Five simple, but not easy things, we, white teachers can do outside the classroom to make the world a safer, fairer and kinder place for our students, and colleagues of color.
I am a teacher. I have always been. I will always be. I have always loved to share information and make connections with humans. I love essential questions; those questions that make us think critically about who we are and why,not how,we are doing what we are doing. I believe in essential questions and I ask myself and my students these kinds of questions often. Why do I teach? It certainly is not for the money, or for the schedule, although it is nice to have summers off. It is not even because I love music so much. I teach because I love making connections with human being and I love making a difference in the world, through music education. Who am I? I am a person who believes in fairness. I am person who loves and believes in silly. I am a person who believes that most people are good and want to do good. I am an optimist and my glass is mostly always full and my side of the lawn is mostly always greenest and I have the rosest colored glasses. Yet, I cannot describe myself fully without acknowledging that I am an extremely privileged person. My privilege runs deep and wide. It comes from my white skin and from my socioeconomic background; growing up in an upper middle class household in South America. My privilege comes from my mostly-steady home environment and from my access to multiple higher education degrees. My privilege comes from being a man, and from being cis gender.
In my opinion, on of the most complex essential questions is: What is education? I think that it is crucial, for us doing the work of educating children, that we know where we stand in regards to what education is, and that we stand there with all of our being. I really like John Dewey’s quote that “education is mothering outside the home.” (I think it was Dewey who said that?) I think most educators have this kind of attitude around students. I am truly honored and thankful to have had the pleasure of interacting with some of the radests, most intelligent, smartest, most empowered, down to earth, compassionate and master educators in the planet. At my current school, my team is amazing. Although I am new there, they have made me feel like part of their family and we all value each other. We are all different, and we care about different things and we don’t care about other things AND we respect each other.
What does education mean to you?
In this post, I would like to discuss five simple, but not easy things, we, white teachers can do outside the classroom to make the world a safer, fairer and kinder place for our students, and colleagues of color. These five things are not centered around students. They are centered about us, the grown ups in charge of teaching them.
1: Bring up conversations about race with white teachers,administrators and staff. Race matters. We live in a white supremacist society. We need to come together as white folks inside our schools to have meaningful, respectful and educational conversations about this. Anyone that has ever stepped foot in a public school in NYC, knows that the NYC DOE is one of the most racially segregated systems in the country. I have taught in schools in where out of 493 kids, there was only 1 white child- and that was because his mother wanted him to be there. It is important to have conversations about why this is, about what this means and about what it means for our students of color to be taught by white folks. Why having this conversations with white folks only as opposed to everyone? Because people of color have these conversations all the time and white folks don’t.
2: Call each other In; not out, when we, educators are not acting in ways that are fair for the students and for the world. Here, I acknowledge that I am the first one to not practice what I preach. I take full responsibility that I often call people out and not in. To learn more about Calling In Vs. Calling Out, click here
What is fair? This can be up for debate but for the purposes of this blog, let us define “fair” as “ANTI-racist”. A good friend of mine just asked me, what is the difference between non racist & anti racist? The difference is deeper than just words. For a quick and awesome two minute long description of the difference, click here ,but also I like to think about it like this: non racist is passive and it is what most of us are. It doesn’t take any extra effort. We don’t say the N word, we don’t clutch our purses around people of color. That is being non racist. Anti racist is active; it takes a conscious effort on the part of the doer. Anti racist means we go out of our way to educate white folks engaging in racist actions; even if they are not intentional or ill-willed. Anti racist work means allocating our time, energy and funds towards bettering our own understanding on racial issues and about the history of racism in our society. Being anti racist means actively doing things, holding ourselves and each other accountable in regards to race issues. I am a school teacher thus I don’t have that much money, but in a way, I view doing anti racist work, as a tiny token of reparations.
