The recent senseless killings of Ahmaud Aubery, Breonna Taylor, and George Floyd are shining a light on the racism that has always been present in America. This isn’t new, beloved. Black people have suffered in silence far too long. What you’re seeing on your televisions is the result of black people being tired of suffering in silence and being killed with no remorse. Thank goodness we are in an era of camera phones, because I fear we would never really know what happened to Ahmaud, George, and so many others who have been—yes, murdered.
As a black person, it all makes sense to me. There’s nothing for me to understand about racism, because I face racism. I’ve been called the “N” word. I’ve been ignored by white parents walking down the hall after I’ve greeted them with a “good morning.” White teacher colleagues have ignored me too many times to count. There’s more that I could say, but as a professional educator, I will respectively stop there. But my point is that racism affects me in the real world and even in the workplace. It never escapes me. During this time, it has been interesting to see what my white teacher colleagues are saying. Some of them have been silent. Thankfully, a number of my white teacher friends have reached out and asked “What can I do to help?”
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While there are tons of things that white teachers can do to dismantle racism in classrooms and schools, here’s where they can start.
1. Speak out against injustices.
During times like these, we need white people to speak up. We need you to acknowledge the times when injustices occur in the world. Please don’t turn a blind eye or remain silent. As an educator, because you have black children, teachers, faculty members, and support personnel in your school, you should speak up. Within the walls of your school and classroom, you can also speak up. If a black colleague or black student is being treated unfairly, voice your concerns and do what you can until the issue is solved.
2. Study and teach black history and current events all year long.
We know that Black History Month is celebrated in February, but this isn’t the only time that you should be teaching about it. First, take the time to educate yourself more about black history. Research various topics so that you are knowledgeable. Then, you can use your knowledge to educate your students. Spotlight a black history event or black person each month or each week. Read a book by a black author during your morning meeting. Also, don’t just focus on black people of the past. Include current events that are impacting black people and black culture, and also highlight black people who are making waves right now.
Sidenotes about this:
-When looking for resources to teach about black history, don’t just focus on teaching about the people. Go deeper. Talk about important events. Talk about some of the tougher issues like Jim Crow laws, bus boycotts, etc.
-Don’t make the mistake of assigning writings or holding discussions like “What would you do if you were a slave?” or “Pretend you are forced to ride in the back of the school bus.” Having students role-play oppression is wrong. Rather, read a black person’s diary entry or news article about their experiences being a slave or sitting in the back of a bus.
-If you are utilizing Teachers Pay Teachers to find resources, consider purchasing items from black creators. Sometimes, you can’t tell if they are black, but often, many creators use their pictures in their profiles, allowing you to see that you are purchasing resources from a black creator. LaNesha and Naomi are just two of the great teacher creators on TPT. Please take the time to explore and support other black creators.
3. Provide classroom resources that include representation.
White students often see images of themselves in books, on posters, and on various other resources. Make an effort to include images of black people too. The easiest way to do this is to purchase books by African American authors or to purchase books that feature and include black people and include them in your classroom and school libraries. Vera Ahiyya from The Tutu Teacher has introduced me to so many books that include representation. Her Diversity Matters blog posts include books that you should consider adding to your classroom libraries. View some of her posts:
Other ways to include representation is to include posters or other décor on your classroom walls that include black children. When purchasing on TpT, find resources that include clipart of black children.
4. Seek to understand your black students, black families, black teacher colleagues and their cultures.
Seeking to understand black culture does not mean to culturally appropriate black culture. You do not need to talk to your students in AAVE. You do not need to learn how to dap your students up. Seeking to understand black culture as a white teacher means learning about how black culture impacts how black people live, work, talk, eat, etc.
When your black student comes in with their hair braided on Monday morning, don’t ask them “gosh, how long did it take your mom/dad/guardian to do that?” Instead say, “I love how your mom/dad/guardian braided your hair. It is beautiful (or ‘it is handsome’, because black males get their hair braided/twisted too).” When your black families come to your classroom for Meet and Greet, let them know that the lines of communication are open. Reach out to them throughout the year, even if it’s just to give a good report. When your black teacher colleague voices their concerns about an issue, listen to them.
Tamara Russell has a great blog post about entitled 5 Microaggressions that Erode School Culture that provides a lot of insight. Her blog post highlights why it is important to understand your black students as it directly relates to how they are often treated in schools.
5. Support your fellow black teacher colleagues.
Depending on where you teach in the U.S., you might only have one or two fellow black teacher colleagues at your school. I am that teacher! At my current school, I am one of two black classroom teachers. Sometimes it feels lonely. I stand out because there aren’t many black teachers but I sometimes blend into the wall because there are so many white teachers. It’s hard to clearly explain, I guess.
Reach out to your black colleagues. Befriend them and be genuine with your friendship. Support them in their teaching journey, especially if they are new to teaching. As your friendship grows, ask them about their lives outside of school if they are willing to share those things. Ask them about their spouses/partners and children, if they have them. Ask them if they belong to a fraternity, sorority, or other community, state, national, or global organization. If they do, ask them about the community/world outreach they participate in or you can ask what that their organization supports. Ask them if they attended an HBCU or PWI. Ask them to share their experiences while they were there. Even if you have several fellow black teachers colleagues at your school, you can still do all of these things.
The point is to get to know your black colleagues beyond just saying hello and goodbye each day as you enter and exit the school building. You can learn so much from their life experiences, their perspectives, their beliefs, etc. Be sure to extend this support beyond just the teachers in your school. Get to know the black janitors, paraprofessionals, cafeteria support personnel, and other support personnel in your schools that often work behind the scenes.
- CALLING ALL K-3 TEACHERS! Join me and a great group of other fabulous K-3 teachers in my Facebook group, Taming K-3. We have great discussions and you can gain some much needed inspiration.
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