Are you encouraging racism in your classroom or school? Your knee-jerk reaction to that question is probably “NO!” However, many non-Black teachers and principals carry biases that are deeply racist, which lead to actions that marginalize Black students and teachers. This post shares the 15 common ways teachers encourage racism in the classroom + tips on how to stop racism now.
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Eliminating Racism in the Classroom
“I truly believe that your son has emotional issues and he is a danger and a threat to the safety of the other kids in his class.”
My heart sank as I read these words from an email my son’s music teacher sent me when he was a second grader.
To add insult to injury, his Second Grade teacher was CC’d on the email and she felt further action needed to be taken on whatever had happened in music class.
Before I could even wrap my head around what was happening, the principal called me to the office and told me she was suspending my 7-year old from school for two days.
I later found out that all of it was related to a disagreement my son had with two white males in class. All three of them were arguing, but only my son was suspended.
To make matters worse, I was the only black teacher in that same school. These weren’t just my son’s teachers and principal, they were unfortunately, my colleagues.
Were these women racists? Many would say, “absolutely.”
Was there any truth to their perspective of my son? I’ll let you be the judge of that when I share an update about him at the end of this post.
This post highlights what those actions are and how they need to be dismantled to eliminate racism in the classroom.
Building Book Collections That Lack Diversity
The first common way many white teachers practice racism in the classroom–whether intentionally or unknowingly–is through literature.
Many classroom and school library collections, read-aloud selections, and chapter books typically cater to white children.
To end this racist habit, it’s important to include books that celebrate diversity in your classroom.
Incorporate literature that shows a variety of characters and cultures all year long!
Here are free resources to help with that:
- Poetry Books That Also Celebrate Diversity
- Read Alouds for Upper Elementary Students
- Books for Teaching Kids About Racism
- Black History Month Books for Older Kids
Being Comfortable Teaching in a School with an All-White Faculty
Secondly, educators encourage racism throughout schools by silently accepting that your teaching staff lacks diversity.
Many schools only hire white teachers and administrators.
Don’t underestimate the dangerous message this sends, and how it impacts the culture within each classroom.
Many white teachers just accept it for fear of their own job being in jeopardy.
Some teachers are so used to only being surrounded by other whites that they don’t even notice it.
Ending racism in the classroom isn’t just a “BIPOC problem,” it’s a human problem.
We all need to speak out against it. So push the envelope by questioning and challenging the unfair hiring practices that lead to this.
If you have authority in the hiring decisions, be intentional about seeking teachers of color for your school.
Vote for school leaders that are actively working to reverse this harmful tradition.
Using Swift and Harsh Consequences on Students of Color Who Misbehave
In addition to the first two points, Black students who misbehave often receive stricter consequences than their non-Black classmates who display the same behavior.
Unfortunately, this blog post lacks the space to unpack all the factors influencing this. So for the sake of brevity, consider these questions and scenarios as you administer discipline in your own classroom:
- What relationship-building have you done with your students and families of color?
Rules without relationship always lead to rebellion. If students feel invisible and overlooked in the classroom, and only get the teacher’s attention for negative reasons, they are more likely to act out.
- What other strategies have you already implemented with students of color who misbehave?
For 10 years, I often had co-teachers who were willing to try several different strategies with white students who were struggling. Yet they quickly sent their black students to the principal’s office.
They justified the swift rejection of their black students by saying things like, “I can’t allow one student to disrupt the learning in my classroom.”
However, those teachers would have extra measures already in place for white students to stay in the classroom. Even when the white student disrupted teaching.
Although these are just two points to consider, these small differences have a huge impact on kids.
If you truly want to help end racism in the classroom, it’s important to examine these subtle habits you may be practicing in your teaching.
Classroom Management Post
Only Collaborating With Other White Teachers
The fourth way teachers encourage racism in the classroom is by only collaborating with other white teachers in and outside their schools.
Even if your school lacks diversity in the faculty, social media and technology have made it possible to collaborate worldwide.
When you choose to only collaborate only with other white teachers, you are stunting your own professional growth.
Furthermore, you aren’t getting exposure to different mindsets, perspectives, and experiences.
Having Segregated Social Media Channels
What in the world is a “segregated social media channel?”
It’s a phrase that describes teachers and teacher-influencers who only show and support other white teachers.
Even students in elementary schools participate on social media, so they see this activity and it speaks volume to them.
The silent but deadly message it sends comes back inside the classroom infecting the atmosphere of learning and behavior.
You can end this by being mindful of your social media presence as a teacher and principal.
