A Deep Dive Into Classroom Microaggressions

Dear Future Teachers,


In my previous post, BLM In The Classroom, I briefly touched on microaggressions. Microaggressions can occur in many different settings, and are harmful to the people who are on the receiving end of these comments and actions. Schools are not immune to microaggressions, which is why I wanted to take a deep dive and discuss what microaggressions are, give examples, discuss why they are harmful, and provide solutions to keep our classrooms safe for all students.



WHAT are microaggressions?


The term "microaggressions" was created in 1970 by Dr. Chester Pierce, a Harvard professor and psychiatrist. He defined microaggressions as "subtle, stunning, often automatic and nonverbal exchanges which are 'put-downs' of Black people." The official dictionary definition is "a statement, action, or incident regarded as an instance of indirect, subtle, or unintentional discrimination against members of a marginalized group such as a racial or ethnic minority."


WHO can microaggressions impact?


Microaggressions can hurt all marginalized students and communities. These small comments or actions can be targeted towards students based on race, ethnicity, religion, nationality, sexual orientation, gender expression, gender identity, disability, age, socioeconomic status, citizenship status, language, and location.


WHY do we need to check ourselves for microaggressions?


Microaggresions are harmful to students on the receiving end of targeted comments or actions. Many times, the perpetrator is well-meaning and does not have the intention of causing damage to marginalized students. However, while the result may be unintentional, microaggressions still create an unwelcome classroom environment. Microaggressions can cause inequities in education and student achievement if students find the classroom invalidating. Students are more likely to underperform if they feel devalued within the classroom (Murray, 2020). Students may also develop feelings of anger, frustration, and withdrawal from the classroom space (Portman, Bui, & Ogaz, 2013).


Examples of Microaggressions in the Classroom


Here are a few of the microaggressions listed by The University of Denver- Microaggressions in the Classroom. Access the full list by clicking the link.

  • Repeatedly mispronouncing a students' name even after being corrected

  • Misgendering a student

  • Referring to undocumented immigrants as 'illegal' immigrants

  • Complimenting non-white students on being 'articulate' or speaking English 'well'

  • Assuming a students' background

  • Asking a student "Where are you from? No, where are you REALLY from?"

  • Expecting students to act as the sole representative to speak on behalf of marginalized communities you believe they are a part of

  • Assuming students speak a different language based on their outward opinion

  • Assigning projects or tests on religious/cultural holidays

  • Assuming all students have access to the same 'basic' resources; such as an expansive at-home library, WiFi, computers, cars

  • Creating assignments that enforce gender roles

  • Sticking to heteronormative stories or books

  • Requiring students to read books with only white protagonists

  • Setting lower expectations for students of color

  • Penalizing students on assignments that require certain financial resources, such as traveling expenses or admission fees

  • Hosting debates about the rights of humans who identify in a marginalized community

  • Banning certain cultural clothing items or specific hairstyles

  • Ignoring or not acknowledging students due to race, religion, gender, etc.


HOW to avoid using microaggressions


The following list is from Microaggressions in the Classroom published by the University of Denver. To access the full list in greater detail, please click here.


  1. "Do not expect students to be experts on any experiences beyond their own and do not make them speak for their entire group."

  2. "Do not assume that the groups you are talking about are not represented in the classroom."

  3. "Set high expectations for all students."

  4. "Do not assume that all students in your class have good command of the English language or have intimate knowledge of U.S. culture."

Access the rest of the list by clicking the link here.


Finally, I would like to direct you to a post by @theconsciouskid on Instagram further categorizing Racial Microaggressions, providing examples, and explaining the harmful implications of certain phrases or actions. Find the original post by clicking here. This post explains how phrases such as "You are so articulate" or "When I look at you, I don't see color" are harmful and often derogatory.


Microaggressions are much more common than one might think, and it's super important to recognize which statements or actions may be harming your students. I and many of my friends have experienced microaggressions in some form or another, and it DOES have an impact on your students! We CAN make change by learning and adjusting our individual practices towards others. I encourage all readers to click through the various links on this post as well as perform outside research on the topic. Let's create a more supportive environment for our kiddos!


Much Love,


Emily Banks