As part of a personal project, I have been photographing a friend (or couples) every day since January 1st of this year. I haven’t done much photographically in the past year so this is one way of re-honing my skills and doing a project that I have always thought about doing. However, in the past week, I decided to switch to photographing my educator friends and colleagues for the next week or two. It’s my own meager way of telling their stories regarding the sudden return to in-person instructions in Durham Public Schools (and other districts across the country). My fellow educator today is an elementary school teacher in the district. She is a dear friend who assisted me with multiple aspects of this project. Thank you!!

Q: What is your name? 

Ashley Brown

Q: What do you teach or do in the school system and what grade do you work with?

I am a fifth-grade English and Social Studies teacher. 

Q: What made you (or inspired you) to become an educator?

Growing up in North Durham, I went to predominantly white schools with mostly white teachers. I never felt a connection with any of my teachers. I was often targeted and penalized for my opinions and unapologetic black pride. I was often silenced and was never encouraged to push myself academically. I wanted to be the teacher that I didn’t have. 

Q: How are you feeling? 

I am discouraged and outraged.  I am now questioning if I have the bandwidth to continue being an educator that has reduced my professional status and education to an underpaid babysitter. I am outraged, I feel like teachers are treated like robots that just simply work under command without thought or feeling. I’m in complete disbelief of the utter disregard for teachers’ lives and safety. I’m a single mother of a ten-year-old girl. I will not compromise possibly dying from a disease leaving my daughter motherless for 11 weeks of work left in the year. I feel the district and the state have left teachers to make very tough decisions. In all, I feel debased and disrespected. 

Q: What is your mood like right now?


Q: How do you feel about the sudden return to school buildings?

I feel it makes the school system appear unreliable and untrustworthy. Historically, people of color have not had a trusting and collaborative relationship with the public school system. This reopening, under the guise of equity and concern, just re-establishes the underlined racial disparity of the system. My hope is that DPS will rectify this and reconcile this relationship. I feel we are not being honest with families. We should be honest about the reopening. DPS had learning centers set up to assist families, but my guess is that other families probably felt their children were too good for the centers ( which resulted in a local push for reopening).

Q: How do you think it affects or impacts the students’ learning?

Students thrive in a structured learning environment. An environment that is consistent and clear expectations. This reopening is neither structured nor consistent. As an educator, I care for all of my students’ mental health and academic performance. This level of inconsistency and lack of preparation could have a negative effect for many of them. We should be focused on services that will focus on their mental health and social skills. This change does not serve any of those needs. 

Q: As honestly as you can, do you think it’s time to return to the building? If not, when do you think will be a more appropriate time?

It is not time to return. My hope would be to reopen learning centers to assist families that are unable to be with their children for remote learning. The best time to reopen is August 2021. That makes the most sense. 

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