All races can produce good teachers

To the Editor:

I just received the June 18 issue of the Herald and would like to comment on the article re the Ray School principalship. I have never taught at Ray School or in Hyde Park. I spent 21 years in CPS on the Southwest Side in multi-racial, multi-ethnic situations, as a reading and learning disabilities teacher. Before CPS, I taught in another school system and in the reading clinic at the University of Chicago. My husband, Chuck, served as a school social worker for CPS in North Kenwood-Oakland for 27 years. Before that, he worked for the County in public aid and welfare work. Almost all of his clientele in those situations was Black. I am a native Chicagoan and Chuck is originally from New England. I mention this to illustrate my concern about the stereotypes about the effectiveness of white people in situations that are multi-racial. Aside from the close relationships developed in both of our situations, Chuck routinely visited in the public housing complexes in Chicago (including those not in North Kenwood-Oakland and was often asked to accompany his Black co-workers, who were hesitant to make these home visits.) Chuck never suffered any violent or seriously dangerous experiences. And, he was a school social worker during some of the problematic gang activity in the local communities.

Race does not predict or determine either competence, empathy or effectiveness in a multi-racial situation. That was my experience and my observation during my career. I witnessed outstanding and average principals, of several races/cultural backgrounds. The white principal at my last school was very good. A Black principal at one of my schools, who was outstanding, was able to deal constructively with a long-time teacher who needed to leave, shortly after this principal was placed in that school. I taught with Black, white and multi-racial teachers. Most of the teachers I knew were good. Some, including non-white teachers, were not, and this was not just my observation or judgment.

While there are cultural differences between different racial groups – having friends of different backgrounds, I am aware that I don’t know all of the tangible or intangible aspects of these – the ability of a teacher to relate to different kinds of students is based on attitude, understanding, positive expectations and competence. There were many examples of white principals and teachers who teach in multi-racial situations with great success. One principal, Ms. Beckwith, is just that – one principal who apparently had problems that transcended race. Certainly, people of different races/cultures can be seen as role models for students, but mainly if they care about and enjoy teaching students of all kinds.

From my discussions and observations about what was happening at Ray during these recent years (and I did vote as a community member, for the LSC, and participated in the survey anonymously regarding the next principal), I believe there have been concerns other than race about the future direction of Ray. Because Chuck and I are strong supporters of public education, we oppose the current policies of the mayor and our president, particularly in relation to high-stakes testing and the privatization of public schools. We believe in the strengthening of the powers of the LSC, the parents and the community.

We believe that the Ray School stakeholders do, also. The new LSC now has the task of finding a permanent principal. But it also has the task of building trust and consensus about objectives for an effective school, grounded in a philosophy of education that honors the contributions of all.

Joan Staples