About the Podcast
The Teaching for Racial Equity podcast is based on the book by authors Tonya B. Perry, Steven Zemelman, with Katy Smith. In this four-part series, guests will engage in critical conversations about race and equity in education, explore how to integrate these topics within student learning and foster student voice, and discuss what it means to be an “interrupter.”
Through thoughtful, personal stories from the authors and guests, listeners will gain a deeper understanding of racial inequities, be energized to disrupt them, and help inspire their students to do so, too.
Listen to episode 1 here.
About This Episode
Educators Tina Curry and Adelfio Garcia join author Tonya Perry to discuss how they lead the race and equity efforts at their schools and integrate these topics into teaching and learning. Tina is a teacher with Chicago Public Schools and Adelfio is a former principal who now provides professional development on working with emergent bilingual students and their families in the Chicago metropolitan area.
Meet Tonya Perry
Tonya B. Perry is a Professor of Secondary English Education and serves as the Executive Director for GEAR UP Alabama and the Red Mountain Writing Project at the University of Alabama at Birmingham. In her roles, she works for equity, focusing on civically and justice-engaged teaching, service, and scholarship.
Read the Transcript
Tonya: Well welcome everyone to episode two, which is Teaching for Racial Equity. And tonight, we have featured with us two wonderful educators. We have Tina Curry, who will introduce herself, and Adelfio Garcia. Wave, everybody. So it's so good to see you tonight. So we've been working for two and a half years on the book Teaching for Racial Equity: Becoming Interrupters, and what a task it has been, but what a fulfilling task it has been. And so tonight, we're going to sit around what we call our kitchen table and just have a discussion about the work that we've done together, the work you've done in your schools, the work you've done in communities and with families. So Adelfio, you want to start and just tell us a little bit about yourself?
Adelfio: Well, my name is Adelfio Garcia, and I am a retired principal administrator. Worked for 20 plus years with the Chicago Public Schools, and in different capacities, as a principal administrator, in central office, teacher, special education teacher, literacy coach, facilitator, you name it I've done it in Chicago Public Schools. Now that I'm retired, I am a national consultant for biliteracy, because it has been my passion, and the work with equity has been like a ray of light in my life, bringing a lot of a-has that I wasn't concerned before, but this has opened up a lot of windows and a lot of doors to let us work with everybody.
Tonya: Oh Adelfio, it's so good to be with you. And Tina, tell us about you.
Tina: So first, Hi Tonya. Hi Adelfio. I just want to say I am so humbled to be sharing this space with you this evening. So a little bit about me, I just finished 24 years as an educator in Chicago Public Schools, which I still am a teacher in CPS, but like Adelfio I've also served so many roles. I've served as a middle school teacher, ELA, I've served as a high school teacher, an equity coach, a literacy specialist at the district level, at the school level. And for the past 10 years, I've had the honor to work with adults at National Louis as an adjunct professor in the college of education, so it's been really cool to be able to work with teachers at the college level. And a little bit just about just the work, I have just always believed that every child deserves to have an outstanding education, regardless of their zip code, and I think that's what keeps me on my journey, just making sure that children get the education that they deserve.
Tonya: Oh Tina, that leads us right into something I was wondering about. Tell us about some of the schools that you've been in, and what kinds of equity work was needed in those schools? You just talked about the zip code and every child deserving a wonderful education, and I say wonderful educators right? So just talk to me about where have you been, what schools have you been in, what's the environment like and what kinds of equity work you've done, and then yeah, Adelfio, feel free to just kind of pop in and out too, follow her as well.
Tina: As an educator in Chicago Public Schools, I worked predominantly with children of color, black children and Latino children. And my last school where I worked, that's the school where I saw, out of all the schools I've ever worked at, that was the one where it was just right smack dead in my face, couldn't ignore it, couldn't avoid it that there was a real need for a cultural transformation in that school, because so many people wanted to uphold the status quo. And for me, I've always felt like that there is something that I can do, like how can I make my life's work matter?
