For the past several weeks, Americans have been talking about the police shooting of Michael Brown, an unarmed Black teenager, and the resulting protests in Ferguson, Missouri. At Brown’s funeral, his high school teacher Charlie Kennedy described the boy as “kind-hearted, a little kid in a big body.” Kennedy said that Brown was “intimidating looking” but never disrespectful.
If only the Ferguson police had seen Michael Brown in the same light his teacher did. They did not see his kindness, his little kid heart. Instead, they saw a threat walking in the street on a Saturday afternoon, and shot him at least six times.
A good teacher sees people’s full humanity. At June Jordan School for Equity, teacher Giulio Sorro epitomizes this characteristic and is a model for the kind of teacher all kids need, and especially young people like Mike Brown. As Mr. Sorro explains, “good teaching is good teaching, but there is a whole other mindset to working with students coming from oppressed communities, where it’s set up for these young people not to make it.”
Mr. Sorro’s classroom is a place where people can be vulnerable, where their hearts can safely be on display. He says, “In my teaching I try to go to the depths, to the heart of it …. I believe in going to the pain … and then you also go to the love.” To do this, a teacher must be open and vulnerable themselves.
Teachers like Mr. Sorro can only be effective in schools where they are allowed to practice their craft, where they are not hemmed in by scripted curricula or forced to standardize their practice as a false front for having high standards.
And as Mr. Sorro explains, for teachers like him, accountability is to the children and the community, not to the state.
We need more teachers like Giulio Sorro, and like Charlie Kennedy.