The other day I was watching a video on Instagram where a little girl in daycare/pre-kindergarten was telling her teacher how she needs a day off from her (the teacher) and these “kids” that get on her nerves. I was in stitches watching it and I thought to myself, “this little girl is really smart!”
The person who posted the video (also a Black teacher) echoed my sentiments. We apparently were the only two teachers who felt that way because everyone else who commented – many of whom were White teachers — found the little girl to be rude.
Was she rude? Yes. Was that all she displayed? Absolutely not! This student, like many Black students, was articulate, honest, and bright.
It’s unfortunate that not everyone views Black children that way. It’s an even worse when that person is a teacher.
I see myself in this student and in all my students, who happen to be all Black and Brown. They, like me, are bright and full of potential. I perceive even the students who really get under my skin as vessels of hope.
This is not always true for White teachers who teach Black students. They see behavioral problems and are more prone to be afraid of the child, as opposed to digging deeper to make a connection with that child. I see them banging on their desks as they make drum beats as a demonstration of their innate inner musician. Other teachers see that behavior as disruptive. I see my students doodling while they should be taking notes as their form of creative expression and an example of how their brain works. Other teachers view their note-taking style as an inability to follow directions.
Don’t get me wrong. There are students that get on my nerves too — but the color of their skin has nothing to do with it. Sometimes I feel that White teachers just can’t relate to the Black students that they teach.
In a poignant biographical article a White teacher who taught Black and Brown students in California for 12 years, explains that colleague explained to him the possibility that “my students, all of whom were either Latino or African American, may have felt uneasy about a white teacher who did not share their geographic, racial, or cultural identity. If this were the case, my devotion to culturally sustaining pedagogy would not be sufficient evidence for my students to conclude that they were in competent hands. For the time being, they would see me as a tourist who could not begin to understand the experiences and challenges that infused their lives.”
The White teachers who are afraid of Black students are no different than the White women who see a Black man and cross the street. Their fear causes them to act irrationally. This fear is deeply steeped in a lack of understanding or interest in the lives, cultures, and experiences of the Black students they teach.
In every setting this mindset is dangerous. In the school setting, this willful ignorance leads to a disproportionate number of Black children being carted off to special education classes and reported to school safety agents. Black students are traversing the school-to-prison-pipeline largely because teachers — mostly White teachers — are unaware of the impact their decisions have on their students.
I hope this post enlightens those teachers. If you’re a White teacher who teaches Black students, and you’re reading this, my suggestion to you would be to first do some internal investigation to see where, when, why, and how your implicit biases and stereotypical views of Black people are impeding your students and your pedagogic practice. Maybe some of you will see that teaching the students you do and perhaps teaching in general just isn’t for you. Children aren’t paychecks. They’re humans and need you to actually like and “get” them.
For others, I would ask you to immerse yourself in Black culture in ways that go beyond watching the BET Music awards or listening to the latest Lil’ Wayne album. Go to church with your students. Attend their football games. Do a home visit. Yes — even if it’s in the hood. With all the gentrification going on, nobody will even look at you funny. Whatever you have to do — do it.
Or get out. There’s no room for your racism here.