Tina: And so I felt like that was my time. That was my time to actually do something, do something great, do something that could change and shift education for young people of color. And so I asked my principal about becoming the equity coach, because I think I was kind of doing equity work, but it didn't have a name to it. But for some reason, sometimes we work with educators, and Adelfio you could probably attest to this as a principal, the title's important. So doing equity work without the equity title, it just wasn't cutting it. And so I needed the title to sort of at least validate the work that I was doing, to get people to pay attention to the work I was doing. So yeah, I would say that's what made me want to shift and do real equity work, because I just saw a need to change culture. Adelfio, what do you think
Adelfio: I think it is a wonderful way that you said, and approached your principal to change the job that you were doing, because you were actually doing it in school. And no matter how many things, or titles, or I would say letters you have at the end of your name, the work that you do is actually more important than anything. And yes, you need the support from your principal, you need the support from the other teachers. And even if they're not supportive, they can see your work and they can see how passionate you are about something that needed to change, and that is very appreciative in the community of educators. I think that it's commended to you that you actually looked at how the system has been oppressing students of colors, in a system that is built to support supposedly all students, and I think when an educator take a stand and takes the initiative to interrupt that work, it is commended. So I think what you were doing, it is great, and I'm glad that you mentioned the principal because the principal is the one responsible for the school, and whatever happens in the school, that will fall on the principal. And I'm glad that you got him onboard and he gave you the title, so your work can be validated and take it seriously across the whole school.
Tonya: And what work have you done, Adelfio? You can choose if you want to talk about being a principal, being a teacher, being a coach, or even in your retired role. What kind of equity work have you done, and where have you done this work?
Adelfio: So I'm very appreciative of having that question Tonya, because I worked in CPS at so many roles that I didn't think of anything until I learned a little bit more about what equity work is about. When I got my doctorate, when I receive an education, more deeper into the instruction of students of color, just like Tina. I work with communities that were mostly Latinx, a couple of African American students, and white students. So I was following a system that it was built for just maybe a third of the population that I served, but the other ones I wasn't really serving, and that was my own Latinx community. So I needed to do a little bit more and become an interrupter. Thanks to the work that we have been done with you and Steve and Katie and this book, have taught me and led me how to go about being an interrupter. In the positions that I held back in Chicago Public Schools, I followed a system that was not meant or not built for students of color. And picking curriculums, looking at scores, looking at things that were not really serving our students. It was also when I got more engaged with the communities and families that were telling me how difficult that was for their own children to move ahead in the world, because the system was not providing opportunities for them, just because they spoke other languages, just because they look different, just because they have an accent, just because they're not seen like they're regular Jack and Jill out in the street. We're not blue eyed. We're not white. I can say that. And we're not seen the same, despite of the zip code as Tina mentioned. Despite of the citizenship status or anything. So I think all of the roles that I played in what studies have been done have helped me to provide more equity right now, or think of equity in a different way.
Tina: That was one of the biggest challenges for me. When you just said that, and I'm glad you said it as, that as a principal, is that people willingly just follow oppressive policies and systems on a daily basis without reservation, without question. They just do it because that's the policy, or that's the mandate, or that's the initiative, without question. When we know we have evidence, we have data that says it does not serve our children well, especially children of color. And so I think for me like you, that's what made me become an interrupter. No, I could no longer just stand there turning a blind eye and a deaf ear to things that I was seeing happening. I refused to follow a system that did not serve children well.
Tonya: So it sounds like both of you had these a-ha moments, these opportunities to really become introspective and think about what's my role in perpetuating some of these systems that can be oppressive to children, families, and communities of color. So that's why this work is so important in the book. What did you learn about your colleagues as you were doing this work, and what is it that you learned about yourself more as you were doing this work? You want to speak to that, either one of you? We're just around the kitchen table.
