Dr. Sheldon Eakins:

Welcome, advocates, to another episode of the Leading Equity podcast, a podcast that focuses on supporting educators with the tools and resources necessary to ensure equity at their schools. I got a special guest, a fraternity brother, I'm going to throw that out there too. Dr. Tequan Stewart is here with us today out of Cal State Teach. I've been working with his group, and him and I connected, and so without further ado, Tequan, thank you so much for joining us today.

Dr. Tequan Stewart:

Man, thank you for having me. I appreciate it, Dr. Eakins, it's a pleasure to be here.

Dr. Sheldon Eakins:

Or you can call me Sheldon. We're very informal on the show here, so if it's okay with you, I'm going to call you to Tequan, you can call me Sheldon, and we'll get into it. Now, before we get into today's topic, and we're talking about advocacy and preparing our future teachers to become advocates, I'd love for you to share a little bit about yourself and what you currently do.

Dr. Tequan Stewart:

Thank you. What I currently do is... the bulk of my work is in teacher training, training teachers K through 16, through the Cal State Teach program. I train multiple subject teachers in urban and somewhat rural areas. I do the same for secondary teachers in the Los Angeles Urban Teacher Residency. Both of those programs are with the Cal State system through Cal State Fresno and Cal State Los Angeles, respectively, as Cal State Teach LUTR, or LA Urban Teacher Residency. I also do some graduate work in the area of identity and teaching, so for teachers to understand how their positionality biases their epistemology, as they go on in the classroom, dealing with fragile developing identities and understanding how it affects their own. I also do some mentoring, which I've known forever. College counseling, I do math and science consulting where I work with teachers and school districts in them providing more culturally sustaining science and math pedagogies. Let's stop right there, because it's a little bit I do, I do a little bit of everything. I stay busy.

Dr. Sheldon Eakins:

Okay, I hear you on that one, we were just talking about how busy we are. So I hear you on that, and one of the things that has come up to me, quite a few times, in some of the trainings that I do, some of the workshops, some of the webinars that I engage in, is brand new teachers. First year teachers, first semester. I know we got COVID already and we're trying to deal with that. And I had some that were reaching out to me that were in the middle of their student teaching, and then COVID hits and closes their schools down, and they're trying to make those adjustments. But even as we're going into this semester and this next school year, I have a lot of teachers that say, "Man, I want to do this work, I just didn't get any real training while I was in my teacher prep programs, or I feel like I'm brand new to the system. I'm a fresh fish, if you will, and I don't know, necessarily, how to navigate these waters."

               What are some of the things that you do in your courses to help those future teachers prepare to become advocates?

Dr. Tequan Stewart:

Well, for me, first of all, I remind them that 80, 81% of teaching staff is... and the same with teacher prep programs, white middle-class women. And so the vast majority of my candidates, or teachers, fit that demographic. So I tell them that they have to be careful about how they're coming in, so I try to have them remind themselves of why they really want to teach, and dig down. And then, as we begin to unearth those reasons for wanting to be in the classroom and want to facilitate young minds, if you will, and we begin to unearth that and excavate, I remind them, especially if there's any red flags, that you're not here to diagnose, to fix, to save, first of all. And if you are, you're going to fail miserably within those first five years, because you have to get your sea legs before you can do anything else.

               But that's where I start, is that you have to understand who you are when you're dealing with the vast majority of students being students of color. What are you really there for? You have to continue to ask yourself as you go throughout your teaching career, actually, because we're always a work in progress. And in a active selective vulnerability, I'm reminded that I'm also a work in progress, always ready to learn and to share. So that's the first thing I do.

               And then what I began to do is to share with them that they're going to run into students that are diverse linguistically, in terms of literacy, in terms of culture, race, and ethnicity. So what they have to do is make sure that they don't disrupt those knowledges that students bring into the classroom with them when they go in the classroom. And that's where the heavy lifting is done, not making big noise as you walk into the school house, if you will.

Dr. Sheldon Eakins:

Okay. There's a lot that I want to unpack a little bit more. One of the things that really stood out to me was you said you're not there to diagnose, fix or to save, and that is something that I see a lot of teachers coming into these urban schools and feeling like that that's their role, that's their call, this is charity work, I'm a missionary. And they go into these schools and they feel that that's the way that they're supposed to go.

