School culture is a bigger deal than we give it credit for. It is a component of our issues with teacher retention and student achievement.
A microaggression 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.
Interestingly enough, the word itself originated from a black psychologist seeking to explain the daily discrimination black people were experiencing. Today, the term is used more broadly to explain prejudices and biases experienced by ANY minority group. That in and of itself is a microaggression! It is so common for the work of people of color to be assimilated into a larger work.
We see that happen with the sensationalism of certain current trends in education. For example, the recent click bait-y handshake videos. The original concept of unique handshakes originated in classrooms of black and brown teachers. Yet, when you see the videos that go viral, they primarily feature white teachers and largely white students. Utilizing someone else’s cultural expressions as a way to self promote is inappropriate. It is gimmicky. It is a microaggression.
Long term, these experiences contribute to minority students and teachers being marginalized.
One of the most egregious errors that can be made by teachers and admins is this. Just because you know one child who lives in poverty does not mean those experiences are monolithic. So much of the ‘cookie cutter’ training on poverty comes from a deficit mindset. When we start out thinking that kids are deficient, they will more than likely meet that expectation. By the same token, if we work with the skills kids have, build on those, amplify those and encourage them to seek out their own learning…they will thrive.
Top down thinking that forces kids into constant suspensions doesn’t help kids learn. There has been a lot of research done on the volume of referrals written on black and brown children across the country and it is striking. We have issues with systemic racism in this country and our views towards black males in particular. Those societal issues are bleeding into the classroom…starting in pre-school. We’ve got work to do.
This naturally bleeds into this next point. We need independent thinkers. I’m not really impressed with classrooms where students are chorally responding to things. Whenever I see those representations, they are all brown children. The reason the management is so tight is because the perception is that if it is not, the students will get ‘out of control’. I want to help grow independent thinkers. I want to create engaging lessons that stimulate real, organic thought. Bringing students literature and historical content that relates to them and their stories. I want them to be able to engage in socratic seminars to learn how to debate their own thinking with evidence. These are all keys to helping students gain agency and voice in the classroom. There must be structure, true…but silence? Lock step? No.
Laughing about student names is not appropriate, ever. Changing students names to nicknames that work for you isn’t appropriate either. I’d even encourage you to work on using whatever your students’ names are in their native language rather than the Anglicized version. Who doesn’t want their name pronounced correctly? This is basic, but our privilege gets in the way of this at times.
We don’t make learning relevant when we commercialize culture in our classrooms. If you’re going to teach a cultural experience, do it in context. Teach with rap music, but create a unit of poetry around it. Tie it to social studies. Allow the children to create a meaningful recreation of the words if they choose to–if it resonates for them. Teach Mexican culture, read about sugar skulls discuss the meaning of them. Don’t put them up all over your room on Cinco de Mayo and eat tacos. Understand what the culture looks like from people who are embedded in it. Remember although some of your students may be of a certain ethnic background, their families may be insisting that the assimilate into American culture and they themselves may not know much of their own cultural background. We need to be responsible for the integrity of each of these lessons and do the work to make sure that the lessons have deep meaning.