Adelfio: Well let me give you a story, Tonya. I'm glad that you mentioned that, because I received a lot of pushback from people. But what I learned about myself is just step back and reflect, and process what they're saying instead of jumping ahead the gun and saying you're wrong, or you're whatever. Because that's defending myself, and that means that I have fears, and I'm showing them right there without even thinking about it. So I step back, reflect of my actions, and I need to be a little bit more assertive in how to go about changing something. Is it something that I needed to change myself? Is it something that needed to change as a system? Or is it the culture that had been prevalent in that specific building that I worked with, or that specific community? So the pushback was there. And just like Tina mentioned, a lot of people are in these systems, and they just follow day by day initiatives, policies, things like that. Because I remember sitting one time with my families in the morning, talking about the scores of the school, and asking them for their help in how to support their children. Because I see myself in those children. And what they gave me, I kind of turned it more academic, show it to my higher up, and you know what I received? "Well that's not research based. That's not something that has been said, and this is the school system, and we need to raise the scores at this point."
Adelfio: So when you hear all of that, that pushback, so am I going to be reactive because my job is in jeopardy? If I were to be that kind of a person, then I would be fighting for something, I would be saying that, but I needed to work in a different way. So I didn't react to something like that, but in a different manner, and more thoughtful and professional a way. Because I think we can get to somewhere if we really converse, and we become vulnerable about it. I'm sure Tina, you have tons of experience, say with us too.
Tina: Yeah, when you say being that person, I think about myself. So when at first thinking about my colleagues, I was surrounded by a lot of victimizing children, and then blaming them. And what I realized about myself is that I was doing something similar like that to my colleagues, and I learned that blame is not productive, it doesn't get you anywhere. It gets you stuck in the work. And then I just realized that I needed a lot of work on myself, and so I had to do a lot of self-awareness. So if you're not willing to look at yourself and work on you, then you can't ask other people to do that. And I also learned anyone trying to do equity work in your schools, you can't impose your beliefs on other people. You can't force people to take a journey with you, but what you can offer people is a chance to work on themselves. Who's going to say no to that? I learned that self-awareness and reflection are my greatest allies, as someone who is trying to do equity work.
Tonya: We talk about in the book just a little bit, the power of stories right? And sharing stories and our narratives. I think that's also really a part of this equity work, sitting back and listening to the stories, but also being able to tell your own story and then think about how our stories impact who we are, why we are, how we walk this walk right? What kind of stories do we have within us, and what kind of stories come from our communities, and how is it that we can better see our students and our families through these stories? And I'm just thinking, Tina I remember you sharing a story with some of the teachers that you were working with. It seemed to impact, at least that session during, for equity work. Is that right?
Tina: Yeah, that's right. And I won't take credit for that one, I learned that one from my hero John Lewis. I had the pleasure of meeting him about five years ago, and I remember he said tell your story, that's what connects us. Never stop telling your story, teach your young people to tell their stories. I think that that was a turning point for me, and good. I walked in there like this tough person, like they're not going to break me, no one is going to derail me, no one is going to keep me from doing this work. And someone was like, "Tina, why do you always have to be so tough? Why do you always have to come at us so hard, taking gloves off, swinging?" And so I told my story about my first impact with real racism, where I realized the color of my skin mattered, and how much it hurt me. And even though I was 18 years old when it happened, that 18 year old girl, she still is a part of me, and I carry her with me. And when I told my story, it just made everyone look at me in such a different way. It changed everything, and it became one of our cultural things that we did in our meetings. At the start of every meeting, one person was selected to tell their story, and it brought us so much closer together. And I saw what it did for me, I started to do it with my students. It was actually one of my lessons. All of my students got to share their narratives with me, and it built a learning community I never, ever thought that I could have. And to this day, some of those students reach out to me, and they remember that lesson, remember how I offered the opportunity for them to share their stories with each other. It's really powerful.
Tonya: Yes. These stories also show our vulnerability, and they show how connected we truly are. Adelfio, have you ever used that method when you're working with teachers or families or community members, this idea of sharing your story, your narrative? And did it work?
Adelfio: I have, yes I have, and one of the stories, I think it is in the book. About this student, I was working... I was a young teacher, I was just fresh out of college going into my first assignment at this suburban school, where at the time we didn't have... well, we didn't have dual language classroom. We only have transitional bilingual. So we, people that we spoke two languages, they put us in classrooms where half of the students were monolingual English, and bilingual students, more monolingual Spanish, learning Spanish, to read and so on. And I had this only one African American student in my classroom. So we were white, Latinx, and one, this only back student in my classroom, and he started to do a lot of things in the classroom because he felt out of place. That was my assumption, until I met with the mother and we had a long conversation about how to work with the students. Because I was young, I didn't have the tools, I didn't have the methodologies, I didn't know how to deal with other ethnic groups but white, because this is the school that I received when I went through college, and how to work with Latinx because of my cultural and linguistic background.
