Truth Talk: Conversations About Race

Khasnabis

Dr. Debi Khasnabis

Today’s bloggers are Debi Khasnabis and Simona Goldin, who co-authored with Ebony Perouse-Harvey and Margaret O. Hanna to write “Race and the Mona Lisa: Reflecting on Antiracist Teaching Practice,” which appears in the latest issue of The Educational Forum.

Race permeates every thread of the fabric of society in the United States, regardless of whether we recognize and speak to it.

Simona Goldin

Dr. Simona Goldin

This truth is stitched throughout all aspects of public schooling, from the gaps in academic learning opportunities that children of color experience relative to their White peers, to the racial marginalization of children at recess. This truth weakens the fabric of the institution of schooling.

As teacher–educators, we support beginning teachers in seeing and responding to the ways that race pervades children’s experiences in classrooms.

In doing so we help them leverage the knowledge that children of color and their families bring to their work in schools as well as repair the rips in the social compact.

Our current research, highlighted in “Race and the Mona Lisa: Reflecting on Antiracist Teaching Practice” in this issue of The Educational Forum, is inspired by our awareness that children’s full sets of knowledge are often unseen in schools. Children of color, especially, are unlikely to be seen for their knowledge. This invisibility occurs in instructional moments when that knowledge is related to students’ racial or ethnic identity.

What does it look like when children’s knowledge is made invisible? 

A common refrain heard in schools is “That’s racist!”

Digging into this, we were initially surprised to learn what young children identify as “racist.”

When children are raised to be “colorblind,” they can think that referring to people by their racial identifiers is racist.

What are the effects of this? From Black colleagues, we learned that their race-conscious children who had been raised to recognize, discuss, and analyze race and its associated qualities were silenced by their peers and teachers in discussions of race.

One colleague’s son, after referring to a Black person as “Black,” was hushed by a peer and told “That’s racist!” This also occurs in instructional interactions when children of color speak about race and racism. When they are silenced, what becomes invisible is their racial literacy and fluency, their advanced and sophisticated knowledge.

More than just students blister at direct discussions of race in classrooms. Teachers also frequently steer clear of discussions having to do with race.

A teacher candidate once consulted with Debi after two Black students in her science class critiqued a Bill Nye video as racist.

The students’ critique rested on their judgment that the film featured fewer people of color than White people. The teacher candidate expressed trepidation about how to handle this accusation, especially as she saw nothing “blatantly racist” in the film. She wondered how she could convey to the students that their critique was inappropriate.

These everyday occurrences affect the health and vibrancy of classrooms.

In addition to silencing students, they fail to leverage and mine the racial fluency and expertise that some students, especially students of color, can bring. Further, students whose racial fluency is undeveloped lose out on critical opportunities to speak directly about race and racism, to practice having substantive discussions about inequality, and to construct, together, a pluralistic society.

We argue teachers should model interest and engagement in the child’s thinking. When students use racial identifiers, teachers should perk up, as this is a sign that their students are bringing reservoirs of knowledge about race to this discussion. This knowledge is a rare and precious resource.

When students launch racialized critiques, this shows their teachers that they have reservoirs of knowledge about oppression.

Recognizing students’ reservoirs of racial knowledge for what they are—assets to be built upon for learning—is in the interest of the child and the learning community.

When we silence these discussions, we uphold normative ways of being that support White supremacy.

Simona Goldin teaches courses pertaining to the sociology, history, and policy of schooling in the U.S. She conducts research on ways to transform the preparation of beginning teachers to help them teach in more equitable ways and has elaborated the teaching practices that bridge children’s work in schools on academic content with their home and community-based experiences. 

Debi Khasnabis is a clinical associate professor of education and the chair of elementary teacher education at the University of Michigan School of Education. She teaches courses focusing on multicultural and multilingual education and conducts research on pedagogies of teacher education that support the development of culturally responsive teaching and understandings of inequality in schools.

Communication Is the Key to Student Teaching

StudentTeaching

As a senior education major, you are thrilled to begin your student teaching experience.

