How to talk to students about racism?


The first tip for teachers is to understand the parent perspective. Whether the parent is from an affluent or impoverished background both parents are going to want a teacher that provides the best education possible. Black parents know that attaining a higher quality of life can be rewarding and a struggle at times. Most parents want their children to be treated equally. You will find that parents who complain about school or classroom discipline do not complain about the consequence itself but whether the teacher delves out consequences that are fair and consistent. Parents want their children to have a fair shake at attaining higher quality of life.

The second tip for teachers is to understand the student perspective. Some Black student believe that rules in the schools strip of their identity as a Black person. They believe this because many of the behaviors that are acceptable at home are not acceptable in school. For example, in many Black families, the adult and children share the same level of sharing knowledge. However, in the classroom the teacher is the knowledge broker. Some children look at society and determine that the likelihood of them having success is very small because of racism. Many of them believe that teachers are the cause of the racism due to the unequal delving of disciplinary consequences in the school to name a few.

Teachers need to consider two main factors that influence the world of our children. The first factor is what they see on TV. The second factor is the influence of some video games. The images on TV paint a picture that is detrimental to the psyche of Black children. These images teach Black children that their eventual end is death by a gun from either another Black child or police officer. So the Black children develop defensive mechanisms. They play those defensive mechanisms out via video games which normally results in either in killing or destruction of property.

The third tip for teachers is to understand the school perspective. The perspective of the school is that we are commissioned to educate children both socially and academically. The academic commission includes a set of academic requirements that children must meet in order to successfully complete to transition to higher grade levels. The social commission requires that school officials establish a set of rules for managing a culture where education can take place. Because of those rules, teachers are required to establish rules that effectively enable them to manage their classroom.

The fourth tip for teachers is to understand their individual perspective. Managing your classroom will require that you understand your perspective when it comes to racism. You can accomplish this by evaluating your verbal and nonverbal behaviors. Do you expect for children to look you in your eye when you are talking to them? Do you expect for children to be completely still and quiet while you are teaching. Is it ok for a child to begin to speak when they think that before you have finished talking? To compete a full evaluation, you will need to determine your verbal and nonverbal expectations. Now you are ready to have that discussion about race with your students.

The fifth tip for teachers is to use the opportunity to talk to Black children about race as a teaching moment. Let’s take the recent event in like the Michael Brown shooting Ferguson Missouri. As those children return to class they are going to have questions about race. Some parents maybe so frustrated with the shooting that they may tell their children that all White people are racist. So the child comes to class and ask makes the following statement: My dad and mom said that White teachers hate Black kids. Everyone in classroom heard the statement and is waiting for your response. Some teachers are going to elect to ignore the statement. Some teachers are going to respond aggressively and refer the child for discipline. This is an opportunity to establish higher quality relationships with your children and turn it into a teaching moment. I would ask probing questions such as what makes your feel that way or how did you come up with that conclusion. In your probing questions do not interject your opinion or become angry with students who jump in and respond. The students are watching and evaluating your nonverbal behavior and if they see you turning red they will believe that they made you angry.

Lead the discussion to the importance of following the classroom rules and that you are there to make sure that they are implemented them fairly. Make sure that students understand that your first warning is the “The Look”. Many Black parents use “The Look” as a way warning their children before elevating to the next step. They next step is to let the students know what you verbal cue is. For example, if children are consistently talking during the lesson, ask them do they have something to share with the class. This becomes their second warning and let hem know that it is a warning. When you have a disciplinary process in place that is fair and consistent children will not equate you with an authority figure as some police officers who have shot a child and then became the subject alleged racism.


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Dr. Derrick L. Campbell, Ed.D.