Amy Glancy, who teaches fourth grade, has been placed on paid leave, awaiting investigations.
“On Tuesday, a teacher at High Tech Elementary read a poem to students that included language that was upsetting to some students. We take these matters very seriously,” said High Tech High spokesperson Anthony Millican in a statement. “High Tech High is committed to making sure that school is a safe space for all of our students.”
Glancy read the poem “Incident” by Countee Cullen, a Black, Harlem Renaissance poet.
Within the poem, Countee Cullen describes himself as being an 8-year-old visiting Baltimore. The incident referred to in the poem describes a ‘Baltimorean’ boy sticking out his tongue and calling the narrator the n-word. Countee Cullen said though he spent seven months in Baltimore, that’s all he remembers of it.
Glancy read the poem during class hour, together with saying the n-word.
She later apologized in an email to every students’ mom and dad, stating that she never sought to do this.
“The lesson was intended to demonstrate that the poet’s words can evoke emotion — in this case, anger and sadness. Unfortunately, it triggered some very big emotions for the students that I did not anticipate,” she wrote.
Some experts say these kinds of incidents illustrate why it’s important for teachers to receive training in how to talk about race, ethnicity and cultural identity, especially in school.
Michael Dominguez, an assistant professor of Chicana and Chicano studies at San Diego State who chairs San Diego Unified’s ethnic studies committee, said nobody outside of the Black community should ever use the n-word, even if it’s in the context of reading in an academic setting. The n-word is one of several words that are triggering because they are linked to histories of trauma and marginalization, he said.
“Words matter, and for anyone … without context, without preparation, without framing and reflection to see one of those words or hear one of those words pop up in the context of literature can be really triggering, because it triggers this whole historical link of trauma, frustration, and feeling of otherness,” Dominguez said.
To properly address such a topic, the teacher would need a lot of planning, structure and expertise.
“It requires training, it requires skill, and it requires support, and we need to be providing our teachers with more of that, not surface-level stuff,” he said.
Francine Maxwell, chairperson of San Diego-based Black Men and Women United, said she had gotten calls from High Tech High families about Tuesday’s incident. She called the incident hurtful and suggested that implicit bias or cultural sensitivity training is a start to prevent missteps like this from happening in the future.
“We have to acknowledge the trauma that was caused and what we can do to move past it and begin to heal,” she said. “Given that it’s Black History Month and things are amplified, we’re looking at it as an opportunity to begin the dialogue that did not take place.”