Audio Series: A Conversation with Nicole Baker Fulgham
Nicole Baker Fulgham shared about race and equality in education and how to reflect God as teachers.
Nicole Baker Fulgham is the founder and president of the Expectations Project and the author of Educating All God’s Children: What Christians Can – And Should – Do To Improve Public Education for Low-Income Kids.
The audio recording shared on this site has been edited for time. The full transcript of the conversation between MTR Executive Director David Montague and Nicole Baker Fulgham is below for full context and reference.
DM: I really appreciate your time and interested in your thoughts here.
DM: One of the things that we try and focus on is the idea that a teacher’s identity and what they think about themselves has a tremendous amount of influence in what type of teacher they are. And so there’s a quote… There’s a book I’ve read called The Public Purpose of Education in Schooling, and there’s a quote here I’ll ask you later. It says, “Preparation to be a teacher would be thought, for example, to consist importantly in struggling to become whole oneself, and in the related capacity, to be present to others. It would be no less than an education of the soul or character, that is, whether one could educate others would depend upon how one is with oneself and with others.” So sort of like what you think about yourself has a lot to do with how you can lead a classroom and lead others, and that’s sort of a distinctive of what we talk about here. Oftentimes, Teacher Prep is a lot around just technique, content techniques, so this gets it sort of like, “If you’re insecure and needy, it’s gonna make you need… You’re gonna be in a place of scarcity, when you need to be in a place of abundance.” Anyway, I’ll throw that out, and if you have some thoughts on that, that’d be great. But that’ll come later.
NBF: Okay, sounds good.
DM: Alright, well, first thing is, just particularly in terms of where we are post-election, sort of post-election. So the first question is, how does your Christian faith impact and influence how you respond to the tension surrounding our current social and political climate, and/or what faith encouragement would you have for educators or really anyone in this time?
NBF: So this has been, I think for so many of us, such an interesting and, honestly, hard season, certainly with the politics at play, a pandemic, regional unrest that really did spark and bubble over to become a part of the national conversation in a way that I hadn’t seen maybe since the Rodney King verdict and subsequent uprisings. So being a Christian and a black female Christian in social justice spaces right now has been very challenging. And my faith, as much as it is important for me personally, in terms of how I cope with all of the stress that I see, it has been problematic because I end up having conversations and engagements with Christians who have very strong opinions about, particularly, politics, race, and, quite frankly, whether or not the pandemic is being held… Is being handled correctly. And I don’t seek those conversations out. [chuckle] They just seem to sometimes come my way. So I guess God is continuing to help me grow and learn to temper my… [chuckle] Temper whatever. So I have found it to be actually a really tough time. So I have, to just be, make it a little more personal, we did have a family loss due to COVID. I sadly lost my father in April to COVID. And he’s African-American, as am I, obviously.
NBF: And the complications of just… The degree to which Black folks have been impacted by COVID, from death rate to income issues, economic challenges, all of that, and compounded with a personal loss has made it just almost unbearable for me to talk to people, honestly, who will defend what’s happening. And the way it’s been happening. And it’s just such a pain point. And as a Christian, who… I find myself in conversations with other Christians who feel very, very strongly about supporting the current leadership in our country, not just supporting but defending, from a faith perspective, it’s left me almost just gobsmacked on a consistent basis.
NBF: And I’m fortunate to go… We go to a church where our pastor… McLean Bible Church here in DC, it’s a large church. And it’s very mixed politically. And I’m so grateful that our pastor virtually preached such a good sermon a couple of weeks ago about how to honor Jesus in this election. And he literally took, quite frankly, both political parties to task for their platforms. In terms of where they do and don’t match up with the Bible. And his overall message was, this is really more about how we individually are gonna come to our own conclusions. Like God has given each of us things that we’re passionate about. That He gives us particular sensibilities for one body, many parts, and that’s okay. And so ultimately trusting that each of you are gonna go out and vote your particular conscience with respect to God and you’re gonna honor God with your vote. And he was like, “I know I’m gonna make some people mad, but I’m not gonna encourage you that either candidate has a Biblical mandate and has a biblical perspective.”
