April 20, 2022

“Bring truth to your passion.” Educators of Color find Solidarity, Wisdom in Community

A word cloud created by attendees of the 2022 Oregon Collective Summit

In February, the newly renamed Oregon Collective Summit was attended by more than 125 educators and pre-service teachers from around the state. With COVID safety in mind, educators came together in a virtual space for the second year in a row. This was in contrast to the experience of many who have been working in school buildings since fall under extremely stressful conditions, including a surge in the Omicron variant that exacerbated an already severe shortage of teaching and support staff.

Understanding that context meant that the OCS educator-led planning committee prioritized healing as a primary theme of this year’s event, bringing Dr. Dena Simmons to share her experience and wisdom with attendees. Simmons is the founder of LiberatED, a collective focused on developing school-based resources at the intersection of social and emotional learning, racial justice and healing. With an understanding of the isolation experienced by many of Oregon’s teachers of color, in her remarks, Simmons emphasized, “You are not alone.”

Perhaps the most powerful evidence of that reassurance came in the form of a panel discussion with current and past Oregon teachers of the year. BIPOC educators Ethelyn Tumalad (2022) , Nicole Butler-Hooten (2021) , Mercedes Muñoz (2020) , Keri Pilgrim (2019) and Gloria Pereyra-Robertson (2017) shared their experiences and honest reflections in a conversation moderated by Gerardo Muñoz, Colorado’s 2021 teacher of the year.

As one teacher confessed to feeling she had, “no mentors, no pathways” to help her navigate through her experience as one of the only teachers of color at her school, others offered hope and perspective.

“We are seeing a social justice shift…[but] I recall not knowing how much of my Indigenous self to bring to the classroom. This work can be lonely,” one educator empathized.

Another shared how exhausted they felt from endlessly “code switching” through multiple contextual environments, “from classroom to parent meeting to department, staff and district [professional development].”

When the panel was asked what advice they had to offer their younger selves, the wisdom shared was both reflective and practical. Early career and pre-service teachers were listening closely, as those with more experience nodded in agreement.

“Teaching is a journey. Pace yourself. I am a totally different person and educator than when I started. Do not feel you need to do it all today.”

“Find the shoes that are comfortable for you.”

“We serve out of our identity. [DEI-related work at schools] is largely unpaid labor. It’s ok to say no.”

“Remember to make time for your family.”

“Eat your lunch. Go to the restroom. Drink your water.”

“Bring truth to your passion.”

As one attendee shared, "The community coming together was just so powerful. To hear the voices of BIPOC educators was incredibly inspiring.”

In all, the event featured 24 speakers and six breakout sessions that covered a range of content — from elevating student voice and leadership, to teaching climate change in the context of Indigenous history. Educators also learned about ongoing efforts to build and strengthen a statewide coalition for educators of color in Oregon.

Diarese George, a founder and executive director of the Tennessee Educators of Color Alliance shared the journey that he and others have taken to leverage the connection and support for and by educators of color into a movement that influences educational policy and decision making.

George notes that nationally, “We are losing more teachers of color than we are gaining.” This, he said, means that “Retention is our biggest opportunity.”

Speaker and director of Oregon’s Educator Advancement Council (EAC), Kimberly Matier shared that the majority of the Regional Educator Networks funded by the EAC are focused on retaining the diversity within our education workforce. These efforts, in conjunction with the grow your own (GYO) teacher pathway programs also funded through the EAC, are creating a new eco-system of support for diverse educators. Meyer has joined these efforts and granted over $1 million to increase and retain diverse educators in Oregon. In addition, our Justice Oregon for Black Lives initiative includes education as one of its five community-identified priorities, with specific goals to increase the number of Black educators and administrators by 2025 and to improve Black student academic, social and emotional outcomes.

Meyer is so honored to help connect and support educators of color as we collectively work to advance equitable education efforts and outcomes. As a foundation whose mission centers racial and social justice, Meyer believes the importance of diverse educators reflecting Oregon’s diverse student populations cannot be overstated.

— Bekah

 

Oregon Collective Summit Agenda 2022 (654.06 KB)

To see speaker bios, click here and select the ‘speaker’ tab.