In my opinion, implicit bias is the number one barrier to student achievement. And unfortunately, there is nothing that a student can do about it. It is an adult issue, and it is prevalent in our schools, classrooms, policies, and practices. It is often the invisible glass ceiling that prevents teachers from realizing their potential to inspire and impact the lives of students of color. It robs students of what could have been because the adult in the classroom was unable to recognize how their own bias impacted how they were able to relate to a child. I don’t need to cite research to make this point. I am the research. At some points in my schooling career, this was my life.
Many times when race and ethnicity came up in the classroom when I was a child, some teachers would act as if they did not hear the discussion or glossed over a topic so a discussion wouldn’t spark. This made me feel insignificant as a student because we would spend time talking about things that I could not connect with or relate to, but the time when I had something to say or offer about what we were learning, we had to quickly move on so other students wouldn’t ask questions that would make the teacher or students feel uncomfortable. Fortunately, I did have some teachers who, whether they were aware of it or not, checked their implicit bias at the door before entering the classroom. Below are the observable strategies I remember seeing when I was a student.
Care about their story. Not all students of color have the same story. Don’t ever assume that just because students come from a similar race or share an ethnic background means they have the same story or experience. This marginalizes your students and minimizes their existence as an individual. It is important to get to know your students. Care about who they are and get to know them individually not just a member of a larger group. All students have lessons to teach us if we are willing to listen and learn.
Be authentic. Acknowledge, even if it is only internally, that you will never know what it is like to be a student of color. After you are able to make that acknowledgment without making any justification for it, you will then be able to empathize and then strategize ways to ensure that students in your classroom or school are not marginalized. Accept the fact that marginalization does happen in schools every day, even if it is not on your watch, and then be the voice and advocate for students of color.
Couple high expectations with support. A child’s zip code, race, or ethnicity should not be a determining factor for the quality of education they receive. We should have high expectations for all students. The bar should be set and the only thing that should every move is the level of support that is provided for each child. Be careful not to let your implicit bias and perspective about race lead a student toward the stereotypical paths that have been perpetuated in our society. More importantly, do not push them away from ideas or issues that are a part of who they culturally. All students, I mean ALL, have strengths and talents. They may not be apparent to them yet, but your job as a teacher is to help them discover what those talents and strengths are and how they can use them to reach their dreams. If they don’t have any dreams, help them create them.
My post may not be researched-based, but it is human-based. It is my experience and the experience of my children. Not all things have to be studied. It’s unfortunate that learning how to relate to students of color has to be a class, textbook or seminar. When it comes to interacting with people, it is my opinion that we can move the needle by caring about the children we serve as if they were our own, and by being open and honest about who we are, what we believe, and how that impacts the students we serve each day.
Originally shared via Larry Ferlazzo’s Edweek Column