NBF: That was probably the most healing and most authentic message for me to hear in this season. And it has helped me kind of navigate this very difficult space of just the pandemic and race and just… I believe in data and science. And so all of these things sort of combined, but more so, I just don’t wanna hear any Christian tell me that like, “If you’re a Christian, you’re gonna vote this way.” “If you’re a Christian… ” like, you just can’t. You just can’t say it to me. And so that has been probably… When I say my faith has been, personally for me, healing and comforting because I don’t know what else to do, because my world has been upside down since April, early March. And I’ve relied on that to sustain me personally. The complications of navigating faithful relationships when people continue to want to say like, “This is God’s anointed.” Like, “You have to vote this way.” I just… It’s been tough, honestly. It’s been tough.
DM: Really sorry about your dad. Same thing happened in my family. My dad passed away in June, he was 92, but tested positive for COVID and hospitalized for four or five days, then released. But then, within weeks after that, passed away. So I understand your… To hear people downplay the reality and the effects of it is ludicrous. Certainly hurtful for someone like you that have suffered from it, and your family. So I’m sorry about that.
NBF: Thank you. Same to you, as well.
DM: So I went back and re-read your book. I have a couple of copies of it, and so I pulled them off the shelf and re-read it.
NBF: ____ people who read something you wrote seven years ago, ’cause you’re like, “Oh my gosh.”
DM: So that’s what I wanted to ask you. The question is, it’s been I think, seven years since your popular Educating All God’s Children book was released. And so the first thing I’d say is like… Not can you remember, that sounds bad, but like, what would you say were your one or two or three points or objectives for writing the book, and then now, seven years later, what is changed, if you were gonna write a book today, what would be your point or objective today in a new book?
NBF: Yeah. So initially, I wrote the book because I wanted to make, just honestly, a really strong case to Christians in particular, that kids in low income public schools deserved an equal education. So [18:27] ____ starting making that case. And so I know that there are plenty of people at the time who were Christians that already knew that there was inequality, but from the couple of years that I had been speaking and talking at events with Christians, it became clear that for some of us, it was more of an unknown idea. Just the vast scope of the inequality was almost… People were just shocked. And I’m sure you’ve probably seen this in your work too when talking to people. I’m hoping that’s less the case now, but I don’t know.
NBF: So one, it was to make the case that this inequality exists. Right? And to really prick people’s hearts about just the scope of the challenge, at the same time making a case for, it doesn’t actually have to be this way, kids are brilliant. So that’s sort of one piece. But then also saying, what is our responsibility as Christians to do something about it and making a case. Secondly that as people who love Jesus, who believe that every child is made in God’s image and in his likeness and has potential, we have a responsibility to ensure that this public education system stops being sort of a rejection of the kingdom of God when you see these unequal outcomes largely along the lines of race and class, there’s something broken with that system. And so we have an obligation as believers to work to make that system one that more reflects God’s ideas and his values.
NBF: And I specifically wanted to focus on public schools because I think as Christians, we have a long history of being engaged in Christian schools and all of that, which can be great, and it’s not about one being better than the other. It’s just that 90% of kids, 93%, I think, are in public schools in the US. And it’s a massive opportunity to work on an equity issue. So that was really the main thrust of the book. And try to make it as practical as I could for people to have practical things to do.
DM: Yeah. It was super practical, and I found it, I was reminded just how easy it was to consume, you know to take in. So, anyway, I appreciated that. And if you wrote a new book today, do you have different points you would make?
NBF: I would, I would. So I think what I didn’t do is focus as much on the role of race and institutionalized and systemic racism, and that was probably intentional on my part. I think I touched on it briefly in a chapter, and I certainly reference class and race throughout the book in terms of the inequalities. But I think, when I started this work, I had a different frame and thought so much about how do I work… How do we work to capture the hearts and minds, quite frankly, of White Christians. And on the theory that Black and Brown Christians were… It was… This problem is more sort of connected to their communities, based on just numbers and statistics.
