In January 2020, back when the world was “normal,” members of my local and some administrators from our schools had the opportunity to attend the AFT’s Center for School Improvement (CSI) Leadership Institute conference for “Transforming Systems to be Culturally Responsive” in New York City. My local president, who attended the conference with me, reached out with the idea of starting a book club with our members, feeling that my passion for topics such as equity in education, social justice, restorative justice and culturally responsive teaching pours out of me and is contagious to all.
We looked at a few books together, then decided on Cornelius Minor’s “We Got This,” in which he explores how the work of creating more equitable school spaces is embedded in our everyday choices. Minor is a Brooklyn, New York-based educator who works with teachers, school leaders and leaders of community-based organizations to support equitable literacy reform in cities. Minor uses his love for technology, hip-hop and social media to bring communities together and has experience teaching middle school in Brooklyn and the Bronx.
The first meeting of the North Bergen Federation of Teachers book club was Sept. 15, 2020, and since then, 10 of us from our local meet virtually once a month. “We Got This” has brought us together to start the important conversation of equity in education and to be the advocates for change for our students. This book is about the work that educators do to ensure access to schools and opportunities extend to all learners. This kind of work seeks to change the status quo and is about making room at the table for all of us.
Minor considers listening to be our superpower as educators; we need to not just listen to our students, but hear and think also. He states that “Teaching is not a monologue, but a dialogue.” Kids will invest in us if we help them to see what we offer will help them live better.
One of the points in “We Got This” that resonates with me the most is, “Teaching is learning from the students, too.” This thinking goes along with the kind of culture I try to cultivate in my classrooms, both in-person and virtually. I give the utmost respect to my students and prefer a mutual relationship as humans, rather than the dominating “I am your teacher and I have all power, and you are the student and you listen and obey.”
I am drawn to Minor’s words, stories and ideas and often feel like he is speaking directly to me. I am making personal connections with this book, as I am relating many of my teaching philosophies and experiences with students to what I am reading. I am my students’ biggest advocate, and sometimes that can be misinterpreted as me saying, “No, I am not going to do that” or trying to purposely upend the status quo.
“We Got This” lets me know that there are other teachers out there just like me and affirms what I am doing as a teacher for my students. Having other members of my local collaborating and discussing these ideas with me during our book club sessions makes me feel confident that I have the support of my fellow colleagues and helps me to face the difficult situations of today’s world.
“We Got This” by Cornelius Minor, published in 2018, is available in paperback, audiobook and ebook form via Heinemann.