Jake Guth is the Middle School Spanish teacher, as well as an athletics coach. He is a New Orleanian by way of El Salvador and is wrapping up his second year teaching at St. George’s. Annually, St. George’s dedicates funds to professional development and encourages faculty and staff to participate in a variety of workshops, activities and conferences that enhance their growth as educators and school personnel. Señor Guth attended the NAIS People of Color Conference (PoCC) and has also participated in several in-house professional development workshops dedicated to our JEDI mission. Below are his reflections on attending the PoCC this past December.
When I first heard about the NAIS People of Color Conference, I was instantly intrigued; this seemed like an opportunity to surround myself with like-minded people who could be having similar thoughts and a similar desire for change.
When I interviewed with St. George’s a few years ago, I was explicitly asked “You have done a lot of work with underserved communities. How do you plan to incorporate that here?” While COVID-19 has derailed one of my long-term projects to work towards that goal, it never killed my drive. In finding and developing a more robust voice at St. George’s, it was noticeable to me that among the Middle School, I was the lone, full-time teacher of color. Being an active member of the JEDI Council and participating in workshops over the summer has helped me connect with like-minded coworkers, but I still experienced moments of hesitation in fully speaking out and/or in finding the right things to say. The PoCC helped me do just that.
Being surrounded by people, albeit digitally, that came from similar backgrounds and could also share in the experience of being a person of color at a school that was predominantly white was truly enlightening and satisfying. We were able to have very direct discourses designed to help our schools move forward, especially in a rapidly more progressive world. We also spent time on personal growth, and I learned ways to better equip myself with tools to handle potentially uncomfortable situations with both coworkers and students.
My key takeaways from the NAIS People of Color Conference:
Dr. Bettina Love: Dr. Bettina Love filled me with life. Dr. Love is an associate professor of educational theory and practice at UGA. She is an educator who teaches, writes, researches and advocates at the intersection of racism, education and abolition. She is the author of the book We Want to Do More Than Survive: Abolitionist Teaching and the Pursuit of Educational Freedom, as well as the co-founder and a board member of the Abolitionist Teaching Network. I purchased two of her books and am happy to lend them to any JEDI or faculty/staff members, and I can also share recommendations and book reviews with anyone interested.
The Complexity and Evolving Identity of Ourselves: One of the overarching themes of the sessions I attended was The Complexity and Evolving Identity of Ourselves. Identity is so much more complex than simply nationality, birthplaces and our parents. I think there is potential for some really meaningful discourse about discovering our full self-identities. In thinking this through the scope of World Languages and Spanish class in particular, this could be talked about during the exploration of the 22 Spanish-speaking countries, as well as during Latin Heritage Month.
Calling in > Calling out: Where calling someone out is accusatory, harmful and direct in an often uncomfortable way, calling in promotes growth, learning and positive discourse. Loretta J. Ross wrote, “Calling in is speaking up without tearing down. A call-in can happen publicly or privately, but its key feature is that it’s done with love. Instead of shaming someone who’s made a mistake, we can patiently ask questions to explore what was going on and why the speaker chose their harmful language.” In the classroom, teachers can use call-ins to model for students that we all might say something harmful from time to time, but we can learn from those errors and make sure that it doesn’t happen in the future. By calling in instead of calling out, we show that we’re open to discussions and new ideas, and the door isn’t closed to learning and others’ experiences.
Affinity Groups: To be able to talk to like-minded educators and people all going through different variations of a common issue/theme was powerful. It was helpful to share out and hear how other Latinx educators (in my case) handled different scenarios that I have also gone through or have had to think about. These groups could be a great goal for the JEDI Coalition as we move forward in our work.
Moving Beyond Allyship: We need to strive to be “co-conspirators and accomplices” instead of just simply allies. We have the unique opportunity to be working with a community that gets to benefit from privilege, and we should be shifting our thinking from being allies to getting our hands dirtier and becoming more and more involved in the New Orleans community here at hand. We can be using our privilege to help dismantle systems and rebuild them into actual equitable ones. "An ally wants credit for being on the right side, but doesn’t want to get their hands too dirty.... An ally thinks the system is merely broken; an accomplice learns to recognize not a broken system, but one operating exactly as it was intended — and works to dismantle its scaffolding, piece by piece."
I was and continue to be excited to bring these takeaways back to St. George’s. If you’re interested in learning more about the topics in these takeaways, please feel free to reach out to me via email, or check out the links below:
And don’t forget that the JEDI doors are always open! Our work is ongoing, and we invite you to participate in it with us as we continue our discussions and professional development… and our call-ins, too.
As an independent school, St. George’s is a member of the NAIS: the National Association of Independent Schools. Among a variety of outreach efforts, this very active organization holds an annual conference called The NAIS People of Color Conference. NAIS writes, “The mission of the conference is to provide a safe space for leadership, professional development, and networking for people of color and allies of all backgrounds in independent schools.”
- Faculty Voice
- Professional Development