The application window for the biannual 2014 Teaching Tolerance Award for Excellence in Teaching opens today. As a reader and friend of Teaching Tolerance, your work reflects our mission—and we want to hear about it!
The award honors five successful anti-bias educators whose practice exemplifies these commitments:
Anti-bias educators who actively reduce prejudice create classroom communities that value students’ many experiences, familial connections and community influences. They use instructional practices and strategies that help students explore intersecting identities, question prejudices and change biased behaviors. Students learn to respect and appreciate diverse experiences, equipping them to reduce prejudice themselves.
Improving Intergroup Relations
Practitioners who demonstrate excellence in improving intergroup relations create opportunities for interaction within and across various identities. They help students learn to value the contributions of individuals from diverse backgrounds and to develop the skills necessary to build relationships across identity group lines. They also equip students with strategies to recognize and interrupt prejudice, stereotypes and bias (their own and others’).
Creating Equitable School Environments
Creating an equitable school environment ensures all students receive equal and relevant learning opportunities that allow them to succeed. Exemplary practitioners employ instructional strategies and practices that meet students at their individual levels and encourage their intellectual, social and academic growth. Teachers who incorporate a variety of instructional practices, classroom resources and differentiated supports make sure all students meet high academic expectations. These educators assist students’ academic growth and encourage respect among classmates.
Teaching Tolerance will collaborate with winners to produce exemplar videos showcasing their award-worthy classroom management and culturally responsive teaching.
"This award does more than honor skillful practitioners," Teaching Tolerance director Maureen Costello said. "It promotes the value of anti-bias education and provides models so more teachers can bring research-based, inclusive practices to their classrooms."
The application deadline is Jan. 12, 2014. Five awardees will receive a $2,500 cash award and travel to Montgomery, Ala., for an intensive collaborative workshop and award celebration during summer 2014.
Click here to view the application and award details.
We hope you will consider applying and sharing the application with other K-12 anti-bias educators in your network!
Within the past year, I attended our district’s screening of the Teaching Tolerance movie Bullied. About a hundred people were there, including high-ranking district administrators, teachers, concerned parents and students. After the screening, we broke into small groups to discuss the movie and its impact. The facilitator of my group suggested that those of us who are gay talk about our experiences in the district.
The facilitator, who knows me, looked toward me to start the sharing. However, because I didn’t know several people in the group and because there were no norms established or even a suggestion of confidentiality, I went silent. Several other people, mostly straight allies, spoke of their perceptions of what it was like, yet I remained mum.
It was a painful silence. On the drive home, I reflected on the reasons why I chose not to speak up: fear of many things, including rejection; the possible impact on the successful career I’ve spent years creating; and even an undercurrent of internalized homophobia that I still haven’t properly addressed.
I began to wonder what I would have shared at the meeting, and I began to find the words describing what it means for me to be a gay elementary school teacher.
It means I have learned how to live in and navigate two different worlds. It takes much mental energy to try to hide one world from another and to carefully keep them apart.
It means I navigate the “dance of the pronouns” when speaking, consciously watching my language all the time. It can be exhausting. Once, when talking with a parent about the house I share with my partner, I slipped and used the term we. She picked up on it immediately, causing a moment’s panic.
It means my co-workers think I am the most boring person in the world. I rarely talk about what I did over the weekend, or in the evening, or even over the summer, preferring to leave out large pieces of my life in fear that some detail would reveal my true nature. I have a mental list of safe subjects to discuss.
It means when I am celebrating a new relationship or mourning the end of one, I cannot show any feelings. I may be torn up inside, but I always have to be even-keeled, ignorantly happy, unconnected.
It means that in the staff room and at staff meetings, I listen to my co-workers share stories about their spouses, often to much laughter, but that privilege does not extend to me.
It means I listen to homophobic talk from staff members and internally grimace at the pain it causes.
It means I have to excel at the craft of teaching because I live in fear that I will be fired if my principal finds out about me. Although not currently, I have taught in states where teachers can be fired just for being gay. Some of the staff members who have said homophobic things in my presence were my administrators.
It means I must navigate uncomfortable conversations when a well-intentioned teacher tries to set me up with her single daughter or, even more uncomfortably, when a female teacher asks me out herself.
It means I feel a sting every time our staff celebrates a wedding or baby shower because I know that, should I get married or have a child, the staff would not celebrate these events.
It means I show up to staff social functions alone, if I attend at all. I’ve learned that people disclose much about their personal lives at these types of functions, so it’s best to skip them entirely to avoid any probing questions.
I do not ever fool myself in thinking that I am totally successful with this hiding. I know some of my colleagues have started to connect the dots. I have to decide if or when I will tell a colleague. If I feel comfortable enough to invite a co-worker into my house, then he or she needs to know, because I refuse to live a closeted life at home.
