fruits of what this country offers in the way of freedom.>>I think most people believe that their neighbor should be treated equally to them. I think it’s really just educating. Growing up in a more diverse background I’ve learned about a lot of different people and I’ve grown to be compassionate and to really wanna make the world a better place. I hope that I’m able to give that same kind of compassion to my children and I hope that they are able to really experience diversity wherever they go. [MUSIC]>>Equity is providing every student with what they need rather than equality which is providing every student with the same. A good teacher will use equity in their classroom because every student is different and every student needs something different. [MUSIC] In elementary school, if students get behind that affects them throughout the rest of their academic careers and into their personal lives. I think education is the foundation of everything, you can’t get a good job without a good education, you can’t really be a productive citizen without having some degree of knowledge behind you. Having that inequality in the classroom early on and setting those students back can be very detrimental to the rest of their lives. As an elementary school teacher it’s even important that we provide equitable opportunity for our students to learn.>>Like a lot of young men around his age, he wanted to design comic books and video games. In terms of him becoming a teacher, the inklings of it were there from the very beginning. I remember when he was in third grade, they used to come and get him out of class to have him help with the kindergarteners. Everybody could see how much he loved working with little kids even when he was still a little kid himself. So the only surprise in any of this for me is that he didn’t necessarily choose to focus on preschool. And that he chose elementary education for his degree instead. And in fact I think, going into college he wasn’t even 100% sure that’s what he wanted to do even though I felt pretty confident that’s what he was always made for.>>Ever since I decided to be a teacher, giving back to my community, is something that really has motivated me to pursue this career and pursue being someone that can make a change. And I feel like being a teacher is gonna put me in the position where I can make a change in not only my community but hopefully in other communities. One memory I have was in second grade, my teacher and my mom were talking during a parent teacher conference, and I remember my teacher saying, Eli is a really bright student. He needs to get out of this school. I remembered those words. It surprised me because I knew I wasn’t the best student, but I knew I was pretty bright but the main thing that surprised me was that all my friends and everyone else at school, why didn’t they get the chance to go to a new school? Why weren’t they good enough to be provided the same things that I was being provided? It just didn’t make sense to me.>>There’s always teachers along the way that you remember as a kid, as a parent and his second grade teacher was definitely one of them. She made a point during one of the parent teacher conferences that Eli was very gifted and that she was almost saddened by the fact that they just weren’t going to be able to give him everything that he deserved. That her time, her energy and her resources were so limited because there were high needs children in the class, budget was very small. They just didn’t have all the things that she would love to be able to offer him in terms of being a child who would excel if given more. When he got to middle school age, that’s when it really became the biggest challenge of all. We were looking at the options of him going to one of two schools in the Kansas City, Missouri area, and one of them was well known for being the worst school in the district. The worst in terms of grades, the worst in terms of violence and was subsequently shut down the next year.>>I think it’s crazy how you can drive around a really nice neighborhood and look at a school that looks very visually appealing on the outside but on the inside there’s inequality and lack of resources and students falling behind. It just baffles my mind that that can survive in such a nice community around it. [MUSIC]>>Some of the challenges we had while Eli was younger and growing up, one his father wasn’t around a whole lot. We were separated very early on in his life but we stayed on good terms. But then he went away to prison when Eli was six or seven and didn’t return home until he was in middle school. So he didn’t have a father around although we worked really hard to keep him connected to his dad during that time. Financially it was very difficult for us. I was working but I was also receiving support from the state. The only options we had obviously were public school. So I worked really hard to try to find both a school that we had access to in terms of being close enough but was also a relatively decent education. It was difficult. They weren’t always a good fit especially when he was really little. He would sit on a school bus for literally hours in each direction.>>Kids in urban settings, a lot of them either their fathers aren’t there or they don’t have that male to look up to. That was a big part of my decision to become a teacher, to be that positive male influence in their life because I think it’s really beneficial. Students don’t always get that and I think it’s needed. Being someone my students can rely on, just that constant encouragement, constant presence that I can just be there for them if they need me. And just be someone they can talk to about their problems, someone they can talk to about their real life. Being more than just a teacher, almost taking on that parent role for students who might not have that in their life. [MUSIC]>>The greatest potential for your work to be rewarding, it requires a courage and a vulnerability to teach about issues related to social justice. [MUSIC] I see myself reflected in the students that I interact with everyday especially first generation students, culturally and linguistically diverse students who are clearly the very first person in their family to try and do college. Because I see myself reflected back, I see the challenges that they encounter. Part of what I find so rewarding about working in higher ed is that I’m able to help them navigate through that. [MUSIC] I had an amazing childhood, I absolutely loved it. I felt like the older community kind of helped raise the kids in the neighborhood. I think there was some tension between my family and the town primarily because of culture and socio economic status but I never really felt like it was a major issue for me. I think I had really good relationships with teachers. I played some sports, primarily volleyball. I needed to work. I worked a lot of hours in addition to going to school. I’ve had about every kind of job that you can imagine. I worked for the long term care as a nurse’s aid, I worked for the county, I painted fences, I cleaned out stalls at the fairground, I washed dishes. I spent a lot of time finding ways to make money to pay for things like senior pictures, my prom dress, my car. I knew that if I wanted to have the stuff that I wanted to have that I had to work for it. And I think that’s a good thing. [Oh and there’s me at the chalkboard.]