As a Black teacher (and former Black student), I know the importance of affirming Black lives, and the impact when a teacher fails to do so. While the current movement in education may want to intimately know youth culture, through dancing in the hallways and mimicking language patterns, this is a futile attempt at a culturally relevant education.
Speaking from experience, here are some things you can start (or stop) doing tomorrow to really honor and affirm black lives this month and every month of the year.
Stop the Gimmicks
We’ve all seen the videos of the teacher learning the hip new dances, or creating a handshake with every child in what they truly believe to be authenticity. Stop. If it’s not something that you naturally would do, it’s performative at best and appropriative at worst. If you want to have lasting impact, you have to recognize your students’ culture as deeper than dances and cool new words.
Affirm the Diversity of Language
Eighty percent of teachers are white women. Many of these teachers come from middle-class backgrounds and are teaching an increasingly diverse population. These teachers are in front of students with varying religions, cultures and linguistics. This to say, the likelihood that your students will speak in a different dialect or language than you is high.
This difference in dialect does not diminish our intelligence and is not something at which to be “annoyed,” as was demonstrated in a recently deleted twitter thread where several teachers tweeted racist epithets about students speaking African-American vernacular English. It’s also not something to attempt to copy. You must realize that dialects have linguistic rules, and allow students to be who they need to be in the classroom. As someone who codes switches in and out of the classroom, I can attest to the fact that students can write in a verbose and academic manner in writing and in colloquialisms with friends so long as we teach them how to.
Don’t Use a Child’s Life Circumstances as an Excuse
Too often, situational poverty is used as an excuse for lowering standards. Whether it’s behavioral or academic, poverty is used as a cop-out. We can acknowledge the significant effects of poverty without abdicating our responsibility as educators. We decide for students what is important, and professionally this is understandable. However, the issue is that many of us often insert ourselves into a position in which we do not belong. Our job is to teach, not attempt to recreate what we think a home should be.
As teachers, we have explicit control over what happens in our classroom. We must continue to focus on teaching students to read, write, and do math better. Let the classroom be a place for Black kids to dream. To affirm black lives, teach them and give them the skills to realize those dreams.