NBF: I don’t think that was a shocker for Black and Latino folks to realize that there was inequality, but I really had such a desire to open up this issue to a lot more of my White Christian brothers and sisters. And I really was thinking a lot about people that identify more as evangelical, in part because I’d seen opportunities for evangelical Christians to take on other issues 10 years ago or so with looking at everything from climate care to HIV/AIDS, things that were taboo among Evangelicals largely 10, 15 years ago, we’d seen this progress, immigration reform. And so I thought this is a ripe opportunity to capture this very large and very influential group of Christians that could really move the needle.
NBF: At the same time, I was nervous, in retrospect, to really address the race piece, because I know, for a lot of White folks in America and definitely white conservative Christians, that was gonna be such a hard push and a hard sell, and I feel like I was gonna shut people down unintentionally before they were even open to it. And that’s where I was at the time when I wrote this, I’m not that same person today. And I have no problem talking about race, racism, institutionalized racism in education, and I think we’re missing an opportunity if we don’t put inequality in public schools in that context. Do I think it’s all race? No. Do I think that that’s a significant part of it? Yes.
NBF: And so I would definitely write differently about that now. And I think it would just be more of a central theme in what I would write now, without fear of losing audience members or… I just… I’m sort of at that point in my life where I’m like, “Yeah, I don’t really care.” [chuckle] I want as many people as possible to come to the work, but I actually, also, David, I don’t think we’re gonna get from… We do advocacy and policy work, I don’t think we’re gonna get there as a country and as a movement if we don’t address this very deep-rooted problem in our country, and certainly in our schools. So I actually don’t know that I want people engaging in this work if they’re not willing to address that as one of the root issues. At least not with me and our organization, ’cause I just think it’s such a part of everything we do. If you can’t come along with that, you’re probably just not gonna ultimately be able to make the impact.
NBF: And so that’s one piece. I would say… I’m sorry, one other thing I would say is that I struggle too with… I want people to come along with this work, I also don’t feel like my gift on the planet is to do the racial reconciliation thing. I sort of feel like if you need to do the interpersonal work and you need to kind of grow in that area, I think there are other organizations that do that well, and I’m happy to point my Christian brothers and sisters to places where they can work on that. We need you to have already started that probably, if you’re gonna be able to understand how we’re talking about education issues. You gotta have some of that background already.
NBF: So the final thing I would say is that I would actually expand the work beyond education because I think I am less optimistic with this idea that if we just provide a good education for every Black and Brown kid in this country, that they’re gonna be fine. I just don’t… I don’t think that’s accurate. I think there are so many other systems and structures that are impacting the opportunities for Black and Hispanic and Latino kids in this country, and I don’t think my organization will work on all of them, that’s unrealistic, but I think in writing a book, making those connections to other systems, is incredibly important, because I think we’re coming out of the ed reform space over the last 20 plus years, I kinda think we’ve sold kids and families a bill of goods, it’s like, “If you just get this, it will all go well for you,” and that’s… We should stop saying that. This is an important part of it, we also know these other things are gonna impact you potentially. We have to work on those other issues, whether it’s economic, healthcare, criminal justice reform, all of that is impacting the opportunities for African-American and Latino kids.
DM: How do you… Thank you for that, that’s really interesting. I’m glad we had a reason to talk today… When you say, even in education, focusing more on race and racism, would you have a… Thoughts or advice to someone who’s doing work, like our teachers or an organization that’s training teachers, how to best incorporate the attention to race, racism, systemic racism, institutional racism in the work of… Sort of in the weeds of teacher prep and teaching in a classroom?
