After a week of lesson planning, workshopping, and community-building, I’m finally going to step into a classroom and do some teaching.
Last week, we talked about how to create a safe learning environment for our students. In diverse classrooms, students can hurt each other without meaning to. It’s easy for me to notice this when a part of my own identity is being discriminated against, so I can recognize sexism and try to step in. But when it comes to other forms of discrimination, like racism, sometimes I don’t notice when it’s happening. A few days ago, a man came in to tell us about a volunteering opportunity in the area. He started rambling, and ended up telling several stories about when he had to talk to some KKK members and witnessed a racist incident in a high school. I didn’t notice that this was making other teaching fellows uncomfortable, or that he kept looking directly at the only black man in the room, another teaching fellow a year younger than me.
I didn’t notice, because I didn’t have to think about it. I wasn’t the one being alienated for one aspect of my identity. Later, when I was talking to another teaching fellow about that moment, she explained that it felt like he’d been trying to make himself sound like an ally. “Like, oh, look at what a great guy I am.” This was problematic, because it wasn’t asked for. It was like he’d walked into the room, instantly became overly-conscious of the fact that he was a white man, and reacted by turning what could’ve been a five-minute conversation about volunteering into a fifteen-minute discussion about how he’s tried to help people of color. Dude, just stick to the script.
Once I knew that that was a thing, that your efforts to be an ally can turn into trying to pretend that you’re not part of the problem, I realized that I’ve done this, too. Once, when I was talking about speaking Spanish, I kept looking at the only two Latinas in my group. I didn’t even know for sure that they spoke Spanish (or that the other girl in our group didn’t speak Spanish), but I was trying to connect with them, to show them that I was somehow an ally because I’d taken a few Spanish classes in college and liked Spanish-language music. But they weren’t asking me to show them that I was an ally, and I certainly wasn’t doing a good job of being one by making assumptions and singling them out.
I was lucky to be working with people who were willing to be kind and give me the benefit of the doubt. In the future, though, I need to be more conscious of my biases if I want to actually connect with people that are different from me. And if I want to make a classroom that’s safe for my students, I need to pay more attention to all kinds of discrimination, not just the kind that affects me.
Wish me luck~