Become more aware of who you like, follow, re-share, comment on, are pictured with. Ask yourself honest questions if you only gravitate towards other white teachers.
Reading and Recommending Children’s Literature That’s Racist
You may be encouraging racism in your classroom or school if you are reading children’s books with racist undertones and messaging.
This goes beyond just reading children’s stories with only white characters.
So much research has come forth about popular children’s authors like Dr. Seuss, that were deep racists and often embedded their racist beliefs in books for kids.
This book by Philip Nel is an excellent starting place if you are a teacher or principal who continues to promote Dr. Seuss’s work in your classroom or school.
No, this isn’t just “fake news” or a slight rumor!
To combat this, teachers can include author studies in your activities.
When you stubbornly continue to accept books just because they have lots of cute illustrations and rhyming words, you are actively contributing to racism in your classroom.
Failing to Celebrate Black History Month & Other Cultural Heritages
The seventh way teachers encourage racism in the classroom is through the lack of culturally responsive teaching surrounding important holidays.
Schools and teachers that refuse to highlight events like Black History Month, Hispanic Heritage Month, Asian-Pacific Heritage Month, etc. are ignoring important cultural traditions that help dismantle dangerous stereotypes about groups of people.
Here are dominate myths surrounding why some teachers fail to recognize these events:
- “I have to teach rigorous, standards-based lessons every day, so I don’t have time to stop for holiday stuff.”
It is very possible–and even more enjoyable–to infuse rigorous, standards-based learning WITH cultural lessons that celebrate all people.
Besides, you find ways to do that for Groundhog’s Day, Valentine’s Day, Christmas and St. Patrick’s Day! So why not do the same thing for cultural celebrations?!
- “We don’t celebrate those months because we don’t have any students from that race in our class.”
ALL students need to know about the important work and contributions by people of color.
Black History isn’t just for Black people because Black History is American History.
Teaching Students That Black History Month is Only About Slavery
When it comes to teaching about Black History month, the content you choose to cover matters greatly.
Teaching students that Black History Month is only about slavery in America is racist.
Why? Because it fuels the ugly and false myth that Black people in America are only supposed to be in subservient roles to Whites.
When white teachers teach students to only view Black Americans through the lens of slavery only, it justifies all the little acts of racism that this post is all about!
Of course the solution isn’t to just eradicate all teaching about slavery from your lessons, but to include all the wonderful, positive achievements of Black Americans throughout history.
Black History Month should be a celebration of how far all Americans have come in the fight against racism. This will inspire your students of all colors to continue being anti-racist.
Books That Celebrate Black History
Building Healthy Relationships Only with White Students & Their Families
As previously mentioned with classroom management concerning behavior, relationship building is key in the classroom.
Many teachers reinforce racism in the classroom when they make additional efforts to build healthy relationships with white students and families, but quickly give up on doing so with their students of color.
- Do you attend events outside of the classroom for ALL your students?
- Are you spending time getting to know the likes and dislikes of every child you teach?
- When you notice or focus on your students of color, is it only when they do something wrong? Do you only expect something negative about their behavior?
- Do you hold grudges against students of color when they misbehave by commenting on past offenses even when they have shown major improvements?
- Are you openly praising the performance and work of your white students above and more than your students of color?
Again, with every tip on this post, mindfulness matters!
Even if you think you aren’t a racist person, these little behaviors carry so much racist ideology.
Mispronouncing Ethnic Students’ Names Without a Consistent Effort to Correct It
How is mispronouncing someone’s name racist?
Names represent culture. Correctly pronouncing a student’s birth given name impacts your relationship with that kid, which helps them feel included and accepted.
This relates to the history of ethnic groups being “colonized” or “assimilated” to white culture through the act of renaming.
Many white people change the names of Blacks, Asians, Hispanics, etc. to names that they feel are more “appropriate” or “pleasant” sounding.
One popular and powerful example of this is the children’s read-aloud book The Name Jar by Yangsook Choi.
Every year I use The Name Jar during back to school season as a read-aloud to encourage cultural diversity and acceptance in the classroom.
Learning every student’s name correctly is one easy way to help end racist actions as a teacher!
Only Purchasing Educational Resources From White Bloggers and Sellers
The professional influences you surround yourself with as an educator impact your philosophy and behavior as a teacher.
When you only purchase Teachers Pay Teachers resources from white sellers or only follow white teacher-bloggers, it bears the same results as when you only collaborate with other white teachers.
This action is also just like buying children’s books written only by white authors.
