First it was the summer reading of Dust Tracks on a Road
by Zora Neale Hurston. It was the first time I saw a book written by an African-American on a book list. I read it the summer before 11th grade in a few days. Once we returned to school everyone who read the book met together. This was the first time I met Mrs. McCreath. The room only had a few students but we sat and talked about the journey of young Zora and her impact on our society.
Then it was AP US History. None of my friends took it but I did. I felt I could handle it. I didn't know that this was going to be the most influential class of my high school career. A young teacher. I don't know if she had any experience before coming to our school but in a small room with a large conference table, she was able to open minds.
I remember sitting in her class and staring at the poster of Malcolm X hanging on the left side of the room. I oftentimes looked at him pleading to take me away or to give me the strength to continue to carry the burden of being 'the black voice' in the classroom.
The small book with the American flag on it. Thick with small print. It held many key documents to the creation of this country. It wasn't Howard Zinn but it was the first time I read the Bill of Rights for myself and made my own interpretations. There are notes on all of the texts, underlined unfamiliar words. I still have it in my basement laying next to The Scarlet Letter
and all those Hemingway books we had to read every year.
It was the first time I was taught African-American history-not just Plessy vs. Ferguson
but also Brown vs. Board of Education
, W.E.B. DuBois and Malcolm X. It began an obsession of reading history that continues to this day.
I took the AP exam but it wasn't about the preparation of the test. It was about the influence. I can't speak to Mrs. McCreath's teaching strategies or the types of papers we had to write..even though I know they were long and prepared me for college. It was about making my history matter. Having the conversation about privilege and class when 99% of the students in the room benefited from it.
She left the same year I graduated from high school. We reconnected on Facebook recently. I thanked her for her work and inspiring me to be an educator.
As teachers head back to the classrooms, I encourage you to tap into your inner Mrs. McCreath.
This post is part of the Those Who Can