My College Degree Makes Me Visible

"Respect my authority."

When I first started teaching, my authority was tested. Most first year teachers are challenged. The students push boundaries to establish boundaries. Their chatter in class, their not doing homework, and their various small rebellious actions are all done as they grope to find that imaginary line that will eventually, with enough fear, not cross. Until that line is drawn, they will manifest destiny all over the rules. All first year teachers encounter resistance from students in the first couple of days, weeks, and months. The students challenge and see if you are really going to contact their grade dean or their parents. They are essentially begging you to walk the walk that you talked when you introduced yourself and your classroom rules. Understandable. I get it. I experienced this kind of push back during my first year of teaching in public schools. Switching schools, I prepared myself for the same kind of test because any first year teacher, regardless of how many years one has taught, is considered a first year teaching at a new institution. I was ready!

Or so I thought. I did not expect my students to test my education.

“Where did you go to undergrad?” they would ask.

“I went to [the best university in the United States],” I would answer, not quite sure what it had to do with my lesson on Kite Runner, their then-summer reading book.

After having that brief conversation with numerous students and their parents, I noticed an unheard sigh of relief after I gave my answer. “Phew-I-my-son/daughter-am-is-in-good-hands.” My attendance at a prestigious university instantaneously quelled their concerns about my teaching capability. Undoubtedly my race (Black), age (young), and gender (male) raised questions about my professional aptitude. The media’s imagining imaging and consequent understanding of young Black males focused on violence and ignorance, not education. Luckily, my attendance at an acceptable and desirable university saved me; I had the right pedigree.

Saved or not, I felt small, insufficient, and invisible. Would the sigh of relief still be present if I attended a lesser known state school? Would I have been deemed acceptable? Would I be seen?

I shook off the feeling because I convinced myself that the initial concern of being in my class had to do with my age. Though, I had a few years experience, I looked young. Age. Yep, that’s it. So, I asked my fellow young colleagues, all with less teaching experience, if they received that question about which college they attended. “No,” they all responded. “Why is that important?” they remarked. Same question I had. Only difference is that I received and answered the question. Therefore, I concluded that age was not the reason for this seemingly incessant inquiry about my collegiate background. There had to be more to it. Had to be, especially since my young White female colleagues were not questioned. So what was the more? That more was my race, age, and gender. By stating my college, I seemingly disarmed prominent, dominant stereotypes. To further aid the effect to be seen, I closely monitor my attire. While my colleagues come to work in jeans and other casual wear, especially on Fridays, I always arrive in slacks, dress shirt, and a blazer. My body dressed in jeans, sneakers, and casual wear unfortunately communicates danger or outsider. Ask Trayvon.

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