I am finishing my third (or thirtieth or three hundredth) meeting of the afternoon when he pops in. He’s been “pushing in” to a class and thinks that maybe he’s stepping on the teacher’s toes just a little bit. I taught that class last semester and was grateful for every extra adult body I could get, but I trust his judgement. Maybe this new, young teacher has things under control; maybe she has a higher tolerance for high jinks; maybe she likes to have some space to teach by herself. Whatever it is, if he thinks he’ll serve the class better by stepping away for awhile, then that’s probably the right move. I, too, am finding that pushing in is complex.
He and I have only talked a handful of times, but we’ve already had several of those discussions that trip along from one topic to the next, our tongues flying and our hands gesturing. I don’t know much about him yet, but I already admire him. Today he senses my fatigue. “How’s that class going?” he asks. I take a deep breath.
I confess that we have finished unit 1 – Foundations – and are moving into a unit on history. I explain that I am drowning in information. I keep thinking of the title of an article I read in grad school: A Little Too Little and a Lot Too Much. I feel wildly uncertain. What is my next step? How can I honour student voice? How can I acknowledge what they know and what I don’t know?
He understands right away, and he points out – gently, politely – that I am too deep in my emotions and too light on academics. I shake my head: No. No. That can’t be it. I am a white woman teaching a course called “Anti-Black Racism in the Canadian Context”; I have to be aware of emotions and student knowledge and… “No,” he is saying, “no.” He can see through me. I am aiming for perfection. He laughs, “It’s just history. I know that teachers can be possessive of their classrooms, but…would you let me come tomorrow? This is my specialty. I am salivating at the thought of teaching this class.”
We talk. More than once each of us prefaces comments with “can I be honest here?” He finds the holes in the anti-racism that I hope permeates my soul but which I sometimes wear like armour. We talk about the dismal truth about the numbers of Black teachers in our board and our province. I tell him that I hope that someday I will not be teaching this class because someone more qualified will teach it. He reminds me that I am good enough even while he reminds me that I will never be enough. I push back, get frustrated and feel seen all at the same time.
We end up planning together – we are both committed to a pedagogy of inquiry – our ideas intertwine and the course takes shape again. When we pause he says, “I am a hugger. Are you a hugger?” and we hug because for now this course – which until today was taught by me, a white woman doing her best – will be team-taught by a white woman and a Black man who have found a way to disrupt the system that put us in separate spaces when we should be together.