>>I said yesterday that you were always teaching school and that you lived in a classroom your whole life.>>[LAUGH]>>You can kind of get the bent of a kid just by watching them play. She was always teaching school. She was always doing some scientific project and experiment and she expressed herself through her art from the time she was very small. When her dad came to town, he was the only Hispanic here for a long time and now we have a lot of Hispanic families, and they’re doing very well. He really had to make a place for himself in this community and he didn’t choose to do it the very best way. But yet being the minority, there’s just a feel that comes across, it’s hard to put to words, you know, but you know you’re different. And it’s evident that everyone else knows you’re different. But my girls never really let that stop them. But, I know they were hurt by things.>>She has never put herself on a higher pedestal, ever. Growing up, she was always for the underdog. If anyone was remotely harder off than what we were, she would be right there. She has definitely put a hunger for learning in her, makes my daughter want to do more science and hands on stuff. I always wanted my girls to go on to school. You know, there’s that mentality that if you are this, you won’t be this. And I always encouraged them to break that mold, not let anybody put them in a box.>>First time that I met Amanda she was a sophomore in high school. She was in my geometry class. She’s just one of those people, her personality is splendid. It’s gonna bring the best out of people. She’s not gonna not give a compliment when it’s due but she’s also gonna make sure that they know that if they are not doing their best, they can do better and she can do it in a way that’s not gonna be hurtful. It’s just gonna make them think about ‘well gosh, maybe she’s right’. She’s just got a great gift.>>I would describe my mission as being two fold, to ensure that the students who we have that they are prepared to be highly effective, culturally responsive, advocate for all types of students. The other piece of my mission would be to increase the representation and preparation of culturally and linguistically diverse teachers. Over the years, I’ve been able to develop some powerful relationships with people. They see the need for quality education for ESL migrant, Latino student populations and so that’s where a lot of my work has resided. [MUSIC] I don’t feel like social justice is the golden rule because it’s difficult for us to disconnect our own socialization and identity and experiences to really understand what others want or might want to be treated. So I can say the golden rule applies, treat others the way you would wanna be treated but the way you wanna be treated is couched within the context of your own background, your own culture, your own socialization and while it’s a great rule of thumb I think it’s important for us to be able to set aside our lens and truly see the world with new eyes. [MUSIC]>>For me social justice in the classroom is very different than the one short celebration of Cinco de Mayo or putting the poster up on Martin Luther King day. I challenge the students to think beyond festivals and foods. I challenge them to push past those superficial treatments of culture and get to the real depth of student’s identities. What their struggles are and what their dreams are and it’s so much more than that. It’s about extremely high expectations for students, maintaining that at all cost, giving students multiple opportunities to demonstrate their worth, saying, you know what, this isn’t your best work and I’ve seen what you can do. I’m gonna give you another chance to redo this for me and we’ll just keep doing it until I know we can get it right. That to me is social justice, because it’s ensuring that that student is demonstrating their best work. [Isn’t that so cool?] [MUSIC]>>Hello my name is Alex Red Corn. I’m from Pawhuska, Oklahoma. It’s got a lot of history here. It’s a lot of, Osage roots, a lot of Cowboy and Indian routes and a lot of oil boom routes and it used to be absolutely bustling. It’s not a ghost town but it’s slowly been trying to regain its footing.>>Back in the 1920s a lot of oil money was coming through town because the Osages had mineral rights so it’s a very much an oil boom town but there was a lot of corruption from white people marrying into the tribe and trying to take advantage of head rights, so they’d marry in and either poison or kill their spouse somehow and then they be able to inherit the oil head rights and that money. A lot of that corruption died off with some of the oil economy receding. In recent times we’ve started relying on gaming and it’s brought some revenue back to the tribe and back to the town so it’s gone from oil boom to now it’s relying on gaming revenues. My father was born on a reservation. My mother was born in a well to do neighborhood and family, a white family and I married into a blue collar white family. They are all awesome and they’ve all made me who I am today. When I was a child I knew I was Osage but I knew I was also white and blonde. That’s another one of those things, it just is what it is, but as a child it’s confusing sometimes because you’re told one thing and then you go to school and you’re reminded that you might not be that because of the way you look. It takes a while to sort that out and to have pale skin and blonde hair but you have something else inside of you that isn’t necessarily easy to understand especially for young people. And you know what, even into my high school and college years, when you start becoming more independent, you’re still trying to sort out what that means and how it defines you. [MUSIC] When you go into our dance, there’s lots of people who have long black hair and braids and there’s people who have short blonde brown hair like me. My family is not the only pale skinned