When hearing our white co-workers engage in racist speech or actions, we must find a way to calling each other in. I know this is hard, but if we aim to make schools safer for kids of color, we need to acknowledge and fix injustices starting with the adults. I also truly believe that this needs to be a two way thing, and we need to build environments in which we all feel safe calling each other in. I want my white peers to call me in, because I too, engage in racist dialogue, jokes and actions sometimes. Nobody is perfect and society embeds racism in us all ALL the time; through the media, though schools, through shopping, through everything. And just in case, reverse racism is not a thing. It does not exist. If you want to know more about this, click here
3. Be mindful of what and how you speak about students of color to your white friends. If you are anything like me , you probably love to talk about the school day. I love love love talking about “my” kids and what they do and what we all learned and what happened through the day. My Facebook wall can prove it! Teaching can be a very lonely profession. Sometimes talking about my experiences in school with other grown ups, makes it a bit less lonely. Teaching is also so rewarding, that I want everyone around me to live, through me, the life changing experiences that we all experience inside our classroom on a daily basis. I want all my community to taste the sweet taste of “Mr. Martini, I didn’t think I was gonna be able to do that thing on the drum, but I can and now I feel alive!” *This is 100% true and was told to me last summer by a rising 3rd grade girl during summer school on out first day together. EVERYONE in the world deserves to hear this. Teaching can also be very frustrating. When I have a sad experience in class, or when a 2nd grader tells me to go F*** myself or when I am truly out of patience, I want my community to know that too; because unless I told you, most people would not believe that we are (as a whole/society) are creating a word full of trauma for kids so that when they are mad, they don’t know how to maneuver those feelings;thus; blurt out the F word. Most likely because an adult in their life modeled that for them. When we speak about “our” kids to our white community, we must be aware and try real hard to not promote racial stereotypes about people of color. It has been my experience as a teacher in the USA for the past 13 years, that most times a white educator starts telling a story with the words “these kids”, something racist is about to be said. “These kids can’t do that” “These kids don’t know this”. In addition, chuckling over the spelling or pronunciation of a name that is not John, or Sarah, is not funny; it is dehumanizing.
4. Leave behind the “Superman” complex that we, white educators can carry as a chip on our shoulder. This is a hard one for me, because I feel it and I take it dear to my heart. I struggle through this. I am currently trying to do a lot of work myself, through my actions, thoughts and language so that I can shed this part of me that is not helpful and fair to my students and school community as a whole. Me, the white teacher who teaches in an under served, over populated, under resourced, over policed community am not the savior of “these” children. I am not the one who gives voice to them. It is not through me or because of me that they get empowered to rise up. Up until as recently as last year, I honestly thought this was the way it was. Now I see that if this is not a sign of my own internalized white supremacy, what is? I don’t hate myself for it. It is part of who I was and it is part of who I am now. It is most likely to be part of who I will be; because we cannot run away from who we are. Wherever we go, that is where we are…
It is not through me, the teacher, the white teacher, but through the work we do together, through the work that my teachers have done with me, through the work that our ancestors have done with all of us, that we all teach one another and that we gain the empowerment necessary to be all of who we are. It is not through me, it is through the work. Critical Educator Paulo Freire, speaks of this in his book Pedagogy of the Oppressed, “No one educates anyone else nor we educate ourselves. We educate one another in communion in the context of living in this world”
5. Educate oneself, individually and as a group. It is paramount that we, as white educators start educating ourselves, individually and as a community. How can we truly make a difference in the world, if we do not know all the ways in which this world works? Especially those ways that are so urgent, and unfair and “hidden” from us through our white skins. It is our job and duty to educate ourselves in issues that affect our students as much as we know about the content we teach, about the sports we love, and about everything that affects us. It is also important that we do not put this task onto people of color. That is free emotional labor that we are imposing onto folks, that are already required to do lots more free emotional labor;educating that we have to do. If we ask our colleagues of color, we’d find that most days, they have to explain something around race, racism, police brutality, “the hood”, food stamps, their food choices, what they wear and how much they pay for, etc, to white folks. It is important that we ourselves actively look for articles, books, videos and all media around this, in the same way that we research any other topic that interests us. It is also important that we educate each other as a group. In doing this, we must remember that the media, the dictionary, the most things, are controlled by rich white men. It is important to think critically. It is also important to lift the voices of scholars, thinkers, and regular folks of color. It i important to lift and look for the voices of women of color. It is important to look for, listen and trust the voices and teachings of our ancestors; white and black. We educators NEED to be familiar with Maslow, Freire, Dewey, Mann AND also with bell hooks, Angela Davis, Desmond Tutu, and others. Lisa Delpit’s book Other People’s Children is a must for all white teachers teaching mostly students of color. Most recently, Dr. Christopher Emdin wrote an amazing book called For White Folks Who Teach In The Hood. For an amazing lecture on the topic by Dr. Emdin, click here.
I am not saying never talk to any colleagues of color about this issues. Do talk! Do ask! But when doing so, LISTEN. Do not argue. Ask and listen. Be willing and open to learn about it.
I want to hold space and I want to acknowledge I myself am far from perfect at doing these things. And I want to acknowledge that I am hurting and that am not thinking totally clearly and so I might be forgetting other important things, and I might be misspeaking and I might be saying things that perpetuate the cycle of white supremacy. If I am, please call me in; privately or publicly.
To go back to my essential question: Why I teach? I want to make a difference in the world. I believe that I can. I believe that we all can. This pain, this hurt, this anger will not take a single drop out of my glass-always-full attitude. Instead, this anger and pain and hurt will fuel my commitment to who I am, what I do, and why I do it. I strive to do this work much like the ocean does hers; gently, fiercely,tirelessly, and timelessly.