It implies that curriculum designers and teacher bloggers of color aren’t contributing quality work to the field of education.
This subtle action infects you with assumptions that are offensive and racist, which seep through to your students.
Purchasing standards aligned, high-quality curriculum and learning resources from a diverse group of teachers increases your students’ exposure to culturally diverse resources.
Asking Students of Color to Openly Share “How This Makes ‘Their’ People Feel
Let me make this section really easy for you.
Do not ever ask a student of color to speak on behalf of their entire race.
Never let this sentence come out of your mouth to a kid: “So, ______ can you tell the class how this makes your people feel?”
If you are a principal with one Black teacher on your staff, do not put him or her on the spot during any staff development about how to work with all students of their same race.
Just. Don’t. Do. It.
Having Favorite Students Each Year That Are Always White
First of all, every teacher meets “that kid” who’s their favorite. We don’t like to admit it because it seems biased to have a favorite student.
Yet, it’s hard not to have a special bond with at least one kid every year.
But, if you’ve been a teacher for a few years now, and you think back to each kid that’s your favorite and it’s always a white kid, then I lovingly challenge you to examine why.
As we’ve seen with other actions in this post, this hidden bias could be negatively impacting your perception of students of color.
Failing to Incorporate Equitable Policies For Students of Color in Your Classroom
There is a big difference between equity and equality.
In a nutshell, equality usually means “sameness,” while equity means “fairness.”
But as Rick Wormeli points in his book “Fair Isn’t Always Equal,” we have to be willing to confront this one-size-fits-all approach.
Many teachers have a clear understanding of this when it comes to making accommodations and modifications for students with physical disabilities.
Yet, there are classrooms and schools that fail to create equitable policies and changes for students of color.
There are several things you can do as a teacher to ensure equity in your classroom.
You can find out more about them with these resources:
Ignoring All Conversations and Topics About Race
Finally, teachers encourage racism in the classroom is by ignoring all topics related to race.
Sticking your head in the sand and pretending that there’s no racism in America ensures that it continues.
It’s the same attitude of an innocent bystander who sees a crime being committed but refuses to help.
I know this is uncomfortable. No one wants to feel like they’re “the bad guy.”
But you can’t change what you will not confront.
How Anti-Racist Teachers & Principals Can Change Lives
Even though these conversations about race are hard, they are necessary for growth and true, lasting change.
And change is possible. I am a living witness.
Remember the harsh and racist experience I described at the beginning of this post about my son?
Well, I eventually decided to leave my teaching job at that school and take my son with me.
After two months at his new school, the principal called me.
“Ms. Marshall, have you ever considered having Caleb tested to see if he’s gifted? His test scores show that he’s extremely bright and maybe underserved in the general classroom.”
I thought to myself, “Lady, my former colleagues thought my son was a little criminal!”
To make a long story short, I had him evaluated and sure enough, his math and reading scores were off the charts. His new teacher was extremely kind in helping us transition smoothly.
Not only did these educators go the extra mile to help us adjust to a new school setting,
They also consistently loved my kid.
Love that followed him into each new grade level at that school.
He has had a fantastic school experience–just like any other kid–ever since.
It warmed my heart as a momma and renewed my hope as an educator.
This is WELL worth the fight! Communities and families can heal when we are all willing to do the hard work of ending racism in schools.
You’ve already take a great first step by reading this post.
Now take the next step and share it with your friends and colleagues.
Then check out the other posts and resources I’ve included, so that you can grow even more as an antiracist educator.
Way to go teacher friend…one step at a time!
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I am the only black teacher in a small charter school that I have been at for a couple of years. I have advocated for Black History Month celebrations even though there are only a few black students. For Christmas I have all the teachers black history tshirts. This year, my principal asked me to share some best practices for teaching black history. I’m so glad she did. Now we’re planning a black history parade for February. I hope we’ll do similar celebrations for other cultural heritage months.
It makes such a huge difference when you have a principal that is willing to support you in bringing more Black history celebrations to your school. Thank you so much for sharing this with all of us!
I love you.
Thank you for this post and all the links.
I am particularly moved about the cultural heritage month statement. At my former school, we had lesson plans each month for for each heritage, complete with cultural and country studies. When I moved to my current school 6 years ago, I added these lessons into my long range plans. The AP laughed and and told me we don’t teach that here- we were in a staff meeting and I was so embarrassed. I taught it quietly, but not with the vigor I had before. WELL GUESS WHAT? I’m working on my long range plans for this year and my heritage month plans are in all caps!