Adelfio: So to work with a different ethnicity for me was a brand new, so there was a lot of learning to do, and there was a lot of thinking that I needed to do and a lot of leveling to this family, in order for me to reach the student to teach him how to read. So mother was really, really helping me, trying to understand how to go about behavior about language, about usage of body language, of how that should be, to work with this specific student. And yes, when she said the stories, when she told me how she goes about it, I took that as a bonus for me, because I connected with a family in a different capacity. Not as a teacher, as a person who was asking for help. For real help, because I didn't have those tricks in my bag.
Adelfio: And now that I do remember all of that, when I work with teachers, let's say for example that we're looking at a book, I ask the teachers to share a story about the background of the book with the students, even if it is not a real story but something that they can share, so they can hear the power of words, the power of stories, the power of connection to the stories. So students feel more connected when you speak with them, because that's a cultural part of our Latinx community. We talk, we discuss, we do a lot of conversation, and then we get to the point. So talking about stories, yes Tina, what John Lewis said, hold your stories, it is true. We have to hold them and pass them through to the young ones.
Tonya: And you know both of you have hit on the agency that our children have and their families have, and sometimes their families and schools and teachers are not always on the same side, but when we stop and we listen, and we communicate and we talk, and we engage with the families in authentic ways, we find that families are an asset right? The communities are an asset, and they are the students' first teachers right? We come to them later, but their first teachers are their families and their communities that they live in, and what a powerful asset they are to the students' learning and their becoming. And if we can tap into that and understand how the families and communities can be assets, and we really respect and honor everything they have to bring, then as my student told me the other day, then we're jamming.
Tonya: So I want you to talk a little bit about, what are some ways that school leaders can support teachers who want to address inequity? So Tina, what kind of supports would you have preferred, liked, or experienced from your leader that you thought were good? And then the same with you Adelfio, as a principal what were some things you offered to your teachers who wanted to do this work?
Tina: First, I want to say for leaders, you have to do the self work. You have to start with you. And if you are a leader, and you are looking to try to start equity work to support teachers to further their own equity work, you have to make a commitment. Have your staff to come together and make a commitment to equity, because if every single person in a school is actively practicing equity, it happens. It's everybody's responsibility, or it's no one's responsibility. It happens if every single person is committed. And so I think when you look at the research, that's what had to happen. You have to make a commitment first, an individual commitment on a personal level, and then get together as a staff and make one as a staff. And then each person needs to, what I have found is to make a commitment that okay, if this is our school commitment to equity, to dismantling inequities, what am I going to do every single day, every day, that's going to help me to live out this commitment? And that happens, then you're going to actually see true equity in schools. Not equity lip service, not leaders preaching equity, but I mean real equity work happening.
Adelfio: I completely agree with you, Tina. The work starts with you. Self, reinventing yourself because you are who you are, and you could be an administrator, you could be a coach, you could be anyone with a title in a school. So what are you going to model to your teachers, that you expect them to do? So you first have to believe in that specific equity work. Equity for everybody, regardless of the skin color, regardless of the ethnic background, regardless of the language they speak, because we are all humans, and we should be treating every human with respect. And that equity starts with us first.
Adelfio: And I think that what I have heard and what I have read from research is that we need to be able to be vulnerable, and be okay with it. To feel uncomfortable when you hear the pushback, and to understand that the work, it needs to happen. But you also need to model it, because a lot of the teachers, a lot of the families, a lot of the students see you as the leader of the school, as a person with power, and you as a member of a different ethnic group or the minority group, you have even double the work because you're representing authority and you're representing the culture, and you understand that. And you're navigating in both cultures. You just said a couple of words like, "Teacher, we'll be jamming." Would that be standard in English? Is that an acceptable statement in school?