I know that my decision means that I am not setting an example for my students, particularly students who are gay (and may not know it yet). Were I to come out now, maybe when it’s time for them to recognize themselves, they will feel empowered because one adult who cared about them for a year in elementary school had the nerve to show them how.
On the drive home from the screening, that painful silence enveloped me, and it echoes within me today. Maybe someday I’ll have the nerve to speak up. Until then, these words, written anonymously, must suffice. And perhaps the truth of my words will echo within the thousands of teachers across this country who can relate to them.
The Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education Network (GLSEN) will sponsor its 10th annual No Name-Calling Week, January 20-24, 2014. This event presents a chance for everyone to help stop bullying and fight bias. Although this time of year is extremely busy with the holidays and finals upon us, we should start preparing now for January activities to address name-calling, bullying and bias in our schools.
This year’s theme is Celebrating Kindness. According to anti-bullying experts, promoting kindness as a value is a best practice for creating school climates in which the students themselves become intolerant of bullying. This theme opens the door to numerous meaningful and exciting ideas.
Try the following suggestions for your own No Name-Calling Week or share other ideas in the comments section of this blog:
- Challenge students to only call each other by their given names. Emphasize avoiding not only derogatory remarks but any non-given names—from calling someone “sweetie” to referring to them by last name only. Ask students to explore the difference it makes to the individual and to the school climate in general. Encourage the class to write about this experience.
- Make nametags together that focus on what students want to be called. This may be the very thing fifteen-year-old David needs to avoid being called the nickname “Moose” that he has detested since hitting his growth spurt.
- Evaluate how much name-calling is heard in a week. Ask students to keep journals that describe the name-calling they witness or experience in their homes, neighborhoods and the media. Help older students analyze political television shows, cartoons and commentaries to see how even adults disrespect each another with name-calling. Create a chart reflecting the number of occurrences observed by the class and discuss how each instance made them feel.
- Host a random acts of kindness “marathon.” Give each student a token to “spend” on an act of kindness for someone else, or challenge every student in your class to do an act of kindness for each of their classmates. Create a kindness tree to hang leaves, snowflakes or other shapes that depict the acts of kindness they performed.
- For younger children, read books about kindness, such as Kindness is Cooler, Mrs. Ruler. Also provide them with simple ideas for kind activities, such as sharing toys or allowing a friend to go first in line for a drink. Ask the kids to brainstorm together, and create a kindness poster that displays their ideas.
- As GLSEN recommends, conduct a survey on how students feel about name-calling. Go a step further and create a media project for parents and the community, featuring charts, documentary footage and vlogs.
- Host “What’s in a Name?” essay and poster contests for students. Suggest such topics as feelings about name-calling, what to do when you are called a name, teaching people how you want to be treated and what your name means to you.
For more background information on No Name-Calling Week and additional ideas, including lesson plans and general planning guides, visit GLSEN: The Gay, Lesbian, and Straight Education Network.
Schmidt is a writer and editor based in Missouri.
My elementary school mainstreamed children living with disabilities, and I remember interacting with these children each year of my elementary school life. In my fifth-grade class, we had a girl with Down syndrome (we’ll call her Abbey) who was picked on a lot. I don’t remember the things we said or did to her, but we taunted her because she loved everyone, and we couldn’t believe how she could so easily like the kids who were mean to her and be glad to see us the next day. I often felt thankful it was her, not me, who was being picked on (I was also bullied at school frequently), and I wasn’t confident enough to speak up on her behalf.
One day, after a week in which we’d been particularly mean to this girl, her older brother—a middle schooler at the time—came in and spoke to us. He talked about his own struggles growing up with a sibling whom the world saw as “special,” and also the joys that came with it. He talked about ways he’d learned to interact with her, and how it made him feel to see her come home from school sad so many days. I don’t know why he, rather than a parent or school psychologist, had been selected to talk to us about his sister. Maybe the adults thought we’d relate to him better than to yet another adult telling us how to behave. Maybe he volunteered himself.
I do know that, after this talk, we were nicer to Abbey. We’d been given tools to understand how to help her, how to be kinder to her, how to understand the way she functioned in the world. We’d been sat down as a community and asked to support her—in other words, given the opportunity to make our own decisions about how to conduct ourselves after being advised on what tools worked best.
I think about Abbey from time to time, and the service her family provided—to her and to us—by sending her brother in to speak to us. His presentation was a form of disclosure meeting, a communication designed to nurture our compassion by informing us and helping us connect with the emotional pain Abbey felt when we bullied her. It was appropriate for our developmental space.