               How do you help someone who's... Like you said, the demographics is white middle-class woman, for a lot of your up and coming teachers, so they've lived a certain life. Maybe they just haven't had the experiences that a lot of students that they're going to end up being in front of. How do you create or support them, and help them really understand what does that mean when it comes to, "You're not supposed to diagnose, fix or save"?

Dr. Tequan Stewart:

Well, just letting them know that there's nothing wrong with them. So for instance, I was just discussing some feedback I gave a candidate this week, come to think of it. And what I'm getting my candidates to do is to eliminate the use of the term EL, or ELL. Instead of using that, say bilingual or multilingual, because what that says is... and this is just to concretize it, what that says is that that student has a level of brain dexterity that you probably don't even have. When they're talking to you, and you... Well, there's big [inaudible 00:00:07:06], they're talking to you in two languages, even if one is coming out, or three languages, if one is coming out.

               I remember having a student and he was failing miserably. I approached his teachers and told them they have to work with him, and one reason why they have to work with him, because this young man had four languages. "So you telling me he can't do your work? No, he can, you need to figure out how to reach him. And then talk to him." Some of them hadn't even talked to him and he was highly intelligent, and his favorite subject was philosophy. He could quote you philosophers and... but then he have all F's. It's like, "Come on, that's not his fault, that's your fault. You got to figure out how to reach him."

               So looking at the, like I mentioned earlier, the knowledges that students come with, students come with a breadth of cultural wealth that will help them thrive in the classroom, and we have to take that into consideration and play to those strengths.

Dr. Sheldon Eakins:

So here's another question that I get, 'How do I avoid the savior complex? How do I know if I'm perpetuating that? What are some triggers, or what are some signs, if you will, that I could, "Oh, okay, maybe I need to dial this back a little bit because I'm participating in a savior mindset.""

               What are some like identifying factors that are out there that, either current teachers that have been in the game for a while, or even teachers that are kind of about to get started, what are some identifying factors that are out there that kind of says, "You need to kind of chill out a second, because this is definitely some savior mindset that you're on."

Dr. Tequan Stewart:

What's your mindset? Is your mindset, if you was, is it still... Are you looking at things through your centric lens, or is what you're teaching from a Eurocentric perspective? Because whether you think you've developed rapport or not with those students, that complex is still there, because you're giving them what you think is this canon of knowledge that they need to make it through academia. So you're basically operating with that kind of scorched earth policy. And I like to use that, and so you look at what the British did, what the Spanish did, what the Conquistadors as they so-called reclaimed Spain. After they gleaned everything they wanted... Because they weren't smart enough to know what they needed. Once they gleaned everything they wanted, they would burn everything. So not realizing that they were losing out on valuable information that those people that they were trying to get rid of had brought with them to that area.

               So if that policy is still in place, meaning if you're covering Western expansion and you don't talk about... or if you're framing it as Western expansion and you don't talk about the Chinese's role in the railroads or whatever, then you're not hitting it from all perspectives and you're looking to... Again, you're canonizing the information they need to know, you're not incorporating what folks need. So to get direct to your question, what are you saying with that scorched earth policy, with that lack of equity pedagogy, if you will, what are you saying?

               You're saying is that whiteness has the most value. And that's how you know, if you really examine your lesson plans, what you're doing to supplement or not supplement the standards. That's how you know that you're doing that. And if you buy into the idea of grit and zest, which the kids we deal with, they have more grit than you will ever have, already.

Dr. Sheldon Eakins:

And I'm glad that you brought up grit, because that has definitely been something that has been challenged a lot. Because who are you to tell me, or try to educate me, on what grit is? And there's different situations that I've experienced that you would never experience, or you've never experienced in your lifetime, and you're going to tell me how to survive, or pull yourself up by the bootstraps type of mentality is not the way to go, so I'm glad you brought that up.

Dr. Tequan Stewart:

Yeah, I'll give you an example, because I mentioned getting to know your students and what they come with? I had a student, dating myself, I had a student about 20 years ago, and she was-

Dr. Sheldon Eakins:

You look like a young brother, by the way.

