How Will You Use Your Teaching Power?

The importance of representation for our students of color can’t be underestimated. However, this doesn’t just benefit our black and brown kids; it benefits ALL kids. We were fortunate to hear Lanesha Tabb speak last year at the Get Your Teach On National Conference. In her presentation she said, “For some of your kids, it’s about representation. For your other kids, it’s about exposure.” As educators, if we don’t expose our white students to cultures other than their own, where will they learn? If they don’t learn, how will they ever be aware and fight white privilege and social injustice? This connects with perspective and the lenses we wear. If you think about it, our white students can go through their day and have no trouble finding kids or adults that look like them. Our black and brown students sit in classrooms, read books, and interact with white people constantly. After all, our teaching profession is over 80% white. Again educators, what can we do to help our students feel represented and seen in our classrooms?

We encourage you to scan your curriculum for inclusivity and supplement when you don’t see the kids you serve in your materials. Ask yourself, are your celebrations and teaching units inclusive for all kids? Or do you only celebrate black leaders during Black History Month? To be frank, celebrating our black leaders, scholars, and scientists should not be relegated to one month. If your students only learn about Martin Luther King JR, Rosa Parks, or famous black athletes or rappers, this is a problem. We need to equip our black and brown students to be successful in all roles. Kids can’t connect to their potential if they can not relate to the figures they are learning about. Brandon Fleming said, You can’t be what you don’t see.” Fortunately, we are in a district that values equity, and we are encouraged to do this work. This may not be the case in your school district, or even with the families you serve. We would respond with, do this work without asking permission. It's essential to both humanize and celebrate Black culture.

As you scan your libraries and curriculum, don’t forget to look at the historical narratives your students are exposed to. Who is telling the story they are reading? As we know, our country’s history was documented and told by white people for generations. Who’s voices are missing from this history? The award winning author of Hamilton, Lin-Manuel Miranda said “History is entirely created by the person telling the story.” How do you provide an opportunity for your students to hear the full history of people other than white Americans? Correct the misinformation and tell what really happened. Speak and teach the truth, even when it’s uncomfortable. Again, with your eyes and hearts open, you will have no choice but to see the injustice.

This work has far reaching effects. We’ve mentioned the need for representation, but what will exposure do for our white kids? Just think, if our students are exposed to inclusive practices throughout their lives, and our students of color and white students grow up together truly understanding each other, what could happen in our society? Maybe that white girl or boy in your class will grow up to be a police chief and change the way people of color are targeted in the community. Or maybe, they will become an activist fighting for civil rights for all. Or they may just make a different decision because they’ve been able to attempt to see another’s perspective and they have a true knowledge of privilege and racism.

Teacher Melissa Boyd said “Teachers have power; the power to influence, to guide, and to develop self confidence in their students. The power that comes with teaching is accompanied by great responsibility. Teachers have the ability to use their power in a positive or negative way.”

How will you use your power?

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