NBF: Yeah. I think the two things that most come to mind are certainly culturally responsive teaching, which I think there’s so much written… I’m not an expert on it. There’s so much written about it. I think working on anti-bias training and being actively anti-racist, both of those matter. And we see that play out in things like the number of kids, of Black kids that are referred to gifted education programs is significantly less even when their scores for admission into those programs are the same. Black kids are often… Nationally, there was… This study was done, they’re four times less likely to be recommended to those programs than White kids and Asian kids when the scores are the same. And so that’s just a fact. And so to think that… And it’s not about blaming teachers and saying like, “Oh my gosh, every teacher is like a racist,” ’cause I don’t think that’s true either. But to think that we’re humans that come into this world and don’t bring our own bias is just unrealistic, and it’s usually… I think it’s usually unconscious bias. And so how do we really try to peel that back in teacher prep and do that hard work? I would say that’s one piece.
NBF: I think the other piece is helping us look more closely at behavior issues with students, and I think… And I was totally guilty of this as a teacher. The default is often, with behavior issues is to punish consequences. And it’s not that consequences don’t matter, ’cause we have to be able to manage a classroom, and learning has to happen. But as you and I know so often, for kids growing up in poverty, which are disproportionately kids of color, they’re more likely to be growing up in poverty, issues of trauma and childhood trauma issues are more prevalent. And so often things that we strictly look at as behavior have underlying conditions rooted in socio-emotional issues, mental health issues and lots of other things happening, and we do our Black and Latino kids a disservice by suspending them, and again, like four times the rate of White students when there’s likely something else going on in many of those cases.
NBF: And so how do we train our teachers not to be social workers, but at least to be able to identify or refer out students who may need other supports versus sending them out of the classroom or the school, which has its own set of problems in terms of their ability to catch up academically. And obviously that requires schools having the resources to support teachers in that, ’cause again, teachers cannot be social workers, in that sense. So those are some things that come to mind.
DM: Yeah, no, that’s very practical and helpful. Thank you. So the next question I wanted to ask is the mission… So our mission at MTR is… We have a long version and a short version, have a 43-word mission statement. I had a staff person then bring… He didn’t say anything, he just made a copy from a Harvard Business Review article that said, “The best mission statements are eight words or less.” And he left… [chuckle]
NBF: Thank you for doing much.
David: [chuckle] So I took a couple of days and tried to massage our mission statement into eight words, I got it down to six, I was really proud of that. So we actually used two mission statements. We have what we call a long version and a short version. Our short version is “Christian love expressed in equal education.” So the question is, specifically as it relates to teachers in the classroom, what resources or benefits, you might call them… What resources or benefits does the Christian faith offer teachers in their work and classrooms towards equal education? So that’s one thing. Sometimes, I try and think of it personally in the sense of like, “What is the role of… What’s the Christian role?” Or, “What’s the role of Christian in Christian love?” So any thoughts, encouragements to teachers around that idea?
NBF: We are so fortunate to have a faith tradition that emphasizes the inherent potential and possibility in every person that’s created. And for me, that has been what I constantly come back to in this work as a Christian, that we don’t serve a God who only gave or gave more academic and intellectual potential to White kids or Asian-American kids with Chinese and Korean descent and Japanese descent, just to make that Asian-American point very specific, given the different sub-groups. But we don’t serve a God that did that, and we don’t serve a God that is limited by what we see either. He is full of faith and opportunity. And so taking race out of it, if I see a student who has a really challenging home life or childhood experience, there is still so much opportunity that that child has, and so much potential that they’re given. And so yes, there may be more support to actualize that potential and their opportunities, but that for me is what I hang… Basically, everything I do on is that core belief, and I think as Christians, Christian educators, coming back to that and reminding ourselves of that just is incredibly important, and it should change the way we look at every child, quite frankly. And for me, that has been a constant that I come back to.
DM: And so that’s just the Genesis idea that God created all people, that God’s image is in all people, therefore, there is a sense of equality of value of all people, everybody matters the same amount. And I think because the image of God is in all people then what I heard you say… Yeah, well, I did, I wrote the note down of… There is this immense infinite potential. It’s not just, I think… I get encouraged by this, hearing this again, “It’s not only that equality is important, equal education is important.” Like if we notice from books like yours that there’s a significant gap in academic achievement, then we can instinctively know as Christians, that’s unfair and wrong, and we should equalize that. But it’s also, I think, what you’re saying is the second step is like every child has this immense potential, like you see greatness in a future and hope in that child. And so, let me ask you this, I didn’t… This wasn’t a question. I don’t know if we’ll end up including this.
