The below blog is written by the brilliant Angeline Diamond, an American teacher who has predominantly taught across Secondary schools for the last 8 years in New York. She shares her insights from her own experiences and gives a perspective of what it was like teaching within a diverse classroom. You will find some incredibly useful links to websites on encouraging recognition of race from the very early stages of schooling and Ange has welcomely provided access to her google drive filled with lesson plans and resources. We hope you will find this blog useful and informative; it’s now, more than ever, where us as educators have the chance to stand up for what is right and teach others about challenges that may come with race and diversity! Continue to read Ange’s experience below:
The world is in a very precious place-we could be on the brink of major revolutions and changes. However, for that to happen, we as educators need to dive into some hard work. Teaching is a hard job as it is, but it is also the most rewarding thing I have ever done-there is great power in the role that we play right now. Not to be too cheesy and quote Spiderman but we have all heard that with great power comes great responsibility. As educators, we have a tremendous responsibility-we need to show up, educate ourselves, and educate our kiddos on the real systems of the world and how to enact change.
I want to first acknowledge that as a white, female that has predominantly taught children of colour, my practices have not always been perfect. I have made huge mistakes in the language used or the superficiality of my lessons on race and systematic oppression. Teaching about race relations, police brutality, race inequality, systematic oppression felt and feels uncomfortable for me for a myriad of reasons-my own innate biases, my inaction, my missteps, my lack of expertise, my desire to be neutral and get along with others. However, true allies that not only say but truly live for equality lean into the discomfort and open the learning spaces our kiddos need and deserve.
First and foremost, we must start with ourselves. We must acknowledge that as Beverly Tatum writes in her book, “Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria?” that racism is like smog, “sometimes it is so thick it is visible, other times, it is less apparent, but always, day in and day out, we are breathing it in.” Acknowledging that racism is always around and inside of us is the first of many steps. We must sit with this truth and take time to check ourselves-Have you referred more students of colour for behaviour issues? Have you lowered your bar for students of colour? Have you allowed people in your circle to make judgements? Have you felt wary about teaching students of colour? Recognising and delving into where these micro-moments come from and how you will actively work to overcome them is essential. Some resources to assist you in this step of the process are:
I cannot underscore enough how important is it to do your research and self-examination. Just as you would expect all kids to complete their homework and studying, hold yourself to the same bar.
Yet, it is not enough for us to just educate ourselves. We must start to work on bringing anti-racist material actively and continuously into the classroom. We should have exploratory units on the differences between overt and subvert racisms; we should have history units on the development of systematic oppression; we should have studies that highlight amazing people of colour; we should read texts that reflect our students’ diverse backgrounds; we should read the beautiful poetry written by people of colour. It is important to note that classrooms should expose the truth around the issues within the world as well as the path to resistance and change. If we just embed new units that focus on the harsh reality, we are robbing our students of knowing the great accomplishments and the amazing role models that have come before them. We need to not only educate but inspire! Again, my curriculum was never perfect in this regard, but I did give it a try. Here are some resources to help you on your journey:
One other thing we can start to consider is how our students of colour are feeling at this critical time. I will never experience the pain, anxiety, and fear in the same way as people of colour. There are insightful studies that note the effects of trauma on people of colour-one of the articles I found most helpful can be found at https://www.refinery29.com/en-gb/2020/06/9849898/what-is-intergenerational-trauma
With this is mind, we must note all behaviour is a communication of need. Considering the severe degree of trauma for students of colour, we must dedicate ourselves to being hyper alert and carrying our own burden. Children do not need to hear about white guilt or expressions of you not knowing what to do. They need the educators in their lives to stand as allies that alter practices, educate themselves, and advocate vigorously for change.
Your classroom practices that incorporate talking about race may not be perfect, but the alternative is silence. Silence is deadly. Our students need us; we must lean into the uncomfortableness and be true allies that EMPOWER our children with the truth and the opportunities to make change.