Tonya: Yes, we will be jamming. Exactly, exactly.
Adelfio: There you go.
Adelfio: So that's what I'm talking about.
Tonya: Well you know, this is something we probably haven't discussed, but just equity work. What do you see the role of families in education, in this equity work, what can they do? And I think you've given us wonderful examples already, but if there's anything I left out add it here.
Adelfio: For example, I would say an excellent place to start would be getting to know your community. Walk around your community. Go and go into the stores, go into a taco place. See who's out there. Look what they sell, how they speak, how they talk to each other, how their housing is. Stop at the corner and greet somebody, just have a little conversation if you speak the language or not. Just get to know your community. Get to know your families. If they invite you to a function, go, even for five, 10 minutes, go. One of those things is that once you get to know your community, your families, you learn to respect. Otherwise, you're going to be bombarded with a lot of media, with a lot of negative connotations about different communities.
Adelfio: And all you hear in the media is that shootings happen here, shootings happen there, and that's the negative stuff. But you don't talk about any of the good things that happen in your community. Do you know how many students have gone to college since they left your school? Do you know how many families work in the specific places in the community? Do you respect families that possibly do not have the money to take their kids to ballet classes, to swimming classes, do you have the same respect for them? Do you have the same respect when your families do not speak the language that you speak? And even if they say, "I speak English," they may not be the standard English, like "We'll be jamming."
Adelfio: So things like that, so get to know your community. Get to know where you're standing at, and after you know that, then you get to learn and respect your community. Families are the heart of your school, and you need to give to your families what they are looking for. Not what the school across the street is doing, because that's a different community. That's a different need. Every school, it's an environment, a whole world in itself. But that's what my recommendation would be, for school leaders, for teachers, for anyone who wants to make some equity and to bring equity into the school. Get to know your community, get to know your families, get to know your students, in all kinds of levels so you can develop respect for them and teach them better.
Tina: That was so well said, because when people would ask me about my students, I was like, oh yes, I could name their GPA. I could talk about their writing, I could talk about all their academics. But I realized I don't know how they spend time outside of school. I don't know what they do. I don't know what the priorities are in their community. I don't know what their families care about, and I realized I really don't know my students. And you are so right, once I started to learn about them outside of academics, that was the game changer for me.
Tonya: Absolutely. And there's something called the hidden literacies, and if you know the hidden literacies of students, you can turn it into something academic. But the real learning is when a teacher can help a student turn his academic or her academic literacy into something transformative, right? Where they can take what they've learned and turn it back into something that can change their own world. So that's what you're talking about, and it starts with that hidden literacy. Knowing the kids in the neighborhood and what they do, how they do it, what they bring right, is so important. So you guys, y'all are amazing. Amazing.
Tina: Tonya, that was so well said. I hope I can quote you later. Exactly like you said.
Tonya: Well I don't know if you want to do that, but... and Tina, talk about the students at your school, your former school, and them walking out, and their fight for equity. Can you talk a little bit about that?
Tina: Yes. So it's a testament to what students will do when they have the opportunity to do it, or when they have a role model, someone who can really, really push them. So recently students at Goode organized a walkout to call out unchecked bias and unchecked racism at my former school. And when we have conversations now about, why is that? Why did it come to that? I really think it's lack of accountability. I think things like that persist not just in my school but in other schools, it's because of lack of accountability.
Tina: Adelfio can attest to this, it starts with leadership. Think about it, educators, if you can do something and there are no severe or negative consequences, why would you change? Especially if you're benefiting from the way the system already is. So it's that lack of accountability. And even though the school got some bad... what did I want to say? Bad press behind it, but again, there still has not been any real positive change, even since that happened, because there were no real consequences for the leaders in the school or even for teachers.
Tonya: Wow. But that, the idea that they felt like they had the agency, right? That they knew that their voice was important, they knew that how they felt mattered, and they had enough courage to take a stand and interrupt those practices that were harmful to them, that's a testament to them.
Tina: Which is what the book is about, right? How do we teach students, because it's not enough for educators, for us to be interrupters, but imagine out young people, a generation of just interrupters. And I did hear though that the students are causing all kind of good, necessary trouble since this happened. It really empowered them in ways that I never imagined.
