“How do we teach them?”
“How do we build relationships with them?”
“How do I get them to read?”
“What materials do I use to engage them?”
These are just a few of the questions I’ve heard when working with teachers who think educating students of color means you have to discover an unknown land. This is in fact so untrue. The same methods that are used to teach students across the country, can be used to teach our students when it is genuine and authentic.
- Be honest, open, and transparent. Say what you know and what you don’t. Be willing to allow minority students to teach you about their culture. Let them know that you are not a walking book, and you need them to teach you, just as much as they need you to teach them. Shut Up, and Listen. Teachers are so quick to talk over, about and around students. Let their voice spark conversation and lead discussion time.
- Build Relationships- The key to teaching students of color is to “really be here for it.” There is no sugar-coating, skateboard, or galloping around the carousel with teaching our kids, they know when you “real.” Don’t think just because you play Beyonce, know the lyrics to Bodak Yellow, or “have a best friend of color” you can slide into their lives, they want authenticity. I had a teacher to use a resource that she thought was grade level appropriate, but she failed to assess the cultural relevance of the piece. A question she presented to a group of African-American students stated, “The young werewolves irritated and annoyed their parents, as they braided their coarse hair into dreadlocks.” I’m going to sit that right there.
At what point did she think this was okay. To top it all off it came out of a text called the Giggly Guide to Grammar, but I didn’t laugh.
- Read what they like, not what you think they like or what you like. I had a teacher to tell me “I don’t like coming of age books.” If the text that relates to the culture of the students you serve is not your cup of tea, then find another place to sip and another tea to enjoy.
- Seek Knowledge, Ask Questions, but listen wholeheartedly. Every person of color you see should not be your only route to learning about the culture of students you serve. I am not fond of people asking me, “How do I relate to your kids, how do I teach your kids?” My black experience is not the experience of every child of color. Seek to understand the experiences of children of color, read books, ask questions, but listen with a desire to change and positively affect change.
- Connect with family and communities. A lot of times as educators we go to the school and go home. Well in many families of color, the family is their rock. It may be very hard to understand a students ability if you don’t understand his/her background. You have to make time to build a connection between home and school.