How can I as a white educator be an effective teacher in classrooms that are mostly students of color? How does one overcome years and years of systemic privilege to be of any use to the kids who need good teachers the most?
I’ve been thinking about this question a lot lately. It’s no secret that most teachers — and by most I mean nearly 80% — are white, while nearly 40% of students in the U.S. are people of color; this lack of diversity causes problems in low income schools, like high teacher turnover rates and can often perpetuate “white savior” ideas (as seen in movies like Freedom Writers) that leave white educators feeling high-and-mighty and black students being left behind.
So what do we do? Lately I’ve been looking into resources that work to answer this question, and have found some very interesting things; the number one piece of advice I’ve gotten is to make yourself uncomfortable. Talking about race and privilege to kids who understand it better than you ever could is terrifying and uncomfortable, but necessary. In order to be an effective teacher for them, you must honor their experience, and recognize that it has been and is vastly different from your own.
As their educator, you’re also their champion, their protector, their number one fan; for all of these things to be true, they need to trust you. Mel Katz in her article Teaching While White says,
“Supporting students of color in your classroom, though, is about more than having conversations about race and privilege. It is about having high expectations for every single student that walks through your door. And when a student isn’t doing well in class or has disengaged almost entirely? It’s about working hard to figure out the root causes of the problem before ever considering discipline and punishment.”
She goes on to talk to about how white educators must actively work against furthering the school-to-prison pipeline and that it’s our responsibility to foster black excellence in ways that students’ previous teachers probably had yet to do.
The most important first step, of course, is promoting a diverse teacher force, but until that becomes a reality, it is the responsibility of white educators to #getwoke.