Dr. Tequan Stewart:

Thank you, man, appreciate it. Check's in the mail, but I got a face for radio. Nah.

               But definitely I had a student, she's a Salvadoran, a lovely young lady, as far as just spirit and everything. And you're talking about grit? So if I didn't know this young lady, I wouldn't have known how to approach her when she came to me to console her about being able to pass the English part of the Casey.

               I said, "Listen, you going to tell me you can't pass the English part of the Casey? Would you rather take the Casey, or turn back the hands of time and go through what you went through in getting to the United States? Where you were captured four times by the coyotes, the last time you were taken to Mexico, because they thought you were Mexican, and that's how you ended up getting here. The other three times, they actually took you back to El Salvador, the third time they thought you were Mexican, so their mistake and that's how you made it over. So you're going to tell me you can go through that, and you can't pass the English part of the Casey? Man, get out of here."

               Passed it the next time, so that was it. And I remember the look on her face, it was kind of like, "Damn, you're right." You know what I mean? I've never done... I don't want to deal with a real life coyote, Wiley Coyote, I don't want to deal with nobody, man.

Dr. Sheldon Eakins:

Yeah, I hear you on that. And sometimes that's all it takes, right? You just give that motivational speech, and kids just boom. It just hits them, and then they're ready to go, and that's all it takes. It doesn't require much after that, because a lot of the students have had their experiences and it's like, "Man, if you made it through what you got going on right now, this is nothing, this is a cakewalk right here."

Dr. Tequan Stewart:

It's a cakewalk, yeah, and you remember that story. So he know, "Ah, he remember, he knows who I am." Yes, I know who you are, definitely. Yeah.

Dr. Sheldon Eakins:

All right. So I love that, I love that. And so let me ask you this question, because I want to know... I'll have people, and it's not even just for up and coming teachers. It's just some teachers, like paraprofessionals or other staff members, who maybe they're not... Or they feel as if they do not have the notoriety, the clout, that they need in order to speak up. Let's say they're in a staff meeting, they overhear something being said. They're in a teacher's lounge, and they overhear something being said. Or they just see their teacher next door to them, or a student comes to them and says, "This teacher has mistreated me." And a teacher is now... whoever the staff member is, they're at a place where it's like, "I know I should say something, but I don't feel as if I have either the words to articulate what to say, or I don't have the clout in order to speak up and speak out."

               What are some of the things that you tell those future teachers so that there'll be prepared for any of those kinds of situations?

Dr. Tequan Stewart:

So something I learned, and I still do it, even though people listen to me a little bit more than they did before, stay reading. Stay reading, and one way to do that is to... I advise my teachers too, if they want to be strong advocates for students, get mentors. Esteem mentor, a parent mentor, a community mentor, elder mentor. Someone talks about reading, somebody who's on the same page as you, that's an elder.

               If you don't feel comfortable in the scenario you gave, go to that elder and say, "Give me something to read, and then I can present it to these individuals in a staff meeting," or whatever environment that's conducive to get my voice heard. But I'm not standing up and saying it, so I've avoided sounding emotional, or you don't quite get it. And then just let it sit there, let it simmer. Let it simmer, and then position yourself to the instructional leader of that school, and let them know, "Hey, I gave this out." Or ask their permission before you give it out, and then you go back to them, "What do you think about what I shared?"

               Go to the different committee meetings that are involved, and see what people are thinking about, to plan your strategy. Because it's not just about jumping. That action needs theory, that theory needs action, it's practice, it goes together. So a lot of those individuals, if they're saying things like that, like the hypothetical, whatever thing they say, and I can give you an example probably for every scenario that I've dealt with. And I'll give you an example next, but let them read first.

               So an example. That same school with the young lady who was struggling with the Casey, there was an old guard, so to speak, of these white women teachers. And I'm not saying that they had concealed evils or anything like that, but on the surface, very nice people, very sweet human beings, but they just did not accept the fact that that school demographics had changed. So from the time that it was a majority white school, to the point where I was there, it was 80% Latin X.