DM: But, if you don’t have this Christian faith understanding of the equality and potential that’s in all people, ’cause they were created by God, then I think, whether or not you think about it, I think the flip side of that is then you think then we’re all just sort of accidents that just sort of happened to be here at this particular time. And it really is this sort of dog-eat-dog survival of the fittest, and some people really are stronger than other people, and some people do eat other people, and some people do take… And we just sort of evolve that way, and I don’t know… I don’t know what I’m trying to say here, other than if that’s sort of my worldview in the same way that the Christian worldview, like you’ve said, like you hang your hat on this idea of equality and potential and hope. Well, if you don’t have that, then what do you hang your hat on? I’m teaching people who are sort of… We’re all sort of accidents that happen to be here at one time, and we’re all just kind of competing with one another to get ahead, and that’s how the world has worked for millions of years. I’m not quite sure what the… How you overcome that, other than you just don’t think of… You just sort of have an innate sense of justice for the sake of justice.
NBF: Yeah. When I think about it at the policy level, this is our argument for why we have to put then protections and systems in place to basically ensure that we as a country are protected from our worst instincts, which our worse instincts are some of the things we’re talking about. It’s just everyone go for what they know, the strong shall survive, and it doesn’t matter if you were born with a parent in prison. Good luck to you. And so I think we put those guardrails in place, and we’re obligated to do that to protect us from these very basic instincts and our worst… Our worse selves.
NBF: So I can think about it from that perspective, and I can sort of trickle that down to the classroom level, even when teacher effectiveness reports and ways to measure whether or not we’re doing our job the way we have to. Because at the end of the day, there’s only so much that we’re gonna be able to do, I think, to change the hearts of people. Especially for those, as… We’re thinking about this as Christians, I can pray for someone who doesn’t share this belief, but there’s only so many things I can do to convince them of that. I think, I will say, taking the faith head on, I think the majority of humans, Christian or not, are decent people who actually believe some version of this what we’re talking about. That’s my just… That’s my hope. And I think we see that enough in humanity to believe that. But again, having things in place that can help at the classroom level and at the policy level protect us from these ways that we can go that don’t align with that I think it’s probably the best we can do.
DM: Yeah. That’s great. Thank you. Right. So this next question. One of the most shocking conversations I’ve ever had in my life was when I was recruiting, I was in the sort of Midwest, I was at a Christian college, talking to the dean of ed about MTR, and we were recruiting Christians to come and be trained and go into higher need schools, and I asked for his help in recruiting on their campus, and they said, “I’m not gonna help you.” And in fact, by working in, basically, he said, “By working in public schools where you’re not able to connect the learning to God directly, you’re equipping people to be more self-sufficient apart from God, and therefore you’re more likely sending them to hell than doing them good.” So if you had had that conversation and we could go back eight years, how do you think about that? How do you respond to that comment?
NBF: Yeah. I have to say, I had to read that question a few times, and I’ve gotten a lot of interesting questions and comments on our work. I’ve never heard that one before. So that was a new one for me, and [chuckle] I’m not sure that I would have handled it super well if in person, because I probably would have had a strong reaction, which may not have been helpful. But if I had time to think about it, a couple of things for me bubbled up. One, that presupposes that we can get to a nation, one where everyone is a Christian, let’s just start there. And we’re not. It’s a religiously plural society. Yay, for Religious Liberty, I’m a huge fan, ’cause I get to practice my religion freely, which means everyone else gets to as well, or practice no religion, if that’s their choice. So we’re pre-supposing that. We’re also pre-supposing that we’re gonna get to a… We’re gonna get to a place, or we live in a country right now where every child goes to a Christian school. They don’t.
