I’ve dealt with bras for a while. Being an early bloomer and a busty one at that, I probably bought my first bra when I was 11. So, it’s been a few decades.
I’ve also dealt with administrators for a while. I’ve been in education for ten years, and today, I realized that the two things have a lot in common.
In my decades of bra-wearing, I have bought the bra that, on the outside, looked perfect. The tag spouted features that I had never even heard of, but they promised to make my boobs look amazing. Lace and bows were everywhere. It came in a snazzy zebra print. In the end, though, it just looked fancy, and got nothing done. The lace was itchy, the zebra print showed through everything, and my boobs just wanted to get out of it.
A bra’s job is to support your boobs. An administrator’s job is to support their teachers. Even a terrible bra will keep your boobs from falling all the way to your belly button. You will still be able to go out in public and your boobs will won’t be flailing around like windsocks. But, there’s a good chance that you’ll be uncomfortable and pulling at the straps that keep slipping down your shoulders because otherwise your boobs look lopsided.
Same goes for a principal or vice principal. A terrible one can still technically get the job done. Even the worst can more or less guarantee that everyone will get through to that last bell. But, there’s a good chance that teachers will be uncomfortable, grumpy, and wanting no less than four glasses of wine by the end of the day.
Now, for teachers of color, we need a little more support. It’s not that I don’t feel like I’m as capable to do the job; it’s just that it comes with a different set of challenges. For example, if a white student mutters, “I hate all Mexicans,” there’s a good chance that my reaction will be different than that of a white teacher. Also, there’s the conundrum with how to deal with that, repercussion-wise. Do I go about it as racism, or a direct insult to a teacher? Both? What if the parent thinks I’m being “racist back,” (impossible, but it’s been said to me) or I’m “making it all about race,” (also has been said to me) because of how I choose to address the issue, and because I’m me?
In short, it can get tough. So, in bra terms, teachers of color need a bra with an underwire made of titanium. One that won’t bend, break, or yield to any sort of teaching jumping-jacks. We need an extra boost for when we are fighting to be heard. We need support in feeling confident and capable, because often, teachers of color are told (maybe indirectly) that they shouldn’t be. An administrator for a teacher of color should be prepared to deal with every challenge a white teacher will face, and then some.
So what happens when an administrator tries to be that supportive underwire, but doesn’t know how to do it? Maybe they talk for a teacher of color, instead of advocating for their voice to be heard. Maybe it’s be perpetuating stereotypes about people of color instead of working to combat them. Maybe they ask you to be the spokesperson for all people of color, especially during staff meetings. In this case, the administrator has become that underwire that has somehow busted and is now poking you in the rib every time you take a breath. It’s the steel wire rubbing up against your heart, leaving a raw, red wound when you go to sleep at night. It never really heals.
What’s the solution? As a teacher, I can’t go out and buy ten new bras on the off-chance that one will be perfect. And also as a teacher, I am not in the position to replace my administrators when I feel they aren’t supportive enough. I can’t take a hammer to that underwire and fight with it every time I wear it. That takes a ton of energy, and even then, I don’t have any guarantee that it will last long term.
The perfect bra, it turns out, is the one that you don’t even feel. You know it’s there, because you feel awesome and supported. It’s not super fancy. In fact, it’s probably beige, and has no lace or bows. Same goes for administrators. Like the quote from Lao Tzu, “a leader is best when people barely know he exists…”. They are with you through every hardship, and allow you the freedom to be your best. They don’t try to dazzle you with new buzzwords or techniques. They just do what is required of them. Like the perfect bra, they simply hold you up and help you feel your best.