As an educator in nontraditional environments, I work with students of varying abilities. Sometimes families disclose to me their children’s needs and abilities, but I also see parents, guardians and siblings who are in denial that their children are different or who want their children to be treated like everyone else (for better or worse) so that they aren’t called out for being “different.”
I do what I can to build relationships with all families because, as with Abbey, the more I know about how my students’ differing abilities affect them and what circumstances trigger strong emotions, the more compassionate and effective I can be as their teacher. Often it’s a matter of observing and asking questions again and again. “I’ve noticed your child works well with one-on-one attention.” “How do you de-escalate your child when he’s beginning to threaten other youth?” “Your child seems to like to move around a lot while learning. Are there particular physical activities that help her refocus when she get upset?”
These questions, so far, have shown families that I want to see their children succeed. I’m fortunate to work in an environment where my co-workers and I can disclose information to one another about the youth we work with, where we can come together to provide the resources and skills we each have to help our students, and one another, succeed.
Clift works in an after-school program for youth and is the communications intern for the Colorado Coalition Against Sexual Assault.
The nefarious practice of blackface reared its ugly head again this past Halloween in startlingly high-profile incidents. Dancing with the Stars alumna Julianne Hough created an ill-advised costume tribute to a character on Netflix's Orange Is the New Black, complete with blackface. Two coaches at a California high school attended an event dressed as the Jamaican bobsled team. And from across the country, photos of students showing up to parties in blackface popped up all over blogs and other social media outlets.
Clearly, we’re not doing such a great job educating today’s students, or society in general, about the problems inherent in this practice; we’ve got egg on our collective blackface.
My own experience with blackface goes back to 1985, at my all-white high school. My freshman year, a group of seniors dressed as Rick James and his band, singing “Super Freak” down the hallways, and a group of students dressed as the Fat Albert Gang my senior year. Both groups had smeared dark makeup all over themselves; some wore Afro or dreadlock wigs.
I distinctly remember feeling uncomfortable with these incidents and wondering whether they were appropriate. Today, when I discuss these and other examples with my students, I often hear both white and black students argue that it’s all in good fun, that those who wear blackface are just playing “characters” or paying tribute to performers they respect.
But the simple fact is that blackface cannot be a tribute because it is a caricature, a demeaning representation of one racial identity, and by definition a reduction of a whole people’s identity down only to their skin color. The ramifications of this for social equality in the United States can be very damaging. As Manthia Diawara, chair of the Africana Studies Department at New York University, writes:
“In the blackface myth, there is a white fantasy which posits whiteness as the norm. What is absent in the blackface stereotype is as important as what is present: every black face is a statement of social imperfection, inferiority, and mimicry that is placed in isolation with an absent whiteness as its ideal opposite.”
The best way we can get students to understand this issue is to explain the historical context in which blackface emerged. Students need to know the history of minstrelsy, a performance practice used to demean African Americans, promote a concept of whiteness that reassured immigrants and others at the bottom of the economic ladder that their status was at least higher than blacks and exploit black culture for white profit. Without understanding this history, it is impossible for young people to see contemporary incidents as part of a longer continuum of degradation and racist constructions.
I’ve taught about the history of blackface and minstrelsy many times; in the beginning, I felt uncomfortable showing such horridly racist imagery to my students, worried that they might either be offended by the image or actually enjoy clips of The Amos ‘n Andy Show or Al Jolson. But I quickly realized that students approach the subject with the appropriate seriousness and often make connections between minstrelsy and contemporary pop culture that expand my own knowledge as well.
Many resources are available to help educators build lesson plans about the problem of blackface, including some excellent histories of minstrelsy, blackface and other racial/ethnic stereotypes. It’s time we confronted this issue more directly. In that way, perhaps we can help prevent further careless and insensitive incidents of blackface in our society.
Alvarez, Natalie and Stephen Johnson. “Minstrels in the Classroom: Teaching, Race, and Blackface.” Canadian Theatre Review, 147 (Summer 2011): 31-37. doi: 10.3138/ctr.147.31.
Bogle, Donald. Toms, Coons, Mulattoes, Mammies, and Bucks: An Interpretive History of Blacks in American Films, Fourth Edition. New York: Bloomsbury Academic, 2001.
Lhamon, Jr., W.T. Raising Cain: Blackface Performance from Jim Crow to Hip Hop. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2000.
Lott, Eric. Love and Theft: Blackface Minstrelsy and the American Working Class. New York: Oxford University Press, 1995.
Mahar, William. J. Behind the Burnt Cork Mask: Early Blackface Minstrelsy and Antebellum American Popular Culture. Urbana and Chicago, Il: University of Illinois Press, 1999.
Silos-Rooney is an assistant professor of history at MassBay Community College.