NBF: And so you’re basically… I would have said something along those lines. So we’re, because kids are in public schools, are we just relinquishing our role as Christians to millions of kids, 90 plus percent of kids who are in public education, we’re relinquishing our role and our responsibility to them because we can’t talk about Jesus in the classroom. And I would feel, as a Christian, that that is not what God is asking us to do. And we’re called to be in every clique… Every sphere of influence. That is part of what our responsibility is. And there are some people who would even liken the work in public education to, I wouldn’t use these words ’cause it’s too loaded, but a mission field, and not from the standpoint of sharing our faith, because, again, I believe in the separation of church and state, because quite simply, I don’t want someone of another faith teaching my child their faith and vice versa, right?
NBF: So that to me just makes logical sense. But our example of working in public schools, and the example of who we are and what we bring is significant. Being motivated by our faith to do this work is so important because we are being salt and light in every space, and to take out that salt and light from public schools, my gosh. And also I would say with all due respect, there are so many public school teachers and administrators and parents and students who are Christians right now in public schools, they’re there. And so we’re already there, so to think that we’re not going… We shouldn’t go into that space like we’re actually already there in very large numbers. And I would sort of approach it that way, and just to think of what’s the opportunity that we have to build real relationships with families and what might come out of that outside of the school day when it is legally okay to talk about why we do what we do… Oh my gosh, the missed opportunity. If we don’t do that, who’s gonna do that? Who’s gonna do that?
NBF: And not to mention just the educational opportunity, right? So I’ll come back to that ’cause that was really an interesting argument, saying that if we don’t connect the learning itself to God, kids will become more self-sufficient and ultimately go to hell. Is not the Church’s job to preach the gospel? Like it is. And so we’re going to make an assumption that those children will never, ever hear about Jesus in any other sphere in their life?
NBF: Like, oh, Dean of Education, like My God is bigger than that. And I know that the churches that you and I go to, are actively, actively preaching God’s word and they are finding ways to connect to those families that have nothing to do with school. And then the church, if we’re doing our job, we’re gonna triangulate all of these things we’re learning and what students are being taught to like, “Oh my gosh, you’re right.” Once I know who Jesus is, I get that there’s this bigger piece that I’m relying on him ultimately, but let’s not take… Let’s not say our churches can’t do that work because that’s actually exactly what we’re called to do as Christians. So yeah, I’d say something along those lines.
DM: That’s very good. That’s so good. That’s so helpful. I listened to… And it’s been years ago, I went to a conference and I think I didn’t… I hope I’m remembering this correctly, I think it was Tony Evans. But to your point, you reminded me, Tony Evans, I’m not sure what his larger point was, but I just remember this phrase, where he said, “School… ” And he was talking about all throughout Scripture, you see so many divine encounters at wells where the water is… Jacob, then obviously all the way through Jesus. And so he made the point, and he said the reason that happened is because everybody had to go get water every day, they didn’t have indoor plumbing. You had to go to the wells and draw the water every single day. And so then he made the point, he said, Schools are the wells of today. It’s where you have to… It’s where people have to go every single day.
NBF: I love that.
DM: And so in essence, through those stories, he’s reminding us that as Christians, we need to be where the people are, and the people by law, and the people between the ages of about 6 and 16 have to be in schools everyday, in non-COVID days.
NBF: Right, right.
DM: And so, your comment reminded me of that. That’s really good, thank you. I’m gonna… I wanna talk about this identity question, and so I’m gonna read this quote, and then I’ll ask the question. So I’m reading from the Public Purpose of Education and Schooling. It’s a series of essays edited by John Goodlad and Timothy McMannon. It says… Well, a few quotes from this, it says, “Relations between human beings can exist only between whole and responsible persons.” And then it says, regarding teacher preparation it says, “Preparation to be a teacher would be thought, for example, to consist importantly and struggling to become a whole oneself, and therefore in the related capacity to be fully present to others, it would be no less than an education of the soul or character.”
