Building a New Table

So often, folks talk about “pulling up a chair at the table”, or letting marginalized folks, “have a seat at the table.”

I have decided I am done with this.

First of all, I know nothing in this life is free.  Nobody “lets” me have anything without some sort of agreement or agenda.  It has become pretty evident that even IF I, a Black woman, “get” a seat at the table, it’s going to come with all kinds of conditions:

  1. My name tag needs to be a name folks are familiar with and don’t have to work to learn to pronounce correctly.  My identity needs to be clearly delineated.  I can’t be intersectional or cosmopolitan because that’s weird, and threatening.
  2. My voice can’t be loud, because that will be mistaken for anger, and if it actually is righteous and justifiable  anger on behalf of my students, people ain’t trying to hear that.  Tears will be perceived as weakness.
  3. My ideas can’t be too radical, or too revolutionary, because if they are, I’ll be met with a host of reasons why the “moderate” or “majority” will be put off by said ideas and that will impede progress.
  4. My speech needs to sound as neutral as possible, so as not to reflect an upbringing anywhere other than middle America, or attendance at schools anywhere other than suburbia.  If I do slip into speech folks don’t recognize, my ideas will be dismissed.  I will be silenced, talked over, othered, ignored.
  5. I need to let whomever wants to co-opt my intellectual capital and/or ideas, re-word them (sometimes directly after I’ve said them) then present them as their own, without making a fuss, because, “We’re all on the same team–fighting for the kids.”
  6. I can’t bring up “uncomfortable” topics, or advocate for the fair and equal educational experience of the students I represent, because those in power will never go for any proposed actions that target one or two specific groups. This would be seen as favoritism, and what we do for one, we must do for all–unless that one is the group that has historically held power–they can have any and everything.

I do not accept these conditions.

This week I was at #SXSWEdu and had the opportunity to hear from and work with some phenomenal educators representing groups I am honored and blessed to affiliate with.


José Vilson, the founder of #Educolor is not playing with folks.  He is ready to make change and I am 100% behind the changes he proposes:

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  1. Mandatory school trips (as we call them out West, “field trips”) – My students typically get 1 or 2 field trips per year.  My children (that I gave birth to), going to school in suburbia, get roughly 3 per semester.  Part of raising citizens to be participatory is helping them see and explore the world around them.  It is oppressive to keep students in schools engineered by prison architects doing practice test after practice test so they can prove their ability to pass tests created by those who do not know them or have any awareness of the richness of their cultures, their languages, their neighborhoods, their upbringings.  Set my children free.
  2. Mandatory recess, or advisory program – Mandatory play.  They do this in Sweden. It works really well for them.  Their children are happy.  Part of being a child should include being happy, right?  Many children in urban schools–read Black and brown children–get NO recess.  You read that correctly, recess has been taken away.  Think about that for a minute. I have an advisory period that I teach, but it was dropped on us one year in this way:  We were told quite literally, “You have one less hour to prep.  Your pay has been reduced because we no longer have the grant money.  You now have advisory.  You will teach one more class for less pay.”  Understandably, people were a bit shaken and this made them less, not more excited to mentor students in advisory.  Though it should come naturally to want to mentor and help students, for some, it doesn’t.  Humans are incentive driven animals, so reducing pay and adding a section does not sit well with most people.  With time, the formula gets messy, looks like a free-for-all, and admin gets upset.  We are still–three years later–working through this.
  3. Review of teacher evaluation systems – I really can’t with how much this is needed, other than say that teacher evaluation systems are like every other evaluation system I’ve ever encountered; extremely subjective and as such, suspect.  In my environment, students tell the truth, so I think student perception surveys should carry the most weight.  But, I know of other environments where teachers of color teach mostly white children who take the opportunity of an anonymous survey to light UP their teachers of color, questioning their credibility as experts in their field, etc.  To quote one of my close friends who has dealt with this, “They understand power, privilege, and what it means to organize, perfectly.”  So, evaluation systems definitely need review, and I don’t have all the answers there, but José might…
  4. Educators as ambassadors – Need I say more?  How many educators have had the experience of being present in a room where your future and fate are being decided without your input by people who are not on the front lines, in front of students every day?
  5. Culturally Responsive (or Sustaining) and Anti-Racist Pedagogy Training – This is crucial.  The work IS happening.
  6. Better Professional Development – How many districts create positions for people to develop PD and then mandate teachers take the PD to justify these folks having their positions?  No shade to the people with good intentions just trying to develop teachers and give back, but how many districts have folks who are actually looking into research based PD and adult education?  How many educators have experienced watching someone read from a Powerpoint (for six to eight hours), then being told to fill out a graphic organizer/note-catcher/exit ticket?  How many folks have had the experience of PD mirroring everything we have expressly been told NOT to do with students?  Why is the bar so low for folks getting paid so much more than your average teacher in the classroom?  Why aren’t classroom teachers asked more often (and paid) to give PD? Why, if these folks are such experts, have they not been retained in the classroom when there is such a desperate and obvious teacher shortage?  I will stop there, but clearly– I have questions.
  7. Sample testing – This could be a book.  In fact, it is: This is Not a Test (shameless plug for my homie).  We have to remember how much fun we used to be allowed to have in school, and how much less we have now, because it has become all about proving we are learning what we are told has importance, which is oppressive, and the antithesis of what ACTUAL curiosity and love of learning looks like.
  8. Teachers get to own their own work – How amazing would it be if folks actually got recognized for the work they do every day, for the investment they make in our society’s children and future?  José asked, “How many of you have attended a conference and then not been recognized for your efforts to develop yourself?” *cough* Believe it or not, lesson plans do get harvested and repurposed without any kind of credit or remuneration given to teachers.  Believe it or not, every single day teachers are cajoled, persuaded, or mandated to give their intellectual capital away “for the greater good”.  If someone wants credit, or (God forbid) money, in return, that person is often deemed selfish and blacklisted with the quickness.

