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Teachers are some of my favorite people in the world. I mean I really love teachers! They tend to be enthusiastic about changing society, and more often than not, they care so deeply about their work and their students. What’s not to like?
As a former teacher myself, I feel so very fortunate to meet teachers from all over the United States in my work. Despite all of the BS that teachers have to deal with in our political climate, they remain optimistic about the state of education, which honestly blows my mind.
It is from this place of love that I work with teachers to help them improve their practice. And with the realities of the “education debt” and considering that 80% of our teachers are Whitewhile nearly half (and growing) of our students are youth of Color, part of improving teaching practice means paying more critical attention to race in our schools.
Though I know there are actively racist teachers out there, most White teachers mean well and have no intention of being racist. Yet as people who are inscribed with Whiteness, it is possible for us to act in racist ways no matter our intentions. Uprooting racism from our daily actions takes a lifetime of work.
Thus, as we head into the first weeks of school all over the US, here are 10 ways that White teachers introduce racism into our schools paired with things we can do instead.
It’s probably best to start with one of the more common and obvious ways that racism can enter teaching practice: our expectations of student ability and achievement.
Whether we acknowledge it or not, we are constantly inundated with racist messaging about what students can and can’t achieve.
Whether we see media narratives about the math prodigy Asian students or the “ghetto” Black students who are reading 5 grade levels behind, we end up getting pretty clear messages long before we start teaching about what our student can handle.
In my own teaching, I know that I had a hard time actually teaching my students within theirZPDs because I was told from before I even started teaching that they simply weren’t capable of writing complex papers about world events. But they could! All it took was coordinated effort from multiple teachers pushing them as hard as we could!
We know that the expectations students are held to often correlate less to their ability than their race and class, so what should we do about it?
We have six kids in our home that we are sending off to school this year—five of whom are girls. Do you know what it takes mentally to school clothes-shop for five girls? Aside from emptying our bank account at Target’s and Old Navy’s clearance sections, we also have to schedule eye doctor appointments for the teenagers because we fear they may have damaged their vision due to intense eye rolls.
My nights for the next nine months will be filled with trying to get dinner on the table at a decent hour while managing piles upon piles of forms I need to fill out, slips I need to turn in, meetings I need to attend, box tops I need to cut, and t-shirts I need to buy. And let’s not even talk about trying to find the lost library books that have completely vanished in the kids’ rooms.
Then there’s the emotional hit I’ll take when I drop my babies off with their new backpacks snugly hugging their bodies. I’ll quickly snap as many pictures as I can in an effort to catch this moment that will soon be gone forever. I’ll face an empty house when I return home, and while that can be a blessing for a few hours, it’s a quiet I haven’t experienced in months. I’ll miss my babies when they’re gone. The upside is that I’ll have a clean house, if only for a few hours, and I’ll have few moments to just sit and breathe.
Bottom line, sweet teachers: school just started, and I’m wiped out. I’m a little sad, and my bank account is definitely a little lighter.
Then I see you.
I see that you’re dressed in your nicest outfit, which I have no doubt you carefully planned and possibly changed a time or two. Your makeup is fresh, and every hair on your head is perfectly placed. Your smile is beyond inviting, and I almost blush as I walk into your room.
I see that you’ve gone all out. As I set my bags of supplies down on the desk, I see my child’s name written in the most beautiful handwriting, carefully added to her desk and sitting next to a princess cup to hold her pencils. Well done. I’ll admit that I’m completely overwhelmed by your room. Seriously, where does one get all of those alphabet letters, addition and multiplication cards, tubs for literally everything, and adorable banner above your desk? How many hours did you spend in this room before you decided it was ready?
I see every detail you’ve added to my child’s learning environment.
I see that you’ve spent a good amount of your summer and almost all of your “spare” money making sure your classroom is a warm and inviting learning place for all the precious children who walk into it. I know you had a supplies list that was much longer than mine and carefully checked off each item as you put it in your cart, knowing that you were well over budget. I’ll bet your cart was full with teaching supplies before you even made it to the lunchbox aisle and that you pray the other teachers won’t laugh at you when you pull out your Lunchable.
I see that the next nine months will be filled with trying to get dinner on the table at a decent hour while you manage piles upon piles of forms you need to fill out, slips you need to turn in, meetings you need to attend, box tops you need to count, and papers you need to grade. And let’s not even talk about trying to recover the lost library books that haven’t made it back to school yet.
I see the emotions behind your pretty smile. You’ve been anticipating these students since the bell rang on the last day of school last year. You eagerly awaited your class list and carefully went down and checked it out, name by precious name. Your classroom has sat empty for the past three months, and you’re excited to have it filled with tiny voices again. I see you patiently pose for pictures with each child as their parents fumble with their cameras, trying to focus through the tears. It will be a while before you get to just sit down in the quiet and take a deep breath, but I see you rejoice in that.
Bottom line, sweet teachers: school just started, and I’ll bet you’re wiped out and definitely a little lighter in the bank account; but I see you. I see how hard you’ve worked before the first day of school even started. I see that you chose this job not to get rich or famous. I see that you chose this job because you love it and the kids, and because you know that the sacrifices you’ve made, money you’ve spent, and hours you’ve dedicated outside of that building are molding our younger generation to grow up to do big things.
Wonderful teachers, we’re in this together, and I see you.
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