DM: And then sort of this culminating sentence, it says, “That is whether one could educate another would depend upon how one is with oneself and others. Deeper human issues would pervade the rhetoric of education.” So I’m just curious if you have reactions or thoughts to the idea that teacher preparation… The value of including in teacher preparation, attention to how we relate to ourselves, how we think about ourselves and the role that that has and how we can lead others.
NBF: Yeah no I think it’s such an important question, and it’s not dissimilar to leadership development fellowships that I’m sure you and I have done, you know some of that work in different contexts, and that’s where that always starts for those of us leading organizations, it’s the self-reflection on who you are as a leader, how you developed that, and where are the places where you feel insecure, like all of that because we know that, as you said, it directly impacts how we work with our teams and with our colleagues.
NBF: And I think we’ve really missed the boat on doing that with teachers by and large. I would say the places that are probably most connected where we’ve started that work, I would say are probably with respect to race, which that’s starting to happen more and more now, in teacher prep programs. Hopefully done well, is that having people reflect on their own racial identity and their childhood experiences, their own experiences with education, like all of that work, I think is starting to get more robust. But you’re talking about, and this quote I think is talking about something connected to that, but perhaps even a level deeper, right?
NBF: And I definitely see the connection between, and I can think of on my own teaching, the places where I was insecure as an educator and felt inadequate. Instead of my, in retrospect, instead of me really digging into that and figuring out how to get past that and get better at my craft. When kids didn’t react well to a lesson that quite frankly wasn’t good, my reaction wasn’t… Definitely wasn’t always, “Let me self-reflect and figure out how did I miss the boat.”
NBF: It was anger, of like, “How can these kids… I work so hard. How can they just not respect me enough as a teacher to stay engaged.” And it’s like, “Well, actually, if you really could deal with your own insecurities, you know that that… You weren’t prepared, you needed to be… It wasn’t on point. And that’s okay. You’re a new teacher,” at the time, I was a new teacher, “But let’s figure out where my insecurities are coming at play with how… Coming into play with how I’m reacting to kids who are ultimately just kids. I’m the adult in the room.”
NBF: But I don’t think we get into that different level, again, beyond race identity and maybe gender, do you call on boys or girls more. We get at some of that. But this is much more interesting. Well, not much more, but it’s very interesting to me as well, and I think it has huge implications and hard work to do though, David. That’s some therapy stuff right there. [chuckle] Asking people to dig into who they are and in their persona and make those connections and self-correct. That’s hard. Teaching is hard. That’s hard. Yeah, that’s hard to do.
DM: And I think part… I think that thought that it’s hard, and it’s fuzzy, and it’s probably a different conversation for every single person…
NBF: Yup, yup.
DM: That it’s just easier to not go there.
DM: We’re gonna take you to what sort of best practices in teaching and techniques that work, they sort of can apply equally to everybody, because that’s just too messy and too hard to track and too hard to assess and all. But I do think, particularly in high-need schools where there is a lot of what you’ve talked about earlier, there are these other factors that come into play that make education difficult, trauma particularly being a big one, that it’s incredibly vital for teachers to be sort of abundant. Like they need to be in a place where they’re overflowing and not taking. And a lot of that comes from sort of your internal… Like what you think about God, what you think about yourself, and how that changes what you think sort of your role is, or your purpose is.
NBF: No, yeah I think that’s exactly right. On the trauma piece, we have definitely some training sessions that we do for advocates on looking at trauma-informed schools, how can schools be set up. Because we go into sort of discussing what trauma is and what the… How the A scores are developed in first childhood experiences, we get very specific. We quickly learned, actually, we have people that are going through this session that themselves have experienced the same trauma, and some of whom have not dealt with it ’cause it’s hard to deal with, we’re all on a journey.
NBF: And so we then had to talk to couple of folks in the social services and sort of psychology sectors to figure out how do we give people space to process their own relationship with trauma. And we have people crying in sessions, it gets deep, and so it’s just one example of how that work, when we’re talking about being in classrooms with students and engaging in all of these issues just on that level alone. If I’m depleted because of the things that I’ve experienced and I come across a student who was connected to some of those things. I definitely had a couple of those experiences, not to get super personal, but when I was in middle school, I’ll just say it, I was a victim of a sexual assault in middle school. And when I taught middle school, I had a student who was sexually assaulted in the top fifth grade by boys in the class.
