April 2021 Equity Warrior - Kumar Sathy


Kumar Sathy - 5th Grade Teacher at Hillsborough Elementary School

“Be brave, not perfect.”

Kumar Sathy was recommended for the Equity Warrior title for the month of April by HES Assistant Principal Jessica Nagy. She had this to say about him:

Mr. Sathy's teaching philosophy is deeply rooted in equitable and inclusive practices. Fearless SEL and an anti-racist curriculum are at the center of each of his lessons, as he encourages and supports his fifth graders in learning to be brave, not perfect. Mr. Sathy has been an integral part of the equity work we've promoted at our school this year: working with our equity team, providing professional development on using vocabulary to increase students' capacity to have conversations about hard topics, and working with individual teachers to expand their practice. Mr. Sathy is an #equitywarrior today and everyday.

Kumar Sathy is an NC native, currently residing in Chapel Hill. This is his first year in OCS, but he is no stranger to education, with more than 20 years under his belt--as a teacher and administrator. Kumar’s sister and parents are from Southern India. As a person of color living in North Carolina, he readily volunteers to have tough conversations about equity and race relations. But, he said that even when he does NOT want to voluntarily talk about equity, and when he needs a break in thinking about equity, “Inequities just have a way of making themselves known and needing to be addressed.”

Noteworthy of mention is that Kumar is a former member of the school level Equity Team and a former district level Equity Lead. You might wonder why he is not currently serving in these capacities and yet is still the OCS Equity Warrior for April. Kumar has a very thoughtful answer to these wonderings.

“Experiences with racism are CUMULATIVE for people of color,” he said. “That makes it so this work can be a burden at times, and this burden is one that should not primarily be the work to resolve for people of color. I always hope more of my white colleagues will take on this work. Yet, I still feel a fierce urgency about the work. Sometimes, however, it is safer to do this work on a classroom level than an institutional level.”

Hillsborough Elementary School is predominantly white in both student and staff populations. Kumar is one of two full-time classroom teachers of color at the school.

“If I am not going to have these conversations with kids and students do not hear from me, then who are they going to hear from, and how long will that take?”

Kumar stated that his personal drive in making strides toward advancing equity comes from knowing that “everyone who commits a racist act or any form of injustice that is rooted in bigotry, was once a student in a teacher’s classroom.”

And so his goal every day is to make sure students in his presence feel comfortable having hard conversations about hard topics; and he wholeheartedly wants to play some role--no matter how big or small--in both preventing and speaking out against injustices.

Kumar tells his students all the time to be “brave, not perfect.” And he serves as the model by sharing his own fears and dedication to working through these conversations.

“But not only do I want them to be comfortable,” he added. “I also tell them that I want them to also be skeptical of anything I might say that goes against what they or their families believe. You can be skeptical. You can have your own opinions. … Kids want to have these conversations, and there are common themes in all discussions.”

In Mr. Sathy’s 5th grade class at HES, the morning meeting has become a midday check in, due to some students being virtual learners. But the purpose for these check-ins remains to be a space for them to discuss tough topics that matter to them. The midday meeting is not reserved for what you might call traditional instruction; rather, it is an opportunity to ensure that every student “sees themselves in my curriculum.”

These conversations are also carefully carried over into math, reading, science and social studies lessons.

“The students make it easy for me,” said Kumar. “They are the ones tying midday meeting conversations into the core instruction. So, my inclusive teaching practices do not stand alone in an isolated block of time; they are in the fabric of EVERY lesson without compromising core instruction.”

“Students want to talk about these things,” he added. “Students care when something is unfair and they overwhelmingly and genuinely want to fix it.”

Kumar offers the following advice for anyone who is interested in beginning to change their mindset toward developing more equitable values, beliefs and practices--not only in the classroom, but in life:

Step 1 - Read and learn as much as you can about these topics. Make sure you read works by authors who are traditionally underrepresented or are from marginalized groups.

Step 2 - Begin having these conversations with adults who do not look like you, and those who have had a different experience from yours.

Step 3 - DON’T DELAY! Start your conversations. Focus more on eventually getting it “right,” rather than on immediately “doing it right.”

“If anyone who reads this is eager and perhaps, even afraid, to have conversations about these hard topics with students,” said Kumar, “I am no expert, but I am willing to listen, to help and to learn!”

Kumar is very passionate about courageous conversations with professionals, colleagues and others--not just his students. Kumar has led PD sessions at HES about having “Brave, Not Perfect Conversations.” He does this work on his own and also with Inclusified and School to Peace Pipeline.