After a year of a Texas superintendent’s remark about not being able to “count on” black quarterbacks, a Louisiana teacher’s post insinuating that people of color should “quit acting like animals,” and Idaho teachers dressing up as ‘Mexicans’ and a Make America Great Again (MAGA) wall; 2019 needs to be decidedly different. This new year, let’s begin the process of becoming more culturally competent teachers and schools.
While teacher populations remain 80 percent White, student populations continue to grow increasingly more diverse. When research tells us that many White teachers come into the classroom having little to no social interaction with people of color throughout their lives; this lack of exposure leads many teachers to be ineffective with culturally diverse students. As teachers and administrators continuously demonstrate their lack of racial competence, those in charge of educating all students need to begin to hold these teachers accountable for this lack of knowledge. Yes, many teachers claim to disavow racism, yet many of their actions are speaking louder than their words.
A promising solution to end the racism in our schools is to engage teachers in the hard work of recognizing their racial biases through culturally responsive education. If we want our teachers to be effective in educating culturally diverse students, they must be trained to recognize their racial bias and implement steps to reduce its impact on their students.
Eliminating the unchecked racist assumptions many teachers hold about their diverse students is not another attempt at political correctness. The racism that students of color experience at the hands of culturally clueless educators, harms their academic achievement. Research has shown that teachers do lower their expectations for students who are poor, students of color, and who have special needs. Teachers who hold negative views about their poor and students of color, expect less of them, give them less challenging work, and often discipline them more often and more harshly, than White students who act in similar ways. Students exposed to this kind of treatment from educators often experience the phenomenon of self-fulfilling prophesy and often fall in line with the negative assumption’s teachers project onto their abilities.
The portrayal of these incidents as racist is not an overreaction, they’re evidence that the racism that permeates throughout society is also present within the walls of our schools. However, it’s not impossible to shield our students from the snares of societal ills. There are plenty of schools and programs such as Bob Moses’ Algebra Project that have managed to increase student success without society’s blessing. As an experienced educator and facilitator, I understand we are in an uphill battle towards equity in schools, however I believe a solid investment in culturally responsive education for teachers is the first step. Will it be easy? Absolutely, not. Nevertheless, any time and effort put forth in the process is well worth the results of more culturally competent teachers and schools in the future.
Firing every teacher that perpetuates racist or stereotypical views about diverse students is not a feasible task. A more preventative approach would allow teacher education to consist of increasing the knowledge of educators about the histories, cultures, and perspectives of diverse peoples. It should include the reflection, empathy, and understanding necessary to transform mindsets that perpetuate bias to ones able to interrupt it and reduce it. If those mindsets are too set in their ways, then just like any teacher who is ineffective in their efforts to educate, they should be put on a growth plan or removed.
It can be troubling work to reevaluate deeply held beliefs about race in education. However historically, reexamining our deeply held views about race has often propelled our society forward towards its espoused ideas of justice and equality. Let’s keep the momentum going and continue to reevaluate what we thought was “not racist” and begin to become truly culturally responsive educators and schools.
In 2019, I no longer want to read news stories about superintendent’s posting racist remarks, teachers putting out racist posts, or dressing up in stereotypical costumes. Instead, I want to help educators begin the journey to put an end to this phenomenon, by shining a light on the blind spots in our views about race. I resolve to continue the hard work to rid our schools of the racist mindsets that currently reside within and replace them with ones that no longer have to apologize for racially insensitive missteps because the roots of their racism will have been destroyed.