Um, in case you didn’t catch that, José Vilson for NYC Chancellor.  That is all.

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I also had the privilege of sitting down with Micia Mosely from Black Teacher Project. Lissen.  If you don’t know Micia, please fix that.  She is so inspiring, so passionate, so unapologetically in favor of Black teachers, which is rare, and I appreciate it. It didn’t take us long to discover that we are both fans of Stephen Chang from the National Equity Project who is the homie for real and I love him.

We met and talked a bit about what these proposed steps look like in action:

What Can You Do To Sustain Your Black Teachers?
1. Don’t tokenize your Black staff
2. Be aware of the invisible tax on teachers of color, and if you unknowingly encourage it
3. Create culturally responsive professional development
4. District Self Care Workshops
5. Do your own racial justice work (reflection and action)
6. Listen, understand and support your Black Teachers especially when they are challenged
7. Use your power and position to shift mindsets and practices of non-Black educators
8. Lift up the expertise of Black Teachers in professional development and encourage them to present at conferences
9. Unpack the implicit bias in hiring and promotional practices
10. Clear a path forward in navigating the system (clarity, testing, support- financial and otherwise)
11. Talk about race and racism with and about adults (event if there are no Black people present)

She assured me she is committed to coming to Denver for a workshop which I cannot wait for.  Check out more from the Black teacher sustainability session at #SXSWedu in this blog post from the Imaginarium.  There is a video!!

We look forward to her Black teachers sustainability workshop.  The need is great–trust me.

So how does all of this circle back to building a new table?

To begin, I am no longer willing to settle for a seat at a table that was not made for me, one where I have felt for so long that I have to push and shove and contort myself in order to belong.

Instead, I choose to work with those who are restructuring our world to make a new table for those of us who have always been here, but as mere “guests” or “hosted” on the fringes.

At our new table:

  1. There are people who know how to pronounce my name because they’ve heard it before and/or they know how to ask me what I would like to be called.
  2. My loud voice gets met with a bunch of “Amen”s, “Testify” “YAS, hermana”s, and “I know that’s right”s because we know what call and response is about, and we know how important it is to support one another rather than compete.
  3. My radical and revolutionary ideas are seen as an homage to the ancestors who have a radical and revolutionary tradition, and as such, my ideas are honored, pondered, considered, and amplified–with respect for the tradition which they uphold.
  4. My speech should include whatever dialects, languages, and cultures I call my own.  Spanglish is not only permitted, but encouraged.  My Portunhol is cool because whomever does not understand me takes the opportunity to ask and learn so that they can expand.  Difference or unfamiliarity with communication and expression is not a threat, but instead is respected and appreciated for what it is–a chance to learn and grow.
  5. My community gives credit where credit is due, because although we are all parts of the same whole, we realize the body can’t move without the legs.  A leg cannot walk without the foot, and the foot doesn’t function without the toes.  It is an act of humility, honor, deference, and respect, to name the people who have inspired you.  Citationality matters.
  6. I can advocate for whomever I feel needs advocating for, because empowering those whom the world would overlook is a cultural tradition, norm, and expectation.

At our table, if you are not fighting for anyone’s life to be better, if you are not expanding your own consciousness by taking risks, being brave, advancing the cause of those society would overlook, what are you doing?

We are building a new table.  It is my honor and privilege to link arms with other folks doing the work.

Who’s with me?

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Me, w/ The JLV and Rafranz Davis, It is true. We are blessed.  #Educolor is Familia.


Author: Julia E. Torres

I am a mother, high school Language Arts teacher, activist, world traveler, and reader. Here you will find the story of a woman making her way in the world and making her mark, one word, and one classroom at a time.

4 thoughts on “Building a New Table”

  1. Just a note – intellectual capital, in Every industry, belongs to the entity that pays you. Education is no different. If you work for Merck and discover a cure for AIDS that vaccine belongs to Merck. The person who invented the Post It note? He work for MMM, his only compensation was his salary. I don’t know if this makes you feel any better?😏 You aren’t being slighted as an educator, or your intellectual capital co-opted, every industry follows this model. Except publishing and the arts, those industries produce royalties and allow copyright. To get that in education you have to publish.


    1. Definitely. But to publish you need connections and power, and opportunity. Lots of folks do not know how to navigate the systems of power and privilege in order to BE published, and I also think running schools like businesses is problematic. If you work at a university, you typically get credit for your ideas and opportunities to publish your work under a university press. The same is not so for K-12 educators.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I hope you feel like you’re more than a guest and more than a host, more than marginal to me — even as you *guest* *host* #tg2chat this weekend. To be honest, I value your analysis more than those who form their theories in a falsely neutral, privileged state. Thanks for bringing your voice to this table even as you build a new one. I’m working on being more worthy of sitting at yours. 😊


    1. I’m very glad to have the chance to broaden people’s viewpoints and perspectives. Thank you for all that you are doing and have done to make sure people see the whole picture. Inviting me into the conversation is part of that and I do appreciate the invitation. Though I do see myself as a guest in your community, it doesn’t follow that I feel unwelcome. In fact it’s quite the opposite. Though this is very much your work and community, and not necessary for me to leave mine to join yours, I very much look forward to the chance to support you in the transformation to support ALL kids with the work. I truly believe that is important.

      Liked by 1 person

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