NBF: And when I tell you, like oh my gosh, I was 22, so I was really young and hadn’t really dealt with that, my own stuff that I experienced in middle school, but my reaction to that was not good, and… It was not good. And that’s just one example times a million for all of us that, wow, that stuff really does impact how we come to the classroom and how ready we are or aren’t ready to engage. And we’re never gonna be perfect at it either. We could all go through years of dealing with things, but there are some things that yeah, if I’d had a student education program that… Or a teacher education program that was helping me begin to tackle any of those things, maybe I would have been more ready for that. I don’t know, but it’s just one example to be honest.
DM: Yeah, thank you. We’re running out of time, I know. I wanted to get at what I have on our notes here, question six. So if you had an opportunity to speak to the 350 some odd teachers serving in high-need schools in Memphis right now, what would you want to say to them as an encouragement?
NBF: Oh my gosh. First of all, thank you for what you’re doing, and I know how challenging your work is. I know the long hours, the prayers that you’re praying for your students and your families, the support you’re giving, the extra things you’re doing to make the lives of kids and families, better is probably the wrong word, but to come alongside them in the things that they’re doing, and supporting them. And so, I’m grateful to you for that, and I just wanna encourage you to please definitely keep at it, but to also take care of yourselves in the process, because it does take so much out of you, and finding those places where you can… And this term is getting a little cliche now, but practice self-care, to find the ways that you can recharge and then come back so you are full for your journey is incredibly important.
NBF: What are the places, and writings, or music, or relationships, that re-inspire you, finding those sources of courage and inspiration right now, are particularly hard, and particularly important for you to have those because things are so upside down on so many levels. And our kids and families are dealing with so much, and so you are dealing with that and experiencing that with them, so we want to encourage you, but also to encourage you to take care of yourself as well.
DM: That’s great, thank you. Any other ideas we haven’t touched on that you’d wanna… If people were listening nationally out there concerned about education or teaching themselves, any other topic or word that maybe we haven’t covered that you’d wanna take an opportunity to say?
NBF: I think this season of this pandemic has revealed so many inequalities that those of us who have worked on education for years have definitely known, but I have been continually surprised that when things got revealed, when we went virtual, that there are millions of kids who don’t have technology or high-speed internet or meals because they get free and reduced price lunch at their schools. I was surprised at how many people were surprised at that still in 2020. So this is just revealing what’s been there, the disparities that we’re seeing, the impact that this pandemic and the economic problems they are having on low-income families, African-American, Indigenous kids and Latino students. So let’s not forget about that.
NBF: It’s easy to just kind of close the curtain back and to just think once we’re out of this season that we’re gonna go back to doing what we’re doing. I really implore everyone listening to this to continue to focus on the needs of our communities, because our kids are amazing, and they have so much potential, but we can’t let these inequalities continue and we have to really be a force for change. So that’s what I would encourage people to do.
DM: Thank you. It’s a great way to end it. We really appreciate your time and being available… I think I just emailed you a week or so ago, so thanks for being available.
NBF: Yeah, yeah, it’s my pleasure.
DM: You know one thing in this pandemic thing, it’s made things like this much more normal and easy.
NBF: I know. I do so many of these and I listen to nationally known speakers, I’m like, “Oh, they’re doing a Zoom on their new book, let me just Zoom in,” and I would never be able to travel to hear so and so give a book talk, It actually has some benefits, I have to say.
DM: Yeah, no, I felt the same thing. Well, thanks for your time, I really appreciate it. I’ll send you an email and get some details, but I will send you an honorarium and [56:49] ____.
NBF: Oh, thank you.
DM: And all of that. And then hopefully one day we’ll see each other in person, somewhere somehow, so I’ll look forward to that.
NBF: Alright, take care, Dave.
DM: Take care. Bye-bye.