If you have access to media outlets or social media, you have most likely seen the recent outrage that has led to the protests nationwide in support of the Black Lives Matter movement. The recent protests were prompted by the murder of George Floyd on May 25, 2020. George Floyd is not the only death of a Black individual at the hands of a police officer, nor is it the only reason people are choosing to speak out and protest against lethal police brutality. Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, Tamir Rice, Eric Garner, Sandra Bland, Trayvon Martin, and many more names are familiar to us as we turn on the news to see that yet another life was needlessly taken due to systemic injustices that allow racism and bias to prevail against Black individuals.
If you are unfamiliar with the reason behind the protests, or with the stories of any of the aforementioned individuals, I encourage you to research, listen, and learn about the lived realities of Black people in the United States. You may wonder what the Black Lives Matter movement has to do with the content of a teachers blog. I'm here to tell you that schools play a large part in societal expectations and realities. Social norms that are engrained in our communities are reflected in our schools. It is not the fault of an individual teacher, rather it is the product of a system that was built against marginalized populations hundreds of years ago. So, what can we do about it? Luckily, there are many ways to support your Black students and families in the classroom to combat racism and provide a truly safe and accepting space for every student. I urge you not to back away from this conversation, even if it makes you uncomfortable. This post is not to point fingers, blame, or shame anyone. It is simply a resource to create a better educational environment for our incredible students.
How can you help battle systemic racism in your classroom? Here is a non-exhaustive list of resources to aid you in exploring how you can contribute to creating an anti-racist environment!
The first step to helping any cause is to learn about that cause. Don't rely on others to teach you about racism through conversation; there are plenty of books, articles, movies, and websites to view. Below I have provided links to the Anti-Racism Project website and a Google Doc shared with me by a friend on anti-racism resources.
Google Doc with Anti-Racist Resources
Take the test!
In my Education classes at UNC as well as the training for my job at a nonprofit working with students, I was asked to take the Implicit Bias Test. Implicit bias is a bias EVERYONE holds that presents itself through involuntary actions/reactions. It is often a product of engrained social structures or repeated exposure to a pushed narrative. Learn more about implicit bias by clicking here.
A link to the Harvard Implicit Bias Test is provided below. I encourage everyone to take it to understand that even if you firmly believe you hold no prejudice, prejudice is instilled in us all from a very young age. As you will see, there are multiple forms of bias one can hold; for the purposes of this post, make sure to take the "Race IAT".
Not happy with your results? It's okay! Implicit bias is malleable and you have the power to disrupt your current way of perceiving people based on race!
After going through the resources provided above, take some time to revaluate and assess your classroom practices. In what ways might you be contributing to the overarching issue of racism in the classroom? Microaggressions and disciplinary procedures are two major ways in which teachers and school administration may be unintentionally harming their Black students.
Microaggressions are“Brief and commonplace daily verbal, behavioral and environmental indignities, whether intentional or unintentional, that communicate hostile, derogatory, or negative racial slights and insults to the target person or group” (Sue, Capodilupo, Torino, Bucceri, Holder, Nadal, et al., 2007, p. 273.
Below are two documents further explaining what microaggressions are, providing examples, and giving suggestions on how we, as teachers, can improve.
Microaggressions in The Classroom
Microaggressions in the Classroom - Abbreviated
Disciplinary practices, such as the zero tolerance policy, can also be harmful to students of color, particularly Black students. While I will be writing an in-depth post on the School-to-Prison Pipeline in the near future, I do want to acknowledge that Black students are disproportionately disciplined compared to white students in schools. One study that corroborates that fact is discussed in an LA Times article that you can access here.
It's important to evaluate your classroom and improve in the way we interact with students! Everyone is capable of unfair discipline as well as contributing to microaggressions, so we all must work on ourselves constantly for the safety of our students.
Add to the Classroom!
Now that you've done the work internally, it's imperative to do the work externally in the classroom. That can take form in many ways. An easy and engaging way to do this would be to incorporate relevant books and resources discussing racism and anti-racist conversations. Below I have provided several links to sites you can browse and purchase kid-friendly books to add to your classroom!
Something Happened In Our Town: A Child's Story about Racial Injustice
My Hair Is a Garden by Cozbi A. Cabrera
Moses: When Harriet Tubman Led Her People to Freedom by Carole Boston
When I Was Eight by Christy Jordan-Fenton and Margaret Pokiak-Fenton
Websites With More Book Suggestions/Resources
This list of resources is in no way complete, and I highly encourage you to continue to research any of the content in this post. I cannot speak to the lived experiences of Black individuals, but I believe all educators should be aware of the identities of students in the classroom, and these resources are a great place to start! No matter the racial makeup of your school, every teacher should be aware of how they occupy a space as a leader in the classroom. If you have any more resources, books, articles, podcasts, or shows that you believe should be included in this post, drop them in the comments below! Let's help each other create safe and accepting spaces in our schools! #blacklivesmatter