ASK TEACHING TOLERANCE

Advice From the Experts

TT answers your tough questions.

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Illustration by Mitch Blunt

Q: As a white male teacher, how do I have any credibility at all talking about race to my students who, because of their race and gender, grow up with an American experience very different from mine?

The first step is acknowledging your own position and privileges when addressing and discussing race. By letting your students know that you are cognizant of your identity, you also give them permission to embrace their own. Start conversations with “As a white male who benefits from...” or something similar. Show that you honor their lives and experiences through your choices in classroom decor, texts and family/community inclusion. Allow time to listen to them, and be open about your learning journey regarding their culture, race and gender.

 

Q: How do you teach students to engage with people who shroud hateful opinions behind “We have to respect each other’s ideas, so you have to respect mine”?

Creating a strong classroom culture is essential. When solid community norms are in place, comments that violate a common value, such as “No hate speech,” can be addressed by the class as a whole. Further, approach the idea of respect itself by having students analyze questions like these: What do we mean by respect? Are there any situations when it’s not a good idea to respect someone’s ideas? Look to resources like Speak Up 
at School
 and Let’s Talk! Discussing Race, Racism and Other Difficult Topics With Students for more ideas on how to structure difficult conversations and handle differing opinions.

 

Q: I’m a math teacher. In the past, I’ve done a project in which students learn about their culture of origin from a mathematical perspective. How can I modify this project to be more sensitive to students who may not know what country or region they are from, either because they are adopted, because their ancestors came to this country as part of the transatlantic slave trade or for another reason?

Broaden the assignment for the whole class rather than singling out specific students. The instructions can simply be to research a culture or community of interest. That interest can be based upon many factors, which may or may not include an ancestral connection. If students need guidance to get started, meet with them privately to generate ideas. Some ideas might be to research the frequency and popularity of certain names in a student’s community or to look at demographic changes over time in a neighborhood. Stay focused on the overall goal: allowing students to select a topic that is relevant to them so they become invested in the research.

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