Academic journal article Teacher Education Quarterly

Breaking the Cycle of Racism in the Classroom: Critical Race Reflections from Future Teachers of Color

Academic journal article Teacher Education Quarterly

Breaking the Cycle of Racism in the Classroom: Critical Race Reflections from Future Teachers of Color

Article excerpt

As a resource specialist in a middle school in Oakland, California, I worked with many students who were labeled "learning disabled." Contrary to the label, these students were critical of the world and challenged it in brilliant ways that have forever changed my life perspective. My first year teaching I had an African American student named Eddie (1); he was a talkative and confident sixth grader who struggled in math. Learning how this young man saw the world pushed me, more than anyone had to that point, to reflect on cultural biases within education. Since then, I have learned a lot about this subject, but I also realize how invisibly the dominant culture can penetrate the way we see ourselves and the world around us.

To highlight the impact that cultural bias in schools can have on Students of Color, this article articulates themes that emerge from the personal narratives of nine Women of Color (2) enrolled in an undergraduate education program in Southern California. Through qualitative interviews, these future Teachers of Color reveal discriminatory experiences in their own education; as well as convey advice on how to prevent and break cycles of racism in classrooms of today's youth. The voices of Teachers of Color are often invisible from education discourse; however, this study adds a much needed perspective to teacher education, and can provide a model of pedagogical reflection that, I believe, should be replicated in programs serving prospective Teachers of Color.

Whose Standards Are the Standards?

One day, a few months into my first school year as a teacher, I was in the hallway during lunch talking with the English teacher, Ms. Wright. Eddie came up to us and asked, "Ms. Wright, I don't got no lunch money, can I sit in your room and use the computer?" Ms. Wright was a seventh year White teacher who received a lot of respect for the high academic standards that she held students to at this under-performing school. Ms. Wright immediately responded, "I am not going to answer that question until you speak correctly. How can we say that in proper English?" We both looked at Eddie, waiting for him to rephrase his words, but instead he calmly replied, "Maybe not in your house, but in my house that is how we speak correctly." Ms. Wright and I were both caught off guard and a little speechless, and Eddie just stood there un-phased, waiting for us to let him use the computer.

That incident stuck in my head for the next few days. Eddie, with his direct comment, had pointed out something that I had been taking for granted as a teacher. I knew that Oakland was the center of the 'Ebonics' debate. I was also aware that there is controversy over how to address differences that exist between the language that students come to school with and what they need to know for most U.S. colleges and professional jobs. But what I was not conscious of, until Eddie so confidently pointed it out, was that although differences exist in the structure of African American Language (AAL) and Standard American English (SAE), at this school, we were actually teaching a hierarchy of those differences (Faires Conklin & Lourie, 1983).3 I began to reflect on how many classrooms I had walked into where daily oral language, an exercise for students to work on SAE grammar, involved a teacher asking a class of predominantly Black students to "correct" a sentence that was written in AAL. I began to think of all the times in which I had "corrected" students' speech and writing from AAL to SAE without thinking twice. Rather than teaching youth that languages and dialects have differences, and that SAE is something that we often have to know in order to access academic and economic mobility, I was teaching children that SAE was correct and AAL was incorrect.

Soon after Eddie's comment in the hallway I began to read about teaching cultural differences, and my pedagogy began to reflect my newfound awareness (Perry & Delpit, 1998; Yosso, 2005). …

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