Stamp Out Racism in Classrooms

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Stamp Out Racism

I recently saw a video on Twitter of a woman screaming at the top of her lungs, “I will teach my grandchildren to hate all of you!” She was wrapped in a confederate flag and was yelling at a group of mostly Black and peaceful protesters holding Black Lives Matters signs. As a human being, I was disgusted at the woman’s words and hate. Then I thought the teachers of her grandchildren would have to undo the damage of the racism and hatred instilled into them at an early age. Imagine something so deep-seated coming into the sanctity of space for teaching and learning. Once it enters, how do you stamp out the racism in classrooms?

Hate and racism are equal opportunists, and both cross many lines between cultural and ethnic groups. People of all races have racist moments. To display hatred or racism is inherently wrong and demonstrates one of the worst human flaws. Racism is deeply entrenched in the United States and not easily fixed. It is a social ill of the worst kind. Somehow, teachers have become the de facto fixers of social ills. It is not what teachers train to do, but it often falls into our laps. While we cannot fix all of the world’s burdens, we can try to make things better. In this post, we will explore some things we can do to stamp out racism in classrooms.

Internal and Interpersonal

First, let’s talk about two types of racism you may see displayed in classrooms. You may witness internal racism. It is basically who you are and what you believe. Then there is interpersonal racism. It is how you interact or do not interact. More complex types of racism exist, but we will focus on internal and interpersonal in this post. Also, we will focus on how to teach our children not to harbor racism and hate.

While we look at ways to stamp out racism in classrooms, here are a few other ways it may appear in schools. Racism exists in textbooks, novels, curricular activities, behavior management, discipline, and school funding. These may not be at the forefront of your mind, but all have adverse effects on teaching and learning.

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In your classroom, most likely, racist behavior will be internal and interpersonal. Most importantly is when you witness racism, make it clear the behavior is unacceptable. Also, every teacher must model the conduct and habits that you expect. Furthermore, stop for a moment and reflect on your own beliefs and attitudes about race. Look at the students sitting in front of you. Here are some questions to ask yourself.


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Reflective Questions

How do you treat students of color in your classroom? Think about how you speak or respond to Black, Latino, or Asian children. Do you discipline them more harshly than White students? Are most of your behavior referrals for Black or Latino students?  What are your academic expectations for the non-White students? How do you communicate with parents of color? Write down the answers to these questions. Next, challenge yourself to make changes as needed.

Classroom Environment

Now let’s look at some tips to help stamp out racism in classrooms. You are starting with the classroom environment. Walk around and observe classroom posters, pictures, textbooks and classroom library books, music, and other materials. Do these items reflect the diverse races, ethnicities, gender, and age group of the students? If you do not have varied representations in the classroom, you need to make changes to the environment. Children need to see themselves represented in the resources and materials. Check with the principal to see if funds exist to purchase new materials.

Use Unbiased Language

Another tip is to make an effort to use unbiased language. Your words must be inclusive and not divisive. Sometimes the way we speak to our students is unintentional but pays close attention to what you say to students. Compliment students equally about appearance and achievement. Find a way to encourage all students.

Answer Students’ Questions

If students have questions about discrimination, prejudices, and racism, answer their questions. Do not sidestep or change the topic. Children are curious, perceptive, and intelligent. Use it as a teachable moment and make time for student-to-student discussions. When questions arise, it is a perfect time to facilitate and discuss racial and cultural differences. It is also an excellent time to review how harmful racism is to people and the country. It is not time to pretend not to see differences in race or culture. Acknowledge the students’ observation and explain not to put negative judgments on the differences.

Stamp out racism
Anti-racism must become a cause we work towards each day.
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Communicate With Parents

Inform parents of the discussions and any possible projects. You may have some parents who do not want their children to discuss racism. Be very specific to describe what types of questions students asked. Also, explain the answers you gave or will give based on the students’ questions. Ask parents if they have any objections because you do not want children to have mixed messages. Perhaps, parents will reinforce the discussion at home with their children. 

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Learned Behavior

At some point, you will have to deal with racist behavior. Do not ignore it! Avoiding racism will not make it disappear. Silence is not golden when you observe a racist act. Your silence can be interpreted as approval; therefore, send a clear message that racism is not tolerated. Explain why the action is not appropriate. 

Remember, the racist act by a student is learned behavior. This type of action does not disappear immediately. It must be unlearned over time. You have to try to undo what the child learns at home or in the community. It is not easy to repair the damage. Also, do not disgrace or embarrass the student who commits the racist act. Talk to the student to identify where the problem exists and how to refrain from having future or similar episodes. 

Teaching Empathy

Throughout the school year, teach lessons of empathy. Students can be taught empathy through activities involving role-playing, town-hall meetings, peace circles, and collaborative projects. Do not forget to reflect on your level of empathy. You may need some lessons, too. Remember, everyone is a work in progress, but teachers are role models. Teachers must demonstrate the acceptable behavior and expectations of their students. 

Anti-Racism is a Cause

To stamp out racism in classrooms is not an easy task or burden. Yes, your job is very stressful. Nevertheless, teachers, we are on the frontline of the battle. It is not a chore that we desire; however, we must be a catalyst for change. Anti-racism must become a cause we work towards each day. If it becomes a cause, we can guarantee all of our students an equal opportunity to live and work in a better world.

Additional Resources

Is My School Racist?

Teaching Tolerance

How Racism Affects Public School Minorities

TTT4U is listed in the Top 100 Education Blogs in 2020. Check out the list.

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