- Jan 2016
Between these two incidents I have witnessed and heard innumerable reports from Black parents across the nation of similar encounters. Black students, usually males, being viewed not as potentially gifted, needing enrichment or more academic challenge, but as disrupters and distractions. So-called professional educators not questioning their own weak classroom practices, lack of differentiated instruction, poor preparation, or implicit biases, but instead wanting these non-compliant Black boys drugged into passivity.
I remember early in my career being teamed with a teacher who allowed Vietnamese students to speak Vietnamese in math class, but wouldn't allow Hispanic students to speak Spanish. She insisted that the Vietnamese students were helping each other with the math while the Hispanic students were off task, even though she spoke neither language and couldn't tell. My eighth grade students told me about her practice and even labelled it as racist. They felt safe to do so because I encouraged them to use peer support and their native languages whenever they felt it would help.
I spoke up. I pointed out the inequity in her practice to her and when she dismissed my concerns, I spoke to our administrator about the practice, explaining that I thought it was racist and had a negative impact on student engagement and learning.
This was a challenge for me as a white teacher because I was working in an urban school with a high referral rate and the vast majority of classrooms had white teachers teaching students of color. In this case, because I spoke out, my colleague was asked to change the practice by an administrator. This probably served to add to some ideological friction between she and I. Still, I'd do it again in the same circumstances but my experience was that the system doesn't thank you when you speak out this way. It takes moral courage and a willingness to feel isolated.