The start of this school year marks a new beginning for me. I have left my previous district and moved on to one where I can not only teach freshmen physics, something I’m passionate about, but work as a team instead of being the sole physics teacher on campus. This meant leaving the district I had worked in for a decade and the comfortable position I’d had for nine of those years.
When I initially started telling people where I was moving, I got responses of, “Oh, that’s a Title I district,” and, “The clientele is really different there.” Some were more obvious with, “You’ll have more English Language Learners.” Others told me how honorable it would be to go work with a more diverse student population.
White teachers teaching BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and Persons Of Color) students have been the subject of movies – Dangerous Minds, Freedom Writers, McFarland USA – showing us as the “savior” entrusted with “saving” the future of these “forgotten” students. (Yes, the quotation marks were completely warranted here.) It’s an image that has pervaded our national psyche, leading to several programs that encourage college graduates to serve in public schools in lower socioeconomic areas as a means for gaining experience or paying off student loans.
As I embarked on this new adventure, I have kept this White Savior complex at the forefront of my mind, mainly so I can avoid these actions. You see, I am not immune to nor am I above this mindset, I just need to remain cognizant of my thoughts and actions. As a white teacher of BIPOC students, I acknowledge that there are things I will never be able to fully understand.
A trusted colleague asked me about my plans in mid-July, and I realized I hadn’t thought about it, that I hadn’t invested the time to truly determine how I would ensure that my white privilege didn’t get in the way of connecting with my students. Since then, this has been on my mind every day.
To my students, I pledge the following:
I promise to keep learning. I will read books on multicultural education and seek out training in equitable practices from colleagues I trust.
I promise to listen. I will seek to understand what you tell me, and respond appropriately.
I promise not to shy away from uncomfortable conversations. I acknowledge that those are where the most growth happens.
I promise to check my privilege. I recognize that society treats me differently and I endeavor not to make decisions based on that.
I promise to demonstrate empathy. I will seek to understand your point of view and honor your feelings.
I promise to create a student-centered classroom. I will be your “guide on the side” not the expert lecturer.
Tomorrow marks three months since George Floyd was killed during an arrest in Minneapolis. Students across the country have seen the video, that was unavoidable. This means that for many of our kids, they watched a Black man being slowly asphyxiated by a police officer. That image is difficult and traumatizing to watch, and affects each of our students. As we return to instruction, how are we as educators acknowledging this trauma? How are we recognizing the trauma our BIPOC students have experienced?
Combine this with the toll that COVID-19 has taken on BIPOC communities and the unusual start to the school year, and we have a dire situation for our students. We cannot lose this imperative in all the chaos of online learning, learning management systems, and classroom videoconferencing. After all, if not now, when?
What will you do this year to foster equity in your classroom?