               And so I would see them murder the spirits of kids every day, and I said, "Okay, how do I approach this?" I looked at the demographics, I was already looking at some data, and I said, "Okay. We have culture, we got language, we got race, we got ethnicity, we have orientation, we have... Okay, let's handle this." So what I did, I actually kind of went overboard. So what I did was first I wrote a memo, I got the principal's permission. I put the memo in everybody's box at the end of the day, because I was usually there later than everybody else, I put in the box. When I came back in the morning, I saw memos laying on the floor, people were mad, there were teachers that respected me who were white and non-white, that said, "You know what? I really feel you in that memo, and something has to be done."

               And so I put myself on the spot, in the memo. What I did was say, "I want to create this critical culture team." And I can't remember exactly what it was right now, but the culture was broken up, so culture was like an acronym. But it was definitely cultural, linguistic, racial, ethnic, blah, blah, blah. And so then I went back, after some people said, "Yeah, you got to go for it, you got to go for it. Anything you need, I'm responsible." And only a few.

               So I went to get, and I put together a binder that was like two inches thick, and I got a couple copies run off at Kinko's. And I went to the curriculum committee meeting, and I got on the agenda, and I presented my pitch for this critical culture team. And so I used some of the examples that I saw, randomly yelling at kids in the hallway when you didn't understand what they was going through, not teaching them for the last five weeks of the school year because you were frustrated because they didn't like you, whatever the things that were going on. So it's all these articles.

               Long story, short. So the principal that promised to show up and support me failed to show up to the meeting. White male, failed to show up to the meeting. Three of those teachers who were the old guard, halfway through... not even halfway through my spot on the agenda, got up and walked out. And then, to me, it was, "Okay, fight is on."

               And so my thing was just engage with the literature. I'm not going to argue with you, engage with the literature. And that's what you have to do, and you have to sit it there. And then, after a while... I don't even know how long it was, I can't remember, but some of those folks in the old guard, eventually, I guess they had dug into some of the literature, and they would begin to ask me advice. "Oh, I have a black male and I think he's bright, but he's just not participating. What do you think, maybe I have him read this instead of this?" "Oh yeah, that's a great idea."

               So they began to soften after a while. So if you just let people engage with the content, with the literature, I think that's one way to do it too. But for young teachers... I didn't care, so I always tell them, "Don't be like me, I didn't care." But be careful with it, and then show them that you're doing your homework, and let them engage with that. And if they disagree, that's on them. And then do your thing and let it spill out to the rest of the school.

Dr. Sheldon Eakins:

Okay. So with regards to educating yourself and digging into the literature, what are some of your go-to articles or texts that you would recommend, if I'm looking to learn more?

Dr. Tequan Stewart:

Man, that's the hardest question you asked me. I always have a dozen books open, like open, and that's a modest estimate, a dozen. Okay, I would say for... Let's say for white teachers, I would really challenge white teachers to read Feeling White, Cheryl Matias. She discusses white emotionalities, and then she also talks about overcoming the intoxications of whiteness that kind of thwart any racial equity type talk of progress before emotion. So I would say Cheryl Matias, Feeling White. I would be remiss if I didn't say White Fragility, Robin DiAngelo. Dr. DiAngelo has been doing this work for a long time, and that's often a nice trunk car because when you... I always look into the person that I'm reading, so if you have a white woman that does this, and is like, "No, no, no, no, no," so that's a good one.

               I would say for young teachers, one of my favorite ones is Sonia Nieto's The Light in Their Eyes, love that book. Subtractive Schooling, Angela Valenzuela. Zaretta Hammond's Culturally Responsive Teaching and the Brain, that's a good one. I would even say... Now, you've got to look at Ibram Kendies' How To Be Antiracist. I will even say, Why Are Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria? is a good one on looking at developing identities, Beverly Daniel Tatum. Man, Pedagogy of the Oppressed is a good one.

Dr. Sheldon Eakins:

Classic.

