Three ways to have a conversation about race in the classroom

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Situations were so much easier to control when I was a teacher. Since becoming an administrator, I feel like I have lost my voice when it comes to talking about race in the classroom. When I taught, we had conversations about race all the time. I felt it was important for my students to be conscious and have a better understanding of the race relations that are plaguing our country. I would often get on my soap box when it came to the conversation about race. Now, as administrator, it is harder to push those conversations because I am not the one that is leading the conversation. My best option is inspire my teachers to have these race conversations in the classroom. Back in 2016, I wrote for Chalkbeat Indiana my thoughts on the importance of having conversations about race in the classroom. Here is what I said:

When talking about race in the classroom, you must first understand your audience and your students. Certain conversations about race should happen at the age level of the students. The conversations about race in elementary classrooms are going to be different than they would look in the middle school. Middle school conversations will look different than they do in a high school classroom.

As a teacher you must have this unapologetic transparency with your students about your feelings about race. These crucial conversations that must happen in the classrooms and schools must be authentic and honest. As a black male teacher, I cannot apologize for my beliefs, and I have an obligation to teach my students from my perspective and let them know that it is ok to understand or disagree, but is not ok to judge and develop hatred for someone because you do not agree with them. Students not only get lessons like that when they are made uncomfortable and they are forced to step outside of their comfort zone.

It is important to have conversations because they are studies that show people who feel good about their race do better academically. As a teacher thinking about having a race conversation in your classroom, you have to understand that this conversation is important for the development of your students. These are conversations that must be had whether you are uncomfortable or you disagree they are important.

Those words were said about couple years old. I still feel the same way, but now my task is encouraging teachers to have those conversations that I had in my classroom. These conversations are especially important for teachers who teach in urban schools. The majority of urban of the schools house students of color. A lot of the attack in society regarding race is against people of color. These attacks can cause students to doubt who they are and their worth in this society. Here are three ways to spark race conversations in the classroom:

  1. Create a racially inclusive classroom: As a teacher, the best way to create this is by the text you choose in the classroom. Select text that represents people of diverse backgrounds for your students to read and study. Also, have an open dialogue. Open dialogue allows for students to feel free to discuss their personal experiences or even experiences they have heard. As a teacher, your job is to listen and just facilitate. Push the conversation deeper by asking questions and inquiring from your students.

  2. Use multimedia: You can begin conversations about race by showing students video clips. One of the best examples (and it is fairly recent) is the rioting that happened in Ferguson and Baltimore. I remember being a teacher during those times and showing my students those clips and then having a conversation around it. I had middle school students at the time in grades 7 and 8 and we had a deep and rich conversation regarding what was happening. Ted Talks are another great example. Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s talk, “The Danger of a Single Story”  is also a really good one to show.
  3. Experts: Many teachers do not feel comfortable having the race conversation in the classroom. Despite your comfort level, it is important these conversations takes place. As a teacher, you need to rely on people who understand how to have these conversations. This can be colleague or other teachers in the building, or you may have to go out and find people in the community. Try reaching out to your local NAACP or Urban League for individuals who can come into the classroom to help facilitate a conversation about race is important.

I am no longer in the classroom; however, I can still help lead the conversation about race in the classroom. It is important to have this conversation with our students because it is often the individuals who do not recognize the racism within themselves that can be the most damaging because they do not see it.

 

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David McGuire

Mr. McGuire is a middle school teacher in Indianapolis, Teach Plus Policy Fellow, and currently enrolled in a doctoral program at Indiana State University for Educational Leadership. Driven by the lack of having an African American male teacher in his classrooms growing up, David helped launched the Educate ME Foundation, which is geared towards increasing the number of African American male teachers in the classroom. A born and raised Hoosier, he is dedicated to improving educational outcomes for all students in Indianapolis. He describes his educational beliefs as a reformer grounded in the best practices of traditional public schools, where he was mentored by strong leaders. David graduated from Central State University with a degree in English and also holds an MBA from Indiana Wesleyan University.