Conversations amongst adults about race can be difficult. Conversations with students, can even be, may I say, scary….kids really do say the darnest things after all. However, as you have these conversations in your classroom, I know that you want the best for your students. You want them to walk away with valuable lessons. Whether you are a kindergarten or a high school teacher, conversations about race will manifest and it is important for you to be able to engage in these conversations appropriately, courageously, and with honesty.
So what steps can you take as an educator to be able to build space for those defining and important conversations that can truly make a difference? Start with four simple words growth, courage, honesty, and discomfort.
Have the courage to begin. When I think about courage, I always pay attention to the moment that defines it. It’s the moment where you feel you must act. You need to do something and you are aware of the first step. Most of us fail to be courageous because of fear. The fear that something could go wrong, that we could do or say something embarrassing. Whatever might be the case, this moment paralyzes us. However, If we overthink we run the risk of not engaging in situations that can be defining moments. Having conversations about race in our classroom are extremely important and can lead you to create a classroom culture built on trust, where students feel they can indulge in meaningful conversations.
As an educator you are a lifelong learner, which means you are in a constant state of growing. As a teacher you are often indulged in learning about new classroom techniques, new technology, new tactics to get students to engage, and during this time as we are living through a pandemic all of the above. All of that is important, but our student’s well-being is more so. How can you learn more about the history of the students in your classroom? To be able to indulge in deep and meaningful conversations and speak your truth you must learn about others. How can you attain historical knowledge of the past to gain awareness of the present? You might not know everything and that is ok. Yes, you are a teacher, but you are not the gatekeeper of knowledge. Invest in learning more of what you don’t know about race in our country and continue to grow for your students.
Honesty has always been part of my classroom culture. However honesty indicates not only asking your students to be honest, it is also being honest yourself. Students see you as their guiding light, but you know that you don’t know everything. Being honest about what you do and don’t know also allows students in your classroom to tell their stories and their experience so others can learn from them. Everyone’s voice can be heard and it invites other students to have more meaningful conversations with each other.
Above all else be prepared and acknowledge that there will be discomfort. Conversations like these are not easy to have. Do not put extreme pressure on yourself to get everything correct. If you feel you are unsure of something, explore that with your students. If your truth is educating all your students for them to live a successful life where their dreams become reality, your heart is in the right place. Discomfort is temporary, but the culture you build in your classroom is forever. We all have that one teacher we remember who guided us through exploration and gave us hope for the future.
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