Teachers, #StayWoke to Awaken Your Students

Guest Blog by Lydia Carlis, PhD

So, today, in the midst of more senseless pain, anguish, and growing anger, I spied a glimmer of hope. It looked a little like a classroom full of black and brown seventh graders at a DC middle school, and their #woke teacher.

This was the last class my colleagues and I observed today, and as we had witnessed in all of the other rooms we visited, I was expecting to see students either exploring a grade-level novel or informational text or quietly completing their baseline NWEA MAP math assessment. Instead, we walked in to find a NYT article on the SMART board, a copy in each student’s hand, and a lively discussion ensuing on yet another unarmed black man being killed by police.

As we walked in and sat down, we heard this teacher speak on the power of student voices — and the platforms available to them — to help change the narrative AND change actions…

“Using social media; using the resources that are at your disposal…the amount of outlets you all have to reach the world is phenomenal. Are we using these outlets?”

“Are you presenting yourself in the best light as well? Or, are you just sharing (insert dance or song I’m too out of touch to know). There’s nothing wrong with that, but is that all you’re doing?”

And, the teacher answered students’ real questions with thoughtful responses that acknowledged their frustration and confusion but stayed firmly focused on hope:


Student: What if you have video proof?

Teacher: It has to be presented in the right setting. It has to be presented to the right people. And then two sides have to argue that footage. Because just like we know, sometimes footage can be altered. We know that because of technology we have today. I’m not saying that’s the case here, but we have to go through the process, just so it’s fair for everybody.

We have to investigate both sides…they have to talk to the other officers that were there. There were two other officers that actually saw it in real time. They have to talk to all parties considered to make sure, or to try their best to make sure they get it right.

Do we get it wrong sometimes? Yes. But we try to give people equal rights.

Student: What if I, say one day, if were a police officer and I did something wrong to someone. Would I get in trouble for that because of my color (race)?

Teacher: What we’re gonna talk about is if color, or if race, played a role in the fact that he was killed. But, the reason that we have the process that Ms. _ was discussing is so that we can try to give everyone the same amount of rights. Do we get it wrong sometimes? Absolutely. Do we get it wrong maybe more often lately? Maybe. But what I need for us to understand is that the systems are set up to try to give people equal rights. It’s not fail proof. We can see that in the world. But, the attempt is there, and I want us to acknowledge that.


It was tremendously heartening to walk into a class of black and brown students, being led by a black man, and see them engaging on a topic that is completely relevant for the young men in the class, their brothers, their fathers, and yes, their teacher. I am so grateful to this teacher for starting today’s conversation, and that I was gifted the opportunity to see even 15 minutes of it unfold.

We need more dialogue like this happening in our Common Core classrooms, and in our corporate boardrooms. My prayer is that will be where some of today’s young black and brown scholars will show up, speak up, and ACT up, in years to come.