Updated: Feb 22, 2021
Currently there is a lot of work around how to engage with students who represent a different culture than the teacher in the classroom. This “cultural mismatch” is the culprit of many misunderstandings between students (and the villages who support them) and teachers. These misunderstandings also can lead to recommendations for tracking or time spent outside of class, which is the beginning of “push out” for so many Black students. So to say that it’s an important issue is an understatement.
As a response to this issue, topics surrounding ethnic studies, multicultural education, Black educator recruitment/ retention, and training for equity, diversity, and inclusion are all en vogue. But it can be quite overwhelming to in-service teachers who have never confronted these real and damaging misfires between teaching and learning that account for Black student attrition at every level from grade to graduate school. For those who are in a position to have a positive impact on a daily basis, where do we even begin?
With a Pause.
Before we think our next thought, open our mouths, gesture our limbs or scribble a word, we should pause and think.
1 - Who are we addressing?
2 - How do the word choice, intonation, metaphors, and suppositions elevate, suppress, or offend those around us?
3 - Are we assuming everyone has watched the show, heard the song, or visited the places we have?
4 - Are we using our words to blame, malign, and simply ignore the existence of entire communities or their contributions?
5 - Are the methods we use reflective of a comfortability with our students’ assets and ways of being, or our own?
One of the greatest tell-tale signs of privilege is the ability to just “be”--be unencumbered by the constant need to wear the lens of the dominant culture to ensure that one fits prevailing expectations, or to be prepared for the consequences of not fitting the mold. On an individual level, these consequences can seem like the necessary experiences a young person needs to build character. Familiar responses include:
“Everyone’s not going to like you.”
“Be a leader, not a follower.”
“You were made to stand out, not fit in.”
But when those who are rejecting the dominant way of being are the gatekeepers to knowledge, access, and power, it destroys students’ identities and opportunities, rather than building their character.
Pausing in and of itself will not resolve structural inequities or acknowledge centuries of injustice. It won’t write our lesson plans or recruit and retain more educators of color, but it will provide us the opportunity to momentarily consider whether or not we are centering our own views--and to whose detriment.
The “pause” is only the beginning, but the potential for where it leads is limitless!