I am a white teacher in a very diverse school. In fact, it is the most diverse school in the state of Oregon. 43 different home languages are represented. 60% of our students are current or exited ELLs. Our largest ethnicity representation is 38% Hispanic, but the rest are all pretty evenly represented. We are a Title 1 school, meaning over 82% of our students are eligible for free and reduced lunch services. At any given time between 15-25% of our students are Title X (homeless). Our children experience significantly higher levels of chronic trauma, food insecurity, upheaval, and transience.
As to our teaching staff; we are, with the exception of two teachers, white. Our students do not see themselves in us and that is heartbreaking.
As a white female teacher, I represent the dominant white culture and all its trappings. I represent dominance. I represent oppression. I am housed in the physical representation of the oppressor. Yes, I am complaining and as a white person, right now, I am uncomfortable with my complaint. At the same time it needs to be said. This sucks. It sucks for all of us, but most of all for our students. They are being deprived a privilege our white students have enjoyed forever – seeing themselves embodied in positions of power and prestige. When we can see ourselves in others, we can relate, we can aspire, we can become. We can also learn.
So, as a well-meaning white teacher, I am walking a mine-field every day in our school. I have much to overcome and make up for in my interactions with our students of color. I understand that that is my job. That it is on me to bridge the divide and to work doubly hard to create trust and connection for our students of color, but man it can be exhausting. It is a hard slog and one that is full of land mines. These include but are not limited to my own biases, my expectations being expectations that are of the white dominant culture, my expectations of my students’ abilities and backgrounds, my discomfort with language barriers, my assumptions, and my need for white homogenous imposed order on a diverse and multi-layered student population.
How does one balance the need for order with the need for beautiful chaos? How does one balance high expectations with the realities of our students’ lives? How does one adapt to this shifting landscape of understanding, privilege, expectations, and oppression?
One teaching and learning moment at a time. One conversation at a time. One student at a time. We build on our small wins. We accept ourselves and recognize that our learning is never really done. We are learners and that is okay.