Not enough teachers in our city’s public schools look like me

By Rev. Mary Flowers-Spratt
Contributing commentator

Foster children are especially vulnerable to being treated differently

Responding to an article by Minneapolis Superintendent of Schools Bernadeia Johnson in the October 7 Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder [“MPS goal: reading and math proficiency by 2015”], she stated that our African American children’s proficiency average for the state was lower than the White children by 36 points in reading and 35 points in math.

One of the reasons (and I do hope our African American and Somali parents take this article seriously) is that our children of color spend too much time out of the classroom and in the SST behavior area for every little minor detail that could be solved in the classroom by the teacher.

School has only been in session about 31 days, and one of my grandsons, age seven (who before I gained legal custody was in foster care), has spent 14 days during the month of September in the Green Central behavior area, and the teachers have now begun to fill up the month of October.

My three children ages 11, seven and four suffer from ADHD and borderline bipolar disorder, but they are three of the most brilliant-minded children you will ever want to meet. My 11-year-old is in sixth-grade reading at an eighth-grade level. My seven-year-old is in second grade has been reading at a third- and fourth-grade level since last year. And my four-year-old (placed in my home at two days old) has the mind of an old man.

I am a parent who tries very hard to help the school system with as many resources as possible in making foster children feel that they are as important as the other children, but when these children are treated differently in the classroom by the teachers, the other children also pick up on the teachers’ behavior to that child and begin to help the teacher make that child’s life a living hell.

What some of the teachers (not all of them) don’t understand is that these children have been moved from their parents under traumatic circumstances and placed in foster care not understanding why they were torn away from their parents.

They are very excited to be able to go to school, which ends up being a big, traumatic disappointment because they are placed in a room where the teachers are either all White or Latino and White and do not have a clue about their cultural differences.

Some of the school board commissioners and Superintendent Johnson have been very receptive to information that our Out of Home Placement Foster Care/Mental Health team has in place to assist teachers in understanding the anxiety disorders in foster-care children through Hennepin County social workers and the Barbara Schneider Mental Foundation. That’s a plus.

I have a solution for the Minneapolis Public Schools: Incorporate a program similar to our foreign student exchange. We could have an exchange of USA teachers (African American) from different cities such as Chicago, Memphis, and Detroit.

My prayer is that the school board would place a mandatory request to the superintendent that we hire or recruit more African American male teachers from various cities, simply because our White teachers do not understand our African American boys’ cultural differences and we are losing them to the streets. They are dropping out of school.

I feel my boys are being targeted because of my open-mind, opinionated views, but I know what I see in the classroom. My grandson says to me every day, “Gramma, when I try to tell the teachers my side of the story, they don’t hear me.”

I am not the only one concerned about our foster care children in our school system. Social workers are, too. I know the school board sets high expectations for our teachers, but they are human, and some are in traumatic situations themselves. But parents are important, too.

If there were no parents, you would not need a school. If the parents did not send their children to school, we most certainly would not need a teacher.

Imagine a parent walking into a classroom not once but twice on the same day seeing every child sitting in a circle being taught by the teacher except for this one lonely little boy sitting at a table all by himself.

What kind of message is being transmitted into this little child’s brain? I will answer that question: At age seven the child is feeling that his or her parents did not want to be bothered with them and neither do the teachers.

So who will make these children feel that they can be president of the United States? You can bet your bottom boot strap I will, and I do not have a problem standing in for every foster child in the state of Minnesota. If you don’t believe me, ask Rep. Keith Ellison and the Minneapolis Police Department.

Here I come, school board!

Rev. Mary Flowers Spratt welcomes reader responses to 612-827-9264 or