I am not sure how I became a White teacher of all kids of color. Honestly. It was never my objective as an educator to teach classrooms filled with all minority students (can we really even use that term “minority” anymore since children of color now represent more than half of America’s population under the age of 1?), but somehow that is where I landed through the experiences afforded to me as an Americorps volunteer with Literacy Through Photography in the public schools of Durham, North Carolina and then as a New York City Teaching Fellow with an 11 year career in the classroom here in Brooklyn.
Being the only White person in the room for that many years for 40+ hours a week taught me a lot about what it meant to me to be White, what it meant for the students that I was White, what it meant to be White in America, and how my White privilege was very real and very intense when held up in comparison to the lives of my students. Race is a large issue in the classroom when you’re a White teacher of a classroom of all non-White kids, and god knows there are many stereotypes and myths out there about White teachers in urban areas. It’s a complicated situation, plain and simple.
When a situation is that complicated, it pays to investigate it a bit. My investigations always take the form of reading and writing and ethnographic research. Others’ might manifest in art, photography, oral histories, poetry, music, book clubs, discussion groups. . .There are endless options. But it is valuable to set aside the time to think about the issues that arise when you are different from your students and how to deal with these issues.
This spring I got to meet Julie Landsman, who has written a prolific body of work on this subject. My favorite is White Teachers, Diverse Classrooms. It’s a collection of works by educators and researchers on the topic of being a White teacher amid all students of color. Another canonical book on this topic is Other People’s Children by Lisa Delpit. I am pretty sure it’s mandatory reading in every teacher prep program in the country at this point, and it should be. Both are solid reads for those of us who are White teachers in diverse classrooms, but they are good reads as well for teachers of color, too, who also often experience cultural differences with their students.
But amid the investigation, sometimes I just had to laugh at the myth of the nice white lady teacher, too. I mean, seriously–it is funny. When there were moments in my doctoral program when a young, Black woman would proclaim in the class that White people shouldn’t teach Black kids, my entire body would catch on fire internally and I would almost spontaneously combust from frustration, but then I let myself simmer down, reflect a bit on the ridiculous history of the White savior and how, yes, I was a part of that history, and I’d think of the following video and giggle to myself to keep from deflating from exasperation.
Hope you can do the same when needed.
Watch here. You won’t be sorry. (And apologies for the lame link, the embedding is disabled by request on YouTube. Argh! Technology!)
And, for the record, I do have a nice collection of adorable patterned blouses, but I don’t dance like that!