By Alissa Case and Asma Haidara, December guest bloggers
On Nov. 13, approximately 300 educators and youth came together to discuss issues of equity in education at an event called “Missing Voices,” held at Saint Mary’s University. One of the predominant themes of the day was how important the voices of students are to creating more equitable environments in our schools, though they are often absent from the conversation. In the spirit of collaboration and seeking multiple perspectives, we have decided to co-write this month — as a Saint Mary’s University staff member and Blake School student — on a few of our deeply held beliefs pertaining to our passion for the success of all students.
On a daily basis, students attend school gearing up to deal with a variety of scenarios and to make countless decisions. Whether it’s “will my clothes look good” or “will I fail my test” or simply “will I get a ride to the game,” there are a litany of questions filing through a student’s head at any given moment. Teachers hope that each of their students comes to school prepared to learn and participate. However, they rarely have the time to give attention to the many stresses that students carry with them. For some students, these stresses are compounded by the numerous interactions throughout the day that undermine and attack their very identity. These interactions are called microaggressions.
Simply stated, a microaggression is any instance where one person’s identity is demeaned whether intentionally or unintentionally. Those who experience these constant social cuts most often come from marginalized groups. It can look like this:
- “Am I in the right class?” (a student to a teacher upon entering an honors class and noticing the only students present so far are students of color).
- “Why do you act so white?” (white student to black student).
- “I didn’t know people like you were into sports” (straight student to gay student).
- “Where did you learn English? You speak it so well!” (teacher to student).
Why should educators be highly tuned in to these types of remarks? Because our students’ success absolutely depends on it. Every seemingly small comment that is made continues to tear down a student’s self-image and makes them question their abilities in class. How can students ever reach their full potential if their psyche and esteem are being destroyed throughout their educational experiences?
One of the major tenets of culturally responsive teaching is the idea that in order to succeed, a student must be validated and affirmed. This is not just a soft, feeling-oriented concept, but a skill that requires constant self-reflection and practice. In order to effectively advocate for our students and interject in scenarios like those mentioned above, educators need to be aware of their personal bias, what kind of environment they are creating in their classrooms/schools, and how their students are present in both explicit and implicit curriculum (i.e. where and how does each student see a mirror of her/himself in what you are doing?).
In order to build this skill we suggest that educators reflect on the following questions:
- What are my expectations and assumptions of individual students when I first meet them?
- Where are my expectations and assumptions rooted?
- How do I check my own assumptions that may hurt my students’ opportunity to learn?
- How open am I to engaging in conversations with students on topics that make me feel uncomfortable?
- How do I intentionally engage/include each of my students in my daily objectives?
- How does each of my students know they are valued?
- How do I facilitate an environment of trust and safety?
We are curious to hear your input. We invite you to share your stories, either as an educator or a student, of how your personal identity was honored or dishonored in a given space. How was the situation handled? What was the impact of how it was handled? How could reflecting on the above questions provide you with a different strategy in future scenarios?