You also may be concerned about the relationship with your cooperating teacher. Are you a guest in the classroom or a co-teacher? Did the teacher volunteer to work with you, or were you just assigned to him or her as another duty this year? How worried is the cooperating teacher about supervising you and raising the test scores of all students during the same semester?

It is critically important to start student teaching “on the right foot.”

You need to clarify answers to so many questions with clear communication before, and during, the student teaching semester.

What To Do Before the Student Teaching Experience

  1. Find out where you are to be, and when. Start dates are important. Are you to meet with the teacher before the first day of the student teaching assignment? Are you to coordinate that meeting with both the teacher and the college supervisor?
  2. What are the hours involved in student teaching? Does your college require the same hours of the teacher, or can you leave when the students leave on days that you need to be back on campus?
  3. How do you communicate with the cooperating teacher (sometimes called the mentor teacher)? Today’s teachers are overwhelmed and may not want to be available 24/7 for your text messages and emails. Make sure that you know how the teacher wishes to be contacted. If it’s only during the school day, plan ahead for your work.

What To Do the First Few Days

Some student teachers report that they don’t know what to do, or that their teacher has them sit off to the side. Here are starting points for the first few days:

  1. Make a copy of the bell schedule for yourself.
  2. Make a copy of all seating charts for yourself.
  3. Read the school’s management plan and faculty handbook.
  4. Discuss the management plan and discipline with your teacher.
  5. Find out where things are—the computers, copier, and supplies.
  6. Get to know the building—restrooms, emergency exits, cafeteria, and other teachers’ rooms.

Planning Your Work

Your cooperating teacher may not know the expectations of the college’s student teaching program. At your initial meeting, share copies of specific assignments that you must complete, and communicate the hours you need to teach.

  1. Get a calendar and look at your assignments side by side with the schedule of the cooperating teacher. Make sure you both write the specific due dates.
  2. Share the guidelines with the cooperating teacher about how he or she will approve your teaching hours.
  3. Be the go-between person to coordinate the required observations from your college supervisor.
  4. Show your cooperating teacher a copy of the evaluation that he or she will complete about your work. Discuss how you can demonstrate some of the requirements of the evaluation, such as use of technology or differentiation of instruction.
  5. If your college or state requires EdTPA, (the Teacher Performance Assessment) or other video assessment, get the necessary permissions for use of video early in the semester.

What Your Cooperating Teacher Expects

While many cooperating teachers are delighted to share their knowledge and consider working with a student teacher to be a recognition of their expertise, others are very worried when they are assigned a student teacher. To assuage their fears, be the best co-teacher you can be.

  1. Always be on time. Communicating that you will be late is not an excuse, so don’t text and say you are running behind that day. Your teacher/mentor expects you to be there on time.
  2. Your teacher expects you to be there all the time you are assigned to the room. Teachers rely on student teachers for help with everything from attendance to teaching lessons. Don’t let them down.
  3. Be prepared. With 28 third graders sitting in front of you, you can’t just “wing it.”
  4. Look professional. You can’t dress the way you would for a class on campus. Look like the teacher! No casual clothes, and you must get up early enough to have a good hair day.
  5. The teacher wants help. He or she appreciates help to provide more small-group remediation and to provide more individualized attention to students. Having a second adult in the room can be a real asset. Being a remarkable helper ensures that you will learn more at the same time.
  6. Your teacher expects you to be immersed in the classroom experience—no texting or reading Facebook during class time. Be 100% present.

The Magic Words

Student teachers continue to evaluate their field experiences as the best part of their teacher education programs. A good student teaching experience prepares you well for your first year of teaching—and beyond.

Remember the magic words, “How can I help you today?” These words are the best communication tool for a productive learning experience in student teaching.

mary clement berry collegeDr. Clement is a Professor of Teacher Education at Berry College in north Georgia, where she continues to supervise student teachers annually. She earned her doctorate from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and is the author of 13 books in her research area: the hiring and induction of new teachers.

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