By Dan Lai, Junior Unit teacher
Last weekend, I attended the AsEA (Asian Educators Alliance) Conference in Washington, DC. The theme for this year’s conference was Mobilizing for Equity, and it was a reminder that everyone has a part to play with regard to the topic of diversity and whose voices are heard.
Roughly 80-100 Asian-American educators came together at the Georgetown Day School to spend a weekend connecting with other professionals and digging into meaningful conversation. Many of the sessions focused on helping people interested in moving into administrative positions; one session featured a presentation by incoming TPS head of school Lisa Sun.
One of the keynote speakers was Dr. Taharee A. Jackson, an assistant professor of Minority and Urban Education in the Department of Teaching and Learning, Policy and Leadership at the University of Maryland, College Park. Through her work, Dr. Jackson is trying to increase diversity in education. Her speech, entitled "You Can’t Be What You Don’t See: The Value and Visibility of Underrepresented Teachers in School," reenforced and reminded me of my own philosophy of why I teach in independent schools. While it’s important for white students to be in classes with students of color, It is equally important for students to have teachers of color. The only Asians that they see shouldn't be in a restaurant waiting on them.
One session that I found particularly meaningful was presented by teachers and administrators from Maret School, which is located in DC. Since my trip to the People of Color Conference several years ago, where I experienced first-hand the best of what affinity groups could be, I have wanted to see if we could do an Asian-American group at school. However, I was never able to think of a way to overcome a major obstacle: The Asian population here at TPS is incredibly diverse – adoptees, biracial, first-generation, fourth-generation, Chinese, Korean, Thai, Japanese, Indian, and the list goes on. I couldn’t wrap my mind around how to find common ground.
What I heard from the Maret School presenters shifted my thinking and eased my apprehension. In a nutshell, I don’t need to find some specific unifying hook. What affinity groups do is provide a safe space where people can talk or not talk. The teachers at Maret were comfortable that there were years where the group had only three members and other years when they had 10. This presentation was so powerful that it provided me with a new drive to see if I can get a group off the ground next year here at TPS.