If you are White, and you are going to be a teacher, then you will, someday, be a White teacher. You will also be an English teacher, or kindergarten or band or science teacher, and you will also be a fun or serious teacher, but you will always, always be a White teacher as well. So, you should understand what that means for you, your colleagues, your students and their families.
And let me say this thing: It really sucked to have a bunch of people I respect, whose approval means so much to me, be disappointed and hurt by my work. I’m someone who often likes to make fun of White Fragility, who tells people they need to get over their White people feelings when there is work that needs doing, to focus on impact and not intention. But I’ll be damned if the little pouting White boy inside me wasn’t clawing his way out during this exchange online. I wanted to defend myself, defend a piece I thought was well-written and somewhat powerful and, you guessed it, well-intentioned.
It’s happened to me a bunch of times. I talk about race a lot in my classroom, and it’s hard to talk about race, especially as a White guy, and not mess up. It’s been the things I’ve said or not said, it’s been who I called on or didn’t. Sometimes, just being a White teacher is enough. Just existing in a place so rooted in Whiteness and so under-serving of community of color means that a student will call you a racist for standing there doing nothing. Then again, we probably should be called racist if we’re just standing there doing nothing.
If it doesn’t make sense… think of it this way: As teachers, we are surrounded all day by students. That’s ok, it’s not like we hate students, but it can be a bit exhausting to be around them all day, to change the way we speak and our mannerisms to be able to communicate more effectively with them. So, when it is time for supervision at the end of the day, and there are tons of kids running around, teachers will often congregate together. They create teacher space, where they can talk about being a teacher and can speak and act freely.
The day after it was announced that Darren Wilson would not be indicted for the killing of Mike Brown was the day before my school’s Thanksgiving break. My plan that day had been to continue listening to the then-super-popular podcast ‘Serial’ with my class. We were investigating, in a way, just how little we could get away with doing during a two day week. My plans, rather scant though they were, were quickly re-written for me by students who demanded more.