Matteo: Keep identity politics out of education

Op-ed views and opinions expressed are solely those of the author.

Recently the Minneapolis School District created a contract with teachers that has wording that would require race to determine which teachers would be laid off, regardless of seniority.

As an educator entering my 37th year, I find this policy to be unconscionable and a further step in the wrong direction. The wording of this controversial policy that appears in the contract is as follows: ‘If excessing a teacher who is a member of a population underrepresented among licensed teachers in the site, the district shall excess the next least senior teacher, who is not a member of an underrepresented population.’

When I first began my career as a teacher, I attempted to get a job in Hillsborough County, Florida and discovered that the color of my skin was significant in the job opportunities afforded to me. In 1984, I opted to go back to school and pursue a teaching license. I had almost all A’s in the 48 credits I attained in 1 year (which I paid for myself) at the University of S. Florida in their teacher certification program. I interned at a 7th grade center, and when a teacher became ill, they told me that I could finish the year teaching this teacher’s class because I had done such a good job in my internship.

However, at the end of the school year, I had to find a new school and went on many job interviews, but quickly found out that being white was working against me, which was very frustrating because I knew I was a good teacher.

At that time, Hillsborough County had a teaching job hotline, which was a recording that concluded with the following statement, “… due to court-ordered staffing ratios, certain positions would be reserved for black applicants.” Then they would list the schools with openings for different subjects and the race that could apply, so it would say the name of the school and either “black” or “white” after the name of the school.

I remember calling one school and the secretary said to me, “You don’t sound black.” I said, “I’m not.” She proceeded to tell me she couldn’t grant me an interview because I did not have the “skin color” they needed. I eventually got a teaching job at one of the schools that actually had a low black/white teacher ratio, and it was a 6-month temporary position, which meant that, once again, I’d be job hunting again in 6 months, however, it was a job and I needed to eat.

I did a great job and my relationship with my students of all races was excellent. As a matter of fact, students actually protested and created a petition to keep me as their teacher when the semester ended. My department chairman gave me a perfect score on his observation of my class as part of the beginning teacher requirements. Others also scored me almost perfectly on this evaluation. When the 6 months expired, I was told that I did a great job and they would bring me back if they had an opening next fall. I had proven myself to be a highly motivated teacher whom students liked and learned from and I was excited at what I had accomplished. I worked at a junior high school during the next semester and waited for the call that never came. An opening did occur at the high school where I had demonstrated my ability to teach, but the school was forced to hire a black teacher for the job that had been promised to me based on the job I had done. This particular teacher wasn’t very good, (which had nothing to do with his race, as he was just not a good teacher who happened to be black,) but that didn’t matter, and he was let go at the end of the semester.

The misguided notion that the color of a person’s skin should be used as a determinant in the hiring or firing of teachers is ridiculous, unfair, racist and illegal. Title VII of the Civil Rights Act prohibits employment discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex and national origin, so I don’t know what these so-called educators were thinking in validating this kind of contract. Their manipulation of language to talk about “underrepresented groups” demonstrates cowardice because everyone knows that the “overrepresented” group being penalized have white skin, yet they were too cowardly to word it that way!

Are they saying that a person’s skin color has any correlation to teaching quality? If so, I’d like to see the biased study that shows that correlation. Great teachers come in all colors, sizes, shapes etc. However, the DIE (Diversity, Inclusion, Equity) gang only see race when they make the kind of egregious decisions that would judge a teacher by the color of his/her skin instead of the content of that teacher’s character and ability to teach students to think critically in a world that craves this vital skill.

As a teacher, I had many heartfelt stories about helping my black students. I remember giving up lunches to help a black girl improve her reading (she was in grade 10, but reading at a 3rd-grade level). I remember counseling a black girl who came to me in tears because was vilified by other black students who accused her of “acting white” because she had good grades and was eloquent. I remember a black student who liked me so much that he did a parent survey with me, and when I asked him why he was asking me these questions he said, “You’re the closest thing I have to a father.”

My point is that what counts in a classroom is what lies beneath the surface of skin color. Teachers of different races who can connect with all students provide hope and are shining examples that we must move beyond what we see when we look at a person and anyone who cannot understand this simple principle should not be in the education field. When I walk into a classroom, I see kids, not their race, and treat them equally because that is the job of a good teacher. I ask them to bring their experiences into our lessons and note that we are all unique individuals and should take pride in ourselves and our accomplishments.

Marcia Howard, who is the union vice president in Minneapolis, actually had the audacity to blame MAGA voters’ overreaction to this story and said this was a non-story by claiming “it was language about the event of a layoff and we are nowhere near having layoffs this year. We’re down like 250 teachers. We’re down. There are no layoffs. So I ask y’all why? Why is this a story?”

Perhaps I can answer this question for her. Whether or not any white teacher with seniority ever loses a job is moot, the point is that it sets up an illegal system based on race, and her insistence that students who “look like her” can learn better from her is a fallacy.

Greta Callahan, a supporter of Ilhan Omar, is president of the union that supports this policy and is a white woman. I wonder how willing she would be at giving up her job to a “member of an underrepresented population?” Instead of dealing with terrible math, reading and science scores, these individuals want to make everything about race, and ignore real solutions to student deficiencies. These social justice warriors are in denial that great ideas stand by themselves, and that race, sex or religion doesn’t matter when it comes to the content of an idea, but this violates the woke narrative because their notion of  “identity” is how you judge everything.

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