The field trip is sold out. Sounds strange, but it happens every month at The Teachers’ Lounge.
No students are present at this teachers-only respite, a special kind of recess.
Once a month, usually on the second Saturday, educators of color from Greater Boston come together to celebrate, to affirm one another, and to workshop solutions to problems.
This doesn’t go down in a conference room. The atmosphere is equal parts party and professional.
A live DJ plays everything from Ella Mai to Lil Nas X. You’re more likely to see a cocktail glass full of D’ussé on ice rather than a hot cup of coffee. There’s dancing and karaoke trivia. But panel discussions and small groups for critical conversations are part of the itinerary, too.
Devin Morris and Jabari “Bari” Peddie launched the event last school year.
“A large part of our reason for doing this is primarily for the retention,” says Peddie, 35, principal of Match Community Day. “Student achievement for our black and brown babies increases over time by virtue of them being taught by even one teacher of color. In essence, it serves the community and it serves the adults who are serving our children.”
Boston Public Schools have a diversity issue. The teachers are predominantly white. A BPS 2018-2019 school year report showed just 22 percent of teachers were black, 11 percent were Latino, and 6 percent were Asian. Yet students of color make up 85 percent of Boston’s student body.
Morris and Peddie, both from New York, say it’s hard to make the transition to Boston where much of the city lives segregated and teachers of color are often part of largely white staffs. This, they say, makes recruitment and retention an issue.
“People of color come to Boston and get their degrees and leave because this is not a welcoming space for us,” says Morris, 36, director of family engagement and organizing for the Massachusetts Charter Public School Association.
“I’ve come around to stake my claim in Boston. I am going to be here. For the sake of the students we serve, retention is as important as recruitment. We have to re-energize and retain.”
Showing teachers there is a community for them is The Teachers’ Lounge mission.
Last month, for the first event of this school year, they focused on the lack of Latinx representation in a city where the students are primarily Latinx. At The Teachers’ Lounge, everyone gets a seat in the classroom — educators of color and their allies.
“Every stage of my journey in education has been about how I can make a greater impact,” Morris says.
“I think I’ve always been the educator who built strong relationships with students and families but never felt like I could support them all. My cup has been filled in doing this work. Others share that sentiment. In doing this work, we have strengthened the powerhouse that exists here in Boston. It didn’t feel tangible until we saw how an e-mail list of 100 turned to 700+ in a year.”
It’s not an overnight sensation. The Teachers’ Lounge was five years in the making.
The two met a party six years ago. They had the conversation transplants often have: Where do you find the other young, black professionals in Boston? Then it evolved beyond that into building a network of educators of color. But they talked and talked until it got old.
Last year, they quit waiting for it to happen. They pored over the framework, put their money together and hosted the first event using Instagram and social media to promote it. Earlier this month, they launched a website: theteachersloungema.org.
“Closed mouths don’t get fed,” Peddie says. “We started the conversation in 2013. We had to be the change we wanted to see. It’s cliche but that really resonates with me. What do we do? We make that space, literally. It’s bigger than us.”
For educators like Ashley Davis, principal of Pauline A. Shaw Elementary School, The Teachers’ Lounge has been a game-changer. A native of Ohio, she moved to Boston in 2013 to attend Sposato Graduate School of Education and her career kept her here.
“I had never been in a space that simultaneously curated and affirmed the desire for educators — especially educators of color — to be both socially and professionally lit. There’s something to be said about being able to talk about your career, celebrate your history and your pain, and enjoy a good vibe and drink at the same time,” Davis says.
A passion project, Morris and Peddie pay for the events out of pocket. Each event is free and includes light appetizers, a drink ticket, DJ, and often a special guest. They only recently got a donor to help. And Eddy Firmin, owner of Savvor where they host most of their events, meets them halfway on expenses. The events regularly reach capacity.
“We don’t want any barriers to entry or any barriers to connections,” Morris says. “We aim to connect, build, and vibe. We only have two rules. You cannot come for just one event and you cannot just sit on the other side of it. If you leave here only connecting with the folk you knew you haven’t done your job and neither have we.”
And it is a second job for them. Each week, the two friends meet for a few hours and hash out the planning of the monthly events. They are intentional about the messaging, the atmosphere, and ensuring it is both fun but fruitful.
For many people of color working in Boston’s education system, this event is their safe space.
“We are often isolated or silenced in our respective buildings and spaces,” Davis says. “What Teachers’ Lounge acknowledges is the same wisdom that our ancestors embodied: there is power and life in community. To keep fighting this good fight and paying it forward to generations of children to come, educators of color need and deserve a space to unwind safely and reinvigorate before the week ahead.”
The Teachers’ Lounge: for educators of color seeking solace when code-switching is too much.