OPINION | ARE: The Rise of the Warm Demanders

by Daudi Abe

“Conventional paradigms and proposals for improving the achievement of students of color are doomed to failure. —Dr. Geneva Gay 

The Academy for Rising Educators (ARE) was founded in 2018 by then-Seattle Public Schools Chief of Equity, Partnerships and Engagement Keisha Sopher-Scarlett and then-Seattle Central College President Sheila Edwards Lange. Its goal is to produce diverse, homegrown teachers who are culturally responsive; employ anti-racist, relationship-based, student-centered pedagogy; and engage in critical community discourse. Candidates attend Seattle Central’s new bachelor of applied science (BAS) in education program tuition-free and receive advising and mentoring as well as related support in connecting to master’s and other graduate programs with partners such as City University and the University of Washington. This augments traditionally rigid higher education approaches by ensuring marginalized communities have a central voice in shaping the next generations of teachers.

To a large extent, American classrooms have historically been overrun with “sympathetic destroyers.” These are teachers who may or may not recognize their bias and are either unwilling or unable to develop the kinds of relationships and expectations, with students of color in particular, necessary to achieve successful outcomes. When students struggle, the sympathetic destroyer most often places responsibility on the student or their family, and a common slogan is “I don’t see color.”

ARE is committed to producing “warm demanders.” They create classroom climates based on emotional warmth; consistently and clearly demand high-quality academic performance; spend time establishing positive interpersonal relationships between themselves and students, and among students; extend their relationships with and care for students beyond the classroom; and communicate with students with non-verbal cues, such as smiles, gentle touch, and establishing a kinesthetic feeling of closeness. 

Critics of these types of approaches often belittle programs from “junior” colleges, question the certification of nontraditional candidates, and use terms such as “coddling” and “hand-holding” to describe high-support models. The simplest response to these criticisms is a question — where exactly have “traditional” teaching candidates who’ve never struggled in school and graduated from “prestigious” institutions gotten us? A decades-long tradition of achievement and discipline gaps for students of color is where. This includes a 2013 U.S. Department of Education investigation of Seattle Public Schools for, among other things, disproportionate discipline directed at African American students.

There are a few key points that run through ARE. One is that cultural responsiveness is not some sort of add-on to a lesson once it is designed, but in fact the basis for all teaching. Another is that being a Person of Color is not an automatic qualifier to be an effective teacher for diverse classrooms, just as being white is not an automatic disqualifier. The most important thing is love. Love is the foundation of the program, encouraging ARE staff, faculty, and candidates to practice authentic, organic relationships, which cultivates an approach that maintains academic rigor and integrity while meeting students where they are. 

These points become even more important when we recognize that academic trauma may be one of the most underdiagnosed conditions among not only current students but past ones as well. Academic trauma comes from the impact of adverse, violent, ostracizing, and stigmatizing events experienced by individuals in a classroom setting. Because research has shown that Black children experience disproportionate discipline as early as preschool, cumulative events such as these can leave lasting impacts on students that they carry forward into their post-secondary education. It is exacerbated by historical and intergenerational trauma as well as the ongoing trauma of being Black/BIPOC in America. 

Academic trauma can present in several ways, including being hyper-focused on grades as opposed to learning, defensiveness, not being able to take constructive criticism, withdrawal, emotional lability, lack of insight, external locus of control, underdeveloped critical thinking skills, and dependence. 

A vivid example of academic trauma surfaced a couple of years ago at the ARE Summer Bridge Orientation. This cohort of future candidates was discussing an informal reflective survey that asked about possible strengths or challenges they may bring as students to the program. One student, a Black man about 30 years old, volunteered to share his challenge with the group: “I don’t like to read.” 

There was an audible ripple through the room, as this may not be something you would expect to hear from a future teacher. He later went on to tearfully explain that when he was in fourth grade at a local private school, the teacher would make him read out loud in front of the class, knowing he was not a strong reader. The only Black student in the class, he was teased mercilessly by classmates, received no support from the teacher, and subsequently carried this trauma for decades.

A more traditional teacher prep program may have suggested this young man reconsider his career choice. Instead, he was thanked for making himself vulnerable that way in front of the group and informed that because ARE had this knowledge, it was now our responsibility to not only help him unpack his own pain, but also give him tools to assist future students who may have trauma around reading with compassion and empathy. ARE is proud to attract candidates like this who, through healing-centered methods, can draw from personal experience in offering unconditional support, compassion, and empathy to all learners.

Some of the non-conventional paradigms embraced by ARE include following the principles outlined in our mission statement, employing instructors who actively model the “warm demander” approach, and moving beyond traditional philosophies. 

One of these philosophies is the “three Rs”: reading, writing, and arithmetic, basic concepts that are thoroughly covered in teacher education programs, including ARE. However, the “free Rs,” relationships, responsiveness, and anti-racism, are key to creating educators who are prepared to teach for liberation and lead the invasion of the warm demanders.

The South Seattle Emerald is committed to holding space for a variety of viewpoints within our community, with the understanding that differing perspectives do not negate mutual respect amongst community members.

The opinions, beliefs, and viewpoints expressed by the contributors on this website do not necessarily reflect the opinions, beliefs, and viewpoints of the Emerald or official policies of the Emerald.

Daudi Abe is ARE faculty coordinator at Seattle Central College.

📸 Featured image courtesy of ARE.

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