This post was originally published at Everyday Feminism.
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.
1. Lowering or Raising Achievement Expectations Based on Race/Ethnicity
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?
What to Do Instead
First, we need to spend some serious time reflecting about our own internalized biases. We all have them (not sure about yours? Consider taking this test!). And if we are working to understand our biases, then we can begin to mitigate their effects.
Second, we need to be sure that we are using effective, non-culturally-biased measures to determine student ability and to push them to their zones of proximal development. By making sure we are basing the ways we push our students in data drawn from legitimate (if limiting)measures, we can hopefully use that data to check some of our own biases.