Your students depend on you to be an anti-racist teacher. Your Black, Latinx, Indigenous, Asian, and students of all marginalized groups need you to be actively anti-racist. They don’t need you to be colorblind. Instead, kids need you to see them for who they are and recognize how their race impacts their daily life and the lives of their family members and loved ones.
Racism exists in our schools and lurks in some staff members, including teachers. My first year teaching was at an elementary school with mostly African American students. The school was in the same school district I grew up in. The elementary school I taught in didn’t have heat or air conditioning in the hallways, but the elementary I went to across town did. That’s racism.
Then my second year teaching, I ate lunch in the teacher’s lounge. One day, teachers were talking about upset they were that we were getting more an more students from an apartment complex because the kids that lived there mostly were not white. Again, racism.
It’s there in the statistics of Black kids getting suspended and expelled more often than they should. Racism is there when Black children are over represented in special education programs (more than chance should allow) and when they are less likely to be identified as gifted and talented. It’s there in the school to prison pipeline. It’s right there in the achievement gaps.
And it doesn’t have to stay this way forever. We can and must change it.
I’m white and have been realizing more and more that it is my responsibility to speak out, speak up, and speak loud. People of color are exhausted. They’ve been speaking for decades. As a white educator, I think I am overdue to help amplify their voices. I hope you will join in.
Step 1: Recognize Racism
Racism can be big or small. You (hopefully) already don’t allow racist comments in your classroom. But do you have band aids that reflect a variety of skin tones? Does your classroom library have plenty of books that reflect all people, even if most of your students are white? Recognizing racism isn’t just about seeing what is there, it’s about seeing what isn’t there. Who isn’t being represented in your class? Whose stories aren’t being told?
Your students need to see you present people of different colors and cultures in a positive light. Even if you don’t have students in that group in your classroom, one day, your students will be grown. They will interact with people who are different from them. Your students are future police officers, congresspeople, doctors, dog-walkers, and neighbors.
Step 2: Take Action
If a colleague says something racist, don’t let it go. Say something. It isn’t easy, but it is essential. Not saying anything is tacit racism. If you can’t speak directly to the person who did it, talk to your administration about what happened. Document what was said, when, and where as soon as you are able to do so. If it is an administrator who is saying racist things, talk to your district, union, teachers association, or an employment lawyer on how to best proceed.
Go get the band aids. Go get books that reflect the diversity of our world. Read them. Are there pictures of people being used in your classroom? If those pictures aren’t representing everybody, change some out to be more inclusive. If you’re using worksheets with clip art, are the cartoon characters diverse? Are the diverse characters promoting stereotypes or are they OK? Take a critical eye and filter everything in your classroom to be inclusive and not stereotypical. Change your materials to be inclusive. Include materials where characters take action about injustice.
Be thoughtful in the lessons that you are presenting to your students, especially in social studies and history. Do not make your students reenact slave auctions or other traumatizing events. It’s bad enough that we have no choice but to traumatize our kids with active shooter drills. Don’t add to trauma.
Teachers get in trouble for misguided activities teaching slavery every year. Don’t teach in a vacuum. Instead, collaborate. Even if you are in a small or non-diverse school, you can collaborate effectively with teachers all over the country who come from backgrounds that are different than your own through teacher groups on Facebook. Listen to others. Respect feelings. The way forward is with empathy, respect, listening, and collaboration.
Step 3: Keep Learning
I don’t think there is a level of “perfect” that anyone can achieve in being anti-racist. It’s a life-long, ongoing process. That process will require you to continue to learn, and sometimes learning is uncomfortable. Acceptable that language changes, so be sure to educate yourself on using non-racist language. I researched terms and capitalization before I published this post to double check myself. Just like we teach our students, we have to have a growth mindset here. In the United States, we are working to undo centuries of damage. Still, we need to move as quickly as we can because we can’t wait even more centuries for equity and justice.
Learn about microaggressions. If you’ve used them in the past, knowingly or unknowingly, stop. Learn about African-American Vernacular English. It has it’s own grammar rules and complexities. It is a real and valid way of communication. Do not shame your students for using it. Let students be proud of their vernacular; it can be an important part of identify. Instead, teach students to fluently code switch so they can be fluent in AAVE and in Standard American English. This of course goes for students who come to you speaking completely different languages or another vernacular too. By the way, everyone code switches. I bet you don’t use the exact same language at school as you do with best friend. That’s code switching.
Learn from Others
Being an anti-racist teacher also means learning from educators who don’t look like you. Here are some teachers and blogs you can check out to broaden your horizons.
- Jose Vilson: According to his bio on his website, he’s a National Board Certified teacher, a Math for America Master Teacher, and the executive director of EduColor, an organization dedicated to race and social justice issues in education.
- Learn from group of black teachers, students, and parents.
- The Latina Teacher is the daughter of an immigrant and a teacher of mostly Hispanic and Latinx students
- Con Ganas We Can, “is a blog dedicated to amplifying the Latino voice in the education sector.”
- The Learning Bird works to integrate local (Canadian) Indigenous culture, language, history, and teachings into content.
Do you know of other bloggers (or are you a blogger) I should know about that will help others become an anti-racist teacher? Let me know so I can keep this list updated.
Step 4: Ongoing Reflection
Sometimes, you’re going to look back and cringe at things you’ve done or said or didn’t do or say. I haven’t been perfect in the past, and there are moments I certainly regret, but I keep moving forward.
If you hurt someone with your actions in the past, give them a sincere apology that is about them and their feelings, not you and your feelings. They may not accept your apology, and that is something you will need to just accept. Nobody is entitled to have an apology accepted. Commit to yourself that when in a similar situation in the future you will make an anti-racist choice. When reflecting on some events in your past, you might feel embarrassed and ashamed because it wasn’t your conscious intent. Remember people of color experience embarrassment, shame, and other powerful emotions during racist events, whether they are intentional or not. Don’t let how you feel about how you acted in the past keep you being an anti-racist teacher in the present and future.
This article isn’t remotely an exhaustive list on how to be an anti-racist teacher. It’s just a beginning to start thinking and moving the right direction. Just like I am encouraging you to do, I have a growth mindset perspective here. I know I am not going to get things right all the time, but I commit to growing and learning so that our children can thrive in a world that has healed from centuries of cruelty.