Osages around town. When we redid our government recently into a three branch system, it was debated as to whether or not we should set blood quantum requirements and whether or not those requirements should be honored in citizenship. So you would have to be x amount blood to become an Osage citizen and have the benefits of any Osage nation programming. I think a lot of people realized that because of our entanglements, as Jean Dennison would describe them, we really would be putting the expiration date on ourselves if we did that. I mean the the full bloods are not gonna be around forever. In order to preserve our future, I think we decided that blood quantum can’t play as big of a role. [MUSIC] My decision to become a teacher is kind of funny because a lot of people start freshman year in college, sophomore year in college thinking like, okay I’m gonna do this and a lot of them change. I started with education and within a couple of years I realized I picked right. It is what I wanted to do. I chose teaching because I realized its power in affecting change in young people, and I wanted to be a part of that. My primary class was full of Geography and the very first unit of every year we would talk about culture and what is culture, and the first thing you have to break down is that the color of your skin is not culture, they always think along ethnic lines and so I tried to break that down and tried to reconstruct the notion of culture in a more complete way. And I would model with my culture. Some questions that would come up when they learned I used to live on a reservation, I spent time on a reservation, do you even have TVs? I would joke around them with that. I’d tell them, we live in these things they have walls, they have a roof and we call them a house. It’s mostly curiosity because they never been taught anything except what Indians are supposed to look like. We’re fighting against school curriculum that basically stops teaching about Indians after removal in late 1800s, and then Indians just kind of end in the curriculum. Pop culture doesn’t help. We’re just trying to fill in the gaps for everybody. And that’s why things like mascots are such a big issue. When people talk about mascots, people get caught up on the name. And it’s all about the name, what the name means and how offensive it is. To me that’s a distraction to the real issue, what I call the mascot curriculum and it’s being able to do the tomahawk chop in front of an Indian like it’s an honor and not offensive when it’s actually mockery right in front of your face. I was in white schools and our rival was the Indians and there were posters that went up that said, ‘scalp the Indians’ on it or ‘send them back on the trail of tears’. People do those things. I had an administrator one time tell me ‘let’s go scalp the red skins’. He didn’t even know. That’s a well educated person, good person too but even the most intelligent leaders in our communities, this is a total ignorance gap for them. This indigenous world is so different, that it’s really hard for people to understand. It’s not like all white people are bad [LAUGH] but indigenous people often feel like they have to be defensive to protect what little we have left after centuries of systematic cultural destruction. So I taught social studies in suburban Kansas City for seven years and eventually I started to feel a little bit disconnected in some of the stuff I was doing, so I started looking into tribal education departments and Indian education and really trying to make myself more complete as an educator, as it relates to who I am. That kind of led me eventually to Kansas State where I started a doctoral program and a focus on indigenous and tribal needs within educational leadership. I’ve learned that being an agent of social justice is just as much about being conscious of yourself in the systems you’re operating in as it is about understanding other people’s culture and other people’s perspectives. In 2015 we started a partnership between the Osage Nation in Kansas State University to help train indigenous educators, and we started with the creation of an educational leadership academy. We’re trying to train individuals to fill some of those needs, you not only have certain educator skills as a professional but also certain cultural skills as members of the Osage Nation. So one of the things that’s hard for educators to do is to take time off work to attend school, so through our patnership with the Osage Nation, we are bringing K-State professors to Pawhuska to offer training on site on the reservation. We wanna accommodate people so they can be working people while improving their skills as educators. To me student success in Indian country is about much more than helping students pass tests. That’s very important, but we also need to pick up the pieces from an attempted cultural genocide, put them back together and try to move them into the future. Students need to be knowledgeable about their own histories, their own past, their own language. And we need to help them understand that that’s something to be proud of. The greatest lesson I’ve learned regarding social justice is probably that you gotta get people in the right places to help make some of these important decisions. The door has been cracked open but we need more people with the credentials and the skills to help make those decisions. I believe there is a cost to promoting social justice in education. People when they feel like they’ve been raised in a world where they’re supposed to treat everybody equally, and they feel like they’re carrying that out, even though sometimes they may unknowingly be violating those values, they get very defensive. That lack of perspective and that lack of understanding creates kind of a backlash. and sometimes when you are the only person in a community, for you to stand up, you don’t have a lot of people to have your back because they haven’t walked in your shoes. [MUSIC] My identity could easily become an Osage only story because there’s so much intrigue around it, but there is an entire other side of my family that has helped define me, and it’s a white Irish Catholic side of the family and they’re also very important to me. I met my wife as a freshman in high school and we’ve been best friends really ever since. We’ve been through a lot of ups and downs, she really pushed me in a lot of ways to better myself. And when we got older and we got married, we adopted two children. They’re awesome. And they make my day. I also married into an excellent family and they have taught me just as much about life as my Osage elders. That’s why I’m walking entanglement.