To My Black Son’s Future Teacher: See My Child

To My Black Son’s Future Teacher,

As the new school year approaches and I prepare to entrust my child once again to a teacher (whom I am uncertain has been trained in how to best support the intellectual and psychological growth of children of color), I begin to think about what I want for my child. I keep coming back to one outstanding desire: that you see my child.

See my child’s natural curiosity and innate love of learning, and foster that. I am okay if my six-year-old does not yet know every sight word on the list to be memorized—he will get to that in time. But I am not okay with his viewing learning as drudgery because it is being presented in a rigid, inauthentic manner.

See my child’s youthful energy and enthusiasm, incorporating it into your lesson plans instead of punishing him for developmentally appropriate behaviors. His voice may carry louder than you would like when he is working in small groups—it does that when he is really excited. I ask that you would leverage that excitement instead of squelching it and instilling a belief that learning and enthusiasm are fundamentally at odds.

See my child’s gifts, talents, and interests. Celebrate them (in all of their diversity) and encourage their development. He is the burgeoning drummer and the curious mathematician. The avid dancer and the quiet thinker. He is the brown-skinned, curly-haired boy who can wrestle and rough-house with the best of them, but who also loves nothing more than standing on a stool next to his mother, helping me prepare a pot of spaghetti for our family’s dinner. It is in the intersection of these identities that he is his most authentic, most awesome self—and I want you to see that.

See my child’s areas in need of growth, but do not define him by them. Remind him (and yourself) that as a human being, he is not expected to be perfect. And that in fact, some of our greatest lessons in life can be learned from our mistakes and shortcomings.

See my child’s race, his ethnicity and his cultures. Yet in doing so, do not limit him by the stereotypes that we have all been fed about what it means to be a young Black boy in America. (And yes, he is still just a boy, even though he will likely be the tallest kid in his class. Please see that he is a child.) Create a class that honors what he and his classmates bring with them and infuse that into the fabric of the class culture.

If you see my child, I will not be alarmed if the school’s scores are not yet what they should be, because I know that you will be working diligently so that all students in your class have what they need to excel.

If you see my child, I will not be worried about any new initiatives or mandates that are passed down from the powers-that-be, because I will trust that you will work within the system (and around the system if need be) to ensure that every child is learning.

If you see my child, you will see his brilliance and tell him that he is meant for greatness, even if his brilliance is not manifested in the same way as yours.

This desire that I have for my child to be seen is not unlike the hope that every parent, regardless of race or ethnicity, has for their children. The difference is, as a Black parent and a parent of a Black child, I know that historically, children who look like mine have not consistently been seen. Even today, research shows that many teachers have low expectations for Black students and that schools punish them more severely than their White peers.

As an educator myself, I do not expect for you to be like the superheroes that my son loves to emulate, arriving in a cape and solving all the challenges that exist for children of color in our education system. But, as an educator, I do know the power and the impact of a great teacher. So in this new year, amidst the multitude of demands that are undoubtedly being put on you, I ask only that you work on developing one superpower: the power of super-vision, so that you will simply see my child.

With Deepest Respect (and Precarious Hope),

Christina Hale-Elliott