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'Token teacher' remark does not set a good example

By: Carol Feineman, Editor
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Being made fun of is not fun. I know firsthand. When I hear Jewish jokes, it makes me uncomfortable. I either call the insensitive talker out or ignore the comments. Either way, it hurts. So I admire Lincoln High School teacher Alex R. Joe, who is looking for a positive solution after being referred to as a ?token.? Joe, entering Awful Annie?s Restaurant on June 8 to join eight teachers celebrating the ending school year, heard a peer say, ?Here comes our token.? Joe is the only black out of approximately 60 teachers at Lincoln High School. No other teacher at the June 8 celebratory lunch said anything about the token comment at lunch, according to Joe. Last week, Joe e-mailed several Western Placer Unified School District teachers and administrators about the incident. Refusing to name the teacher, Joe said what?s more important is that the incident ?serves as a broader issue to discussion of diversity of the teaching staff throughout the school district.? His approach, as stressed in the e-mail, was to ?learn to increase respect? throughout the district instead of dwelling on the speaker. I was shocked that a teacher would say token in reference to Joe?s race. But Joe was neither shocked nor outraged, although his e-mail said, ?This phrase is generally followed by the ?N? word.? ?It?s a gate-opener as I?m the only African-American teacher on the campus. As I was talking to the principal about it this week, he was looking for ways to comfort me,? Joe said. ?I was OK but I thought it was an opener for discussion of the problem, which I call lack of diversity at our sites. As our student population changes, so should diversity of the teachers.? Three black students attended Lincoln High in 2001, compared to this year?s approximately 30 black students, according to Joe. ?It doesn?t mean there should be a black teacher for every three students,? Joe said. ?That should not be the case but we need to have some growth.? With some teaching positions being filled for the new school year, Joe ?hopes the district looks at the potential for diversifying the staff.? Lincoln High Principal Jay Berns said Friday he doesn?t consider a person?s demographics when hiring. ?I understand you want representation of the kids you?re working with,? Berns said. ?But my goal as an administrator is to hire the best person, regardless of race, ethnicity, or gender. I want to hire the best teacher who will make my students succeed. When I?m interviewing, I don?t see color, gender or religion.? With that said, Berns is concerned about the incident. ?We?re looking into this matter of concern. I?m working with Lincoln High Assistant Principals Mike Maul and Vikki Eutsey and the district,? Berns said. ?There?s a bigger picture going on; we?re a family. We have to discuss what is going on; we don?t want strife in our family. No way do we want anyone treated unfairly. But is this a misconception or a misunderstanding? We have to look at it from the perspective of Alex and the others who were there.? Since teachers are off work until August, Berns said ?the matter will be addressed? when school resumes in August. ?What will come out of this is education, that?s the answer to everything ? maybe about cultural diversity. In family, the best thing is to talk about it and come up with a solution that will take care of everybody,? Berns said. ?As we get educated as adults, it will trickle down to students. The biggest message I want to get out is we have a great staff and things happen. Families do have their moments. We have a family moment and we will take care of it.? As of press time, Joe said the teacher had not apologized yet. ?We have work to do. When these problems come up, you have more than one way to deal with it so it?s not confrontational,? Joe said. ?The smart thing is to let the process occur. We?re looking at improving programming, that?s all; not pointing fingers and disparaging people. If you just deal with it on the individual level, nothing changes.? Mary Boyle, the school district?s deputy superintendent of educational services, has another take on the ?token? comment. She said that the unnamed teacher did ?not use token racially-intended.? Instead, Boyle said token was meant ?as in a token male? at the Awful Annie?s table. That word might not have been the choice word to use, according to Boyle. ?We want to respond to concerns. We want to make sure teachers are respectful,? Boyle added. Boyle?s explanation of the word would make the usage somewhat less offensive. However, until the other teacher explains the comment, we don?t know what was meant. ?We need to address it and we will address it in August,? said the school district?s Superintendent Scott Leaman. ?The comments were made on the last day of school, offsite, which makes it a challenge to get staff together to discuss the intent, the meaning and the implication of what was said. If it was during the school year, it would be different (because teachers would be around).? I do know that we hold our teachers to a higher level of standards because they are role models to students. Teachers should keep that in mind at all times, whether they?re on campus or at a local restaurant.