“What would make you want to live and work in Burien?”
This off-script question was asked as I sat in on an interview conducted via Skype with a credentialed candidate in another country. While I would like to believe that the purpose may have been to determine if the individual had done her research about the area, I knew by the intonation of the question and knowledge of the panel member, that he wondered why someone would want to work with a diverse population, comprised of over 75 languages, in an area of increasing poverty. The intent of the question made my heart sink.
Instantly I reflected upon my move last year to the Seattle area. My wife and I had limited time to find a home and had no knowledge of the different communities up and down the I-5 corridor from Tacoma to Seattle. I asked many people, all in education or with children attending local schools, to recommend a community where we could raise our four children. To my surprise, my inquiries yielded, instead, a list of areas to avoid.
“Stay away from Tacoma.”
“You don’t want to live in Kent.”
“I wouldn’t recommend Federal Way.”
“What ever you do, don’t live in White Center.”
What would happen if I, as an educator, shared the same perception of students that some people do about where these same students come from and the communities that they represent? It seems to me that the best teachers and leaders don’t derogate someone else’s school and community or waste time complaining about their own. Instead, they take action, as the grass is always greener where it’s watered. Instead of admiring the problem, they become part of the solution. Actions express priority, and top educators make where they are the place to be!
What I appreciate about every community that I’ve come to know is the common denominator that they share – students who need equity driven champions in the form of positive, caring, instructionally sound teachers and administrators. Why would someone want to work in an area of increasing poverty and high diversity? I answer that question by sharing that poverty is not a sickness and being diverse is not a challenge to overcome. Champions don’t operate from a deficit perspective, and, instead, they recognize that there are profound strengths and extensive intellectual potential in all students, especially when it comes to those who live in generational poverty or experience cultural trauma.
As an educator, it’s my charge to be a keeper of hope, without relying on hope as a strategy for success. I must be positive, showing love and concern to all students, without lowering expectations or loving them to mediocrity. I must exercise the power to change lives and impact futures through what I believe and do. All means all, whether I live in Burien, Tacoma, Kent, Federal Way, or White Center, and I owe it to all students to make where I am the place to be.