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  • Nichole Watson

Oregon Education Association: Educator Spotlight

“I want to thank you for being courageous — this is dangerous work and I can’t offer you a safe space.”


I am a 4th grade teacher at Rosa Parks elementary in North Portland — this is my fifth year in the classroom, so I’m still just a toddler in this career, relatively speaking.


As a classroom teacher, I bring my own copy paper to school. That’s not something my building has a lot of. If there are things I’d like my students to have access to, most of the time we can use technology — and that’s because we were able to write an equity grant to have 1–1 technology at Rosa Parks, but not every classroom and not every student has that capability.


Yes, we’re asking for $4 billion, but that trickle-down effect is as simple as staples. I buy tape. I think I spend on average $1,200 a year for my classroom, and I only get $200 of that reimbursed at the end of the year on my taxes. I’m not making enough to compete with the cost of living in Portland, but because I love what I do, and I love taking care of babies who deserve a quality education, it comes at the expense of my own pocket. It’s worth it — our babies are worth it, but it’s time for our government officials to step up and it’s time for us to demand that they take action. That action needs to look like dollars. I’m going to take a line from Coming to America and tell you: “We’re happy to get the kind that jingles, but we’d rather get the kind that folds.” My village understands that cultural reference.

This week, we’re honoring the Black Lives Matter at Schools Week of Action. Essentially, this is about us moving from safe spaces into brave spaces — providing culturally responsive curriculum, really giving center stage to black students and their lived experiences. You read the statistics in newspapers, but those numbers are attached to real babies, and real bodies, and we have to have an opportunity to impact those lives in a way that’s intentional. This is about allyship, and about listening and believing. What I’m hoping is that the voices we bring together during this Week of Action will want to continue engaging in this conversation — so that we can bring community voices, student voices, and teacher voices to the table to co-develop what this movement should look like moving into the future.

Often times, when you try to celebrate Black Lives Matter in schools, it’s met with a lot of hostility. A lot of our teachers were facing that hostility just by wearing shirts or asking to teach this curriculum or having a sign outside their door. Our union is putting their full support behind this movement. We recognize that this isn’t going to solve it all, but it’s a great starting point.


I want to thank you for being courageous — this is dangerous work and I can’t offer you a safe space. Right now, there is no such thing as a safe space. But we can find allies who provide us inspiration and encouragement and a shoulder to lean on. Let us, together, stand in the gap for babies who look like me, and babies who look like you — so we can build an educational system that our children truly deserve.


Can I get an Amen?

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© 2020 by Nichole R. Watson

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