Forums inspire conversations on race
By Jean Conley and Bob Duffy
W hat are the strategies educators can use to initiate conversations about race in their schools and communities?
How can MTA members make classrooms and
school communities that are safe spaces for all
students and their families?
What should the MTA do as an association to
broaden understanding about race and ethnicity?
The MTA’s Ethnic Minority Affairs Committee
posed these questions to groups of educators at
regional forums held throughout March as a way
of focusing discussions about how educators
should deal with issues of race and ethnicity in an
increasingly polarized political climate.
EMAC Chair Yan Yii said the general idea for
the forums developed over the last two years, but
that the strain of racism and bigotry that ran through
the 2016 presidential campaign — as well as the
fears being expressed by immigrant students and
their families — expedited the need for dialogue.
Janelle Quarles, an EMAC member and at-
large ethnic minority director on the MTA Board,
said that while discussion about race and ethnicity
was important before the election, “frankly, it’s
“Beforehand,” she added, “people were
somewhat afraid to dig into the topic. But now that we
are in this climate, our survival depends on it. If we’re
going to progress as a country, we have to talk.”
The forums continued discussions that began
during the 2016 Summer Conference and deepened
at the 2016 EMAC Conference, whose theme was
“Race, Ethnicity and Public Education.”
Educators came to the forums — held in Quincy,
Worcester and Auburn — with a raft of concerns.
Several expressed relief at having a place to talk to
others and share resources that could help.
“Educators want to know what to do when a
student approaches them and says, ‘I’m worried about
my parents’ or ‘I’m worried about being able to come
to school,’” said Yii, a fifth-grade teacher in Canton.
“We need to make sure students feel safe in
coming to school every day,” she added. “We’re
looking at immigration bans, Immigration and
Customs Enforcement officers coming into buildings,
students’ fears of losing their parents overnight. So we
want to learn how to create a safe space for everyone
— for students, for families and for communities. Our
job doesn’t end just with our students.”
The committee is preparing literature to hand
out to educators at the MTA Annual Meeting of
Delegates on a wide range of topics, from the
rights of immigration officers on school grounds
to diversity training opportunities and book lists
for those who want to include diversity, race and
ethnicity in their teaching, Yii said.
As MTA Today went to press, the committee
was also proposing various offerings for this year’s
“We’re hoping to help people find their voice on
these issues,” said Yii. “People want to know how
they can get involved.”
Retired member Valerie Bonds, who is working
this year as a guest teacher in Wellesley, said after the
March 23 forum that she is interested in brainstorming
with others and coming up with ways to provide
diversity training for staff, students and parents.
“Cultural competency has always been
important, and it’s more so now because there is a
cultural divide in this country,” she said. She added
that the presidential campaign “opened an awareness
that we as a country need to be more concerned and
more invested in our nation as a diverse nation.”
Faith Johnson, a teacher assistant in the
Brockton Public Schools, said cultural competency
training is “certainly pertinent to the work I do.”
“I work with a diverse range of students, and it’s
always important for me to become more culturally
sensitive and gain more skills that I can model
to my students so that they can build these skills
Johnson said it’s crucial that she not just see her
students as people “who are here to learn math or
science or how to write a good essay.”
“It’s important for me to know the essence of
who they are so that they can be great members of
their communities — and so there can be a ripple
effect,” she said.
Photo by Jean Conley
Ethnic Minority Affairs Committee member Janelle Quarles, left, MTA Retired member Valerie
Bonds, center, and EMAC Chair Yan Yii listened during the March 23 forum in Quincy.
Members continue organizing against high-stakes testing
By Laura Barrett
I t feels awful to give children a test that is not appropriate for them and then not be able to help them when they ask for help,” said Nancy
Clougherty, an English as a Second Language
teacher in Framingham.
That is a common sentiment among MTA
members who have been organizing to resist
high-stakes testing this year. Also widespread are
continued concerns that testing is narrowing the
curriculum, disrupting schools, increasing stress
among students and staff and denying diplomas to
With support from the National Education
Association, Citizens for Public Schools and
Fair Test, a group of MTA members has been meeting
this winter and spring about organizing locally
against high-stakes testing.
“We are changing the conversation,” said MTA
President Barbara Madeloni. “When educators,
students and parents talk about creating the schools
our communities deserve, one of their first demands
One strategy has been for teachers to opt their
own children out of testing. Education Commissioner
Mitchell Chester has sent conflicting messages about
whether parents have a right to do that. In a March
6 memo, he wrote, “Every year, some families ask
whether students are allowed to opt out of taking a
statewide test. In brief, the answer is no.” As a result,
many school leaders told parents they couldn’t opt
their children out, generating confusion and concern.
The MTA pushed back. “Our compulsory
education statutes require a student’s attendance at a
local school, but not participation in state-mandated
standardized tests,” Madeloni wrote to members.
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