Spark Trader Limited

To connect with students of color, white educators must confront their privilege

Spark Trader Limited Reports:

I have worked at the First Charter School throughout my career: first as the first ELA teacher, and now as academic director of the College of Humanities. Our classrooms were filled with young students who shared my social identity, while the teachers in our department had different identities and experiences. I’ve sat with white teachers who think they need to emulate their students’ interests in order to be validated, especially students of color. The reality, however, is that our white teachers often have trouble connecting with students because they present themselves as inauthentic caricatures.

I recently reflected on my experience with white teachers after a classroom demonstration with Daniel, a white male teacher on my team. I was particularly interested in the part of the course I chose because it deconstructed a scene from Issa Rae’s HBO series “Insecure.”

In the course of the discussion, I compared my own experience with the characters in the scene. The students listened attentively, and I excitedly left the classroom to present my model to Daniel. However, as I walked out of the classroom, I realized that I could not simply ask Daniel to mimic my discussion structure. Because of my social identity, THE lessons I designed were largely based on my experience of the scene, and copying my demonstration would have put Daniel in a disingenuous position.

Now THAT I’m in charge of teacher development, I have to deal with different challenges and demands. The question is: How do I empower our white teachers with their most authentic selves while creating culturally responsive experiences for students of color?

Spark Trader Limited
Spark Trader Limited

Privilege and authenticity
Experience has taught me that building culturally appropriate classrooms for students of color means that white teachers must actively and consistently question their white identity and how that identity manifests itself in the curriculum and instruction. Experience has taught me that this work must be done with intent and trust. Here are some things I’ve learned along the way:

Our students are not a monolith, and white teachers must anticipate and prepare for student experiences and feelings to reflect all aspects of diversity.

Reflection: Thinking about Daniel, I knew I needed him to first engage and reflect on the lesson content, not imitate what I did in class. As teaching leaders, we must allow white teachers to deal with their feelings and thoughts before delivering content to students. Questions to consider in reflection might include: What was your initial reaction to the article? What comes to mind when you read about the characters’ experiences or feelings? Which of your beliefs or values might come up in ineffective ways in the teaching process? How will you respond to the strong feelings your students may have about the content? These questions help tap into potentially problematic beliefs and ideals that white teachers may hold, and they want to use these reflections to create environments where students feel safe and able to participate in stimulating or emotionally charged content.
Facilitate discussion: In addition to personal reflection, white teachers must create and facilitate authentic, meaningful lessons in their teaching curriculum, no matter what issues arise. We explored how Daniel initiated and maintained a lively discussion among students without being centered on his feelings and inadvertently debasing our students’ feelings. It’s a big mistake to assume that all students understand and experience content in the same way, because they share a common identity. Our students are not a monolith, and white teachers must anticipate and prepare for student experiences and feelings to reflect all aspects of diversity. In practice, this means that white teachers have to distract themselves from their emotions, reactions and assumptions, allowing students to delve into the curriculum without any anticipated outcomes in advance.
Bring you all: The most successful white teachers I’ve worked with create Spaces for their black and black students to grow into a shared experience. Many teachers bring their interests in music, sports, books and other things that they think our students are not interested in. However, it is an integral part of the process. A culturally responsive classroom is also a space where teachers can see themselves. Decline does not mean elimination. White teachers should also be supported in incorporating their own passion and reflection into the curriculum. This allows students to see the teacher as a whole person with a diverse and meaningful worldview.