by Pirette McKamey, the first black principal of Mission High School in San Francisco, CA
Ask black students who their favorite teacher is, and they will joyfully tell you. Ask them what it is about their favorite teacher, and most will say some version of this: They know how to work with me. So much is in that statement. It means that these students want to work, that they see their teachers as partners in the learning process, and that they know the teacher-student relationship is one in which they both have power. In other words, black students know that they bring intellect to the classroom, and they know when they are seen—and not seen.
As the principal of San Francisco’s Mission High School and an anti-racist educator for more than 30 years, I have witnessed countless black students thrive in classrooms where teachers see them accurately and show that they are happy to have them there. In these classes, students choose to sit in the front of the class, take careful notes, shoot their hands up in discussions, and ask unexpected questions that cause the teacher and other classmates to stop and think. Given the chance, they email, text, and call the teachers who believe in them. In short, these students are everything their families and community members have raised and supported them to be.