Veteran Educator On The Endless But 'Joyful' Work Of Creating Anti-Racist Education

Originally published on July 9, 2020 4:53 pm

Pirette McKamey is fighting for anti-racist education.

Over her more than 30 years as an educator, the principal at Mission High School in San Francisco spent a decade leading an anti-racism committee.

"To be an anti-racist educator means I commit to educating all of the students sitting in front of me, including Black and Latinx students," McKamey tells NPR's All Things Considered.

In a high school English class, for instance, if students are struggling with writing introductions to essays, teachers will reteach that skill — after figuring out how to do it using a different approach or different angle.

"[Anti-racist education] also looks like organizing the curriculum around rigor and around having high expectations for all students, and the curriculum is not based on what students come in knowing, but based on what all students do not know together," she says. "So, therefore, you're scaffolding and teaching everyone at the same time, and not giving credit to students for knowing when they come in."

The work of an anti-racist educator, McKamey says, must be ongoing by nature. But, she says, it's also "joyful."

"It's very joyful to work in collaboration with other educators to figure out what the best teaching practice is and then to implement it and see success," she says. "It's so exciting to see all of your students thrive. It makes you want to keep growing and changing and doing better by your students."

Here are excerpts from her interview on All Things Considered.

You say that you have been an anti-racist educator for over 30 years. Tell me what that means.

To be an anti-racist educator means I commit to educating all of the students sitting in front of me, including Black and Latinx students. It's about flipping the deficit model of Black and Latinx students that plays out in our classrooms and schools.

What is a deficit model?

Deficit model is when you look at students as though there is something wrong with them or not complete with them — as opposed to thinking, "Oh there is a problem with my teaching practice."

What do you think the role of a principal is in creating an environment where anti-racist teaching actually does thrive?

I think leadership is very important in terms of anti-racist teaching because you're breaking a model that existed. And so, it's important for principals to identify teacher leaders and create opportunities for them to lead — so, teachers who've shown efficacy in teaching African American, Latinx students. It's important for principals working in conjunction with teacher leadership teams to design whole school anti-racist professional development and the schedule, the whole school schedule, it's important to build in time for teacher collaboration.

When do you know that you've succeeded in implementing anti-racist education? When do the demands for anti-racist education end?

Schools are a reflection of the society, so they really never end. But ... the question is almost like saying, "When can I stop working hard to raise my child?" Well, that's just what it takes to raise a child, is that you have to confront yourself, you have to reach out for help and support when you need it.

Well, the same is true of teaching in general, not just anti-racist teaching. And we wouldn't have to talk about anti-racist teaching as a separate thing if Black students and Latinx students were already included in the conceptualization of good teaching. So it never ends.

Listen to the full interview at the audio link above.

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AILSA CHANG, HOST:

Enough is enough. That's what we're hearing from young people as they demand change not just from police departments and legislators but also from their educators. Petitions with thousands of signatures are circulating all over the country now, urging schools to incorporate what's called anti-racist education into their curricula. Here's Angela Frezza and Daniel Afolabi, former students from West Lafayette, Ind., who started a petition there.

ANGELA FREZZA: Here are these flaws that we see, these areas that have gone unchecked. Let's work together, and let's fix this.

DANIEL AFOLABI: We don't have to accept the status quo, which limits BIPOC. They don't allow marginalized people to feel like they have a place in different conversations, including the school curriculum.

CHANG: This week we're looking at what an anti-racist education looks like. Someone who's been working on this for years is Pirette McKamey. She formed and led an anti-racism committee at Mission High School in San Francisco for ten years. She taught for 26 years and is now the principal at Mission High. Welcome.

PIRETTE MCKAMEY: Thank you for having me.

CHANG: So you say that you have been an anti-racist educator for over 30 years. Tell me what that means.

MCKAMEY: To be an anti-racist educator means I commit to educating all of the students sitting in front of me, including Black and Latinx students. It's about flipping the deficit model of Black and Latinx students that plays out in our classrooms and schools.

CHANG: Deficit model - what is that?

MCKAMEY: Deficit model is when you look at students as though there is something wrong with them or not complete with them as opposed to thinking, oh, there is a problem with my teaching practice.

CHANG: So help me paint a picture here. I mean, what would that look like, say, in an English class in high school?

MCKAMEY: It looks like teaching an essay and then getting the rough drafts of the essay back and seeing that students struggled with writing an introduction, let's say. And so it simply means going back and reteaching that and not just reteaching it the same way but figuring out how to teach it from a different angle. It also looks like organizing the curriculum around rigor and around having high expectations for all students. And the curriculum is not based on what students come in knowing but based on what all students do not know together. So therefore, you're scaffolding and teaching everyone at the same time and not giving credit to students for knowing when they come in.

CHANG: What do you think the role of a principal is in creating an environment where anti-racist teaching actually does thrive?

MCKAMEY: I think leadership is very important in terms of anti-racist teaching because you're breaking a model that existed. And so it's important for principals to identify teacher leaders and create opportunities for them to lead - so teachers who've shown efficacy in teaching African American, Latinx students. It's important for principals working in conjunction with teacher leadership teams to design whole-school anti-racist professional development. And the schedule, the whole-school schedule - it's important to build in time for teacher collaboration.

CHANG: And looking ahead, I mean, when will you know that you have succeeded? Like, when do the demands for anti-racist education end?

MCKAMEY: I mean, schools are a reflection of the society, so they really never end. But it's almost like - the question is almost like saying, when can I stop working hard to raise my child?

CHANG: Yeah.

MCKAMEY: Well, that's just what it takes to raise a child - is that you have to confront yourself. You have to reach out for help and support when you need it. Well, the same is true of teaching in general, not just anti-racist teaching. And we wouldn't have to talk about anti-racist teaching as a separate thing if Black students and Latinx students were already included in the conceptualization of good teaching. So it never ends, but I also want to say that it's a joyful endeavor.

CHANG: Pirette McKamey is the principal of Mission High School in San Francisco. Thank you very much for joining us today.

MCKAMEY: Thank you, Ailsa. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.