Here are three takeaways from a recent workshop for about 40 New York City teachers representing a range public, charter and private schools.
1) Know your history. Racism dates back many centuries, to when European writers and explorers first classified people by physical characteristics. It’s affected our social and political institutions, from slavery to segregation. Vasquez advised teachers to use this history and to add materials when necessary, “to have students see themselves in the curriculum and also see other folks in the curriculum as well.” He calls this a “racial equity lens.”
2) Know yourself. About 85 percent of New York City public school students are children of color; 60 percent of their teachers are white. One white teacher at the workshop, who didn’t want to be identified, said he tries to play to his strengths. “I think that white children should see me as a model as how to listen to other people, and how to acknowledge when I make mistakes,” he explained. With his students of color, he added, “I want to prove myself worthy of their trust.”
3) Know your students. Create classrooms where all kids feel safe. Children pick up clues from the world around them, and have their own biases. Vasquez said teachers – and kids – may feel uncomfortable talking about race but that’s part of the work. They must keep talking.
While some might not consider this essential work for teachers, Vasquez likened it to a core subject.
–Beth Fertig, “Teachers Get Schooled On Talking Race” on WNYC