Tonya: Well the last thing we're going to talk about is advice. What's one piece of advice that you have for educators through all of this? Adelfio?
Adelfio: Yeah Tonya, let me just go back a little bit to what Tina just mentioned.
Adelfio: When she started her last talk, she started to say they needed the role model, and I love when she said that. I almost wrote it down, but I wrote it down in my mind. And I said you know, you're right Tina. If we don't provide that model, and that model should be going to leadership, to all kinds of, in the hierarchy in the school system. Because if we don't provide that modeling to the students, we never provide confidence. And you're right Tina, this book is about students and how to be interrupters, but I think who's going to be reading this book are the teachers, and they need to change their thinking about how to model that interruption, and how to provide that confidence to students that they can ask for an equal education, for equity in the schools. Maybe not causing that problem or walkouts or anything like that, but how can they form some kind of agency within themselves and build their confidence to be interrupters, and create a better system for future generations? So that would be an advice possibly Tonya, that will tie it with what the question said. The book is for teachers to read, and maybe take it from that lens. To say how can I model this behavior for my students without violence, without jeopardizing time of the schools, or how can we do something like that? I think that would be something that we all need to think about, or put our lenses and say, let me take this book and see what I can get in order for me to provide the students that confidence to look for equity in everything, where they take in the school.
Tina: Wow, so look for equity in everything. I think what I would say to teachers who are truly ready to start their journey is to start with the self-awareness. Be reflective. Really just sit down and just take a look at your practice. Invite other teachers to come into your classroom and ask them, "Hey, where do you see inequity showing up in my practice?" And once you realize what those things are, start to dismantle them. Ask your students, "Hey, what do you need from me to be your best self every day? What will it take for you to have great learning experiences in my classroom? What do I need to do as your teacher so that you can thrive in a way that when you leave, you can do something to change the world?" And I think if you do that, you're off to a pretty good start.
Tonya: Absolutely. You both have talked about what I call vulnerability, right? Be vulnerable enough to open up about what you can and cannot do, and be honest with yourself, and invite your peers in to help you assist right? Be vulnerable enough to learn about different cultures and admit you don't know everything about everybody, and that you have something to learn, and be able to admit that there are times when I'm not my best self, but I'm trying every day to be better. And so students, my colleagues, hold me accountable, because I really want to do this work that makes me better for all of you. And I want to join in collaboration and community with people who want to do this work, because when I find colleagues and community and families who are ready to take this journey, then we're all better because of it. So I just wanted to end tonight saying thank you, and do you have any last words that you want to add before we go?
Adelfio: I do, let me just say something now that I wanted to say earlier, but I think this is the best time to say it. When we have students in our classrooms that speak other languages that we may not be able to understand, let's walk with a state of mind that my students have a language, have backgrounds. I may not be able to understand them, but they're human beings and they have a language, and they know the power of language. But if I keep silencing them and not hearing that language, then I'm not doing equity. I'm the first one to admit it, that I'm not listening to students in whatever language they wanted to speak. I may not speak it, but I have other ones that can do it, and we can collaborate in that sense.
Adelfio: So I wanted to say that yes, bilingual students or students who speak other languages, they do have a brain. They do have something to say, but they might be silenced because the language of power is English, and we want all of them to speak English, but we're not allowing that in schools. So I just wanted to include that, because I think it is important. Because we have a lot of emergent bilinguals and English learners in our schools, and we want them to speak English, because as many say, "This is America." And we just crush that or strike that back and say, "This is the world, and we speak a lot of languages here."
Tonya: Thank you Adelfio. Tina, did you have any parting words?
Tina: I just wanted to say thank you to anyone who is listening to this podcast. Thank you so much for allowing Adelfio and I and Tonya to be here tonight, to just share our story with you, to just share this really, really important work. And just never feel helpless. I want you to know that you are powerful, and that you really can make a difference, even if it's in the smallest way.
Tonya: Well thank you both for engaging in this kitchen table talk, and for us on this journey together, thank you for being my colleagues and friends.