Dr. Tequan Stewart:

Yeah, classic. I also like Pedagogy of Indignation. Was it the fifth letter, I think? I love that one, in particular. Sean Ginwright's Hope and Healing is a good one too, so teachers can begin to look at, or combat... or what's at the center of culturally sustaining pedagogy, that healing. And then even combating the... I like to call it snake oil, the social emotional learning, and how it's used and even put in a silo. But how that culturally sustaining pedagogy, or culturally responsive pedagogy, if it's [inaudible 00:24:33] that social, emotional learning, you know what I mean? So I think those are a few, I could probably think of some more. The Deepest Well, by... man, what's the sister's name? Wow, why can't I think of her name? But The Deepest Well, and she discusses Aces. And then oh man, my woman crush every day is Bettina Love, We Want To Do More Than Survive, wow. Yo, that's... But I'm always reading some old stuff that I go back to also... And Chris Emdin's For White Folks Who Teach in the Hood. That's a good one too, to understand reality pedagogy, which actually, kind of alluded to earlier, if you look at the idea of reality pedagogy, Pentecostal pedagogy, that whole thing. I also like Affirming Diversity, by Bowed and Nieto, that's a good one too, Affirming Diversity.

Dr. Sheldon Eakins:

We got to get you some kind of credit for Amazon, or something like... An affiliate link or something, because you did drop about 15 titles right there.

Dr. Tequan Stewart:

I can't even think... it's funny. Like I said, I can't even think of what I'm reading right now, but I know one thing that's... White Rage by Carol Anderson, is a good one too, I would recommend it. And I would also recommend... what's the brother's first name? But it's actually Anderson too, so it triggered a thought. Education of Blacks in the South is a good one, because it can show you how we look at things just cyclically. Some of the things James Banks talks about, he alludes to in that book, and we're talking about educating blacks, and so he's talking about the 19th century. For instance, when white philanthropists gave money to schools in the south, one room school houses or whatever, and of course they could have better resources and infrastructure, whatever. They said, "Yeah, we'll take your money, but keep everything else. We got this." You know what I mean? So they knew something that we still don't know today, as a whole. Some of us do, but yeah.

Dr. Sheldon Eakins:

Man, Dr. Stewart just dropped some knowledge on us today. You have been awesome. I definitely consider you as providing a voice in leading equity, why don't you take us home with your final thoughts for today?

Dr. Tequan Stewart:

Final thoughts to the day? I would say, because this conversation was framed around advocacy, I would say... First of all, sometimes people are uncomfortable by certain things that I say, but my teachers and candidates that work with me, we build really solid relationships. Some better than others, I can't front, but I would say that... There's an Islamic scholar by the name of Dr. Abdullah Hakim Quick, and he has a book called Deeper Roots, you can grab that too, there's some information in that that a lot of folks don't know. But he said that, and I'm paraphrasing, that once the veil of white supremacy is lifted from the eyes, the mind will open. So it's again, like Cheryl Matias talked about, recovering from the intoxications of whiteness, that whole thing is very important.

               And I think it's, to end up, just understanding some very important things that matter, that we touched on earlier, just what role does culture play? The role of achievement, rapport in relationships, meaning, ways that students are socialized to make meaning, the knowledges they bring with them, the agency that they can develop. Understanding those things, I think, are very important critical first steps for, or, at some point, for all teachers to partake in. And it's very important. And as Bettina Love mentions, is we have to be more than allies, we have to be co-conspirators.

Dr. Sheldon Eakins:

Love that. Tequan, if we got some folks that want to connect with you, want to reach out, what's the best way to connect with you online?

Dr. Tequan Stewart:

You can hit me at doc_alamin on Instagram, doc_alamin. It's Quanster on Facebook, which I'm hardly ever on, or you can just email me at [email protected], [email protected] My pager number... no, just kidding.

Dr. Sheldon Eakins:

You say a pager number, yo. Your future teachers probably don't even know what a pager is, that's.... Oh my God.

Dr. Tequan Stewart:

[inaudible 00:30:06].

Dr. Sheldon Eakins:

Yeah. I remember I used to tell people about pagers, like "Yeah, a pager was... You'll get a message, a number, and you got to actually go find a phone to go call somebody." So yeah, back in the day. Anyway-

Dr. Tequan Stewart:

[inaudible 00:30:18].

Dr. Sheldon Aikins:

Yeah. So it's truly been a pleasure, I appreciate your time and thank you so much.

Dr. Tequan Stewart:

Oh man, thank you for having me. I appreciate you, your work, and I appreciate the opportunity of being here.

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