Checking My Bias at the Door

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As a non-white educator, my biases are not called out, well, at all.  But that does not mean I should not be aware that biases exist.  I’m going to be completely transparent in this post so…warning

For my entire career I have worked within Title 1 schools on purpose.  While in undergraduate school, I had the opportunity to volunteer at a Non-Title school where I developed the bias “*these kids are entitled and I am not valued here”.

*Definition: white kids with parents who are lawyers, doctors, pilots, etc., kids of privlege

From that point, in 2003, I decided I would never teach in a Non-Title school.  Driven by my bias, I concluded what I had to offer would be wasted on *these kids.  The exclusion of a group based on their level of privilege; it’s harsh as I type it out but it is my truth.  And what was it I had to offer?  My philosophy has been to approach learning from a social emotional stance, providing students with a voice on how they learn best and meet them where they are.  Sidebar, this philosophy has evolved over time but the essence has remained the same.

So who did I feel was deserving of my teaching love and affection?  Students within Title 1 schools, more specifically, schools whose students looked like me.  I want to believe it all happened by happenstance, teaching at schools with a large African American population.  I would not say, I sought out these schools, especially not as much as I avoided Non-Title schools.  Over the past 15 years, I have poured my all into the children I taught.  Expectations were all ways high, the work was always intentional, the thought was always **my kids could.

**Definition: African American students from low socio-economic areas.

Still blinded to my biases, I was awarded the opportunity to support teachers within my school district with math instruction.  Two of the three schools I support have a high Hispanic population.  Enter screech sound here.  What?  How do you teach ***those kids?

***Definition: Any student who has English as a second language.

I immediately began to do some “research” on how to teach ***those kids.  I reached out through Twitter and email to educators who have worked in schools with high Hispanic populations.  The message was all the same, “Good teaching is good teaching, nothing is different”.  My biases began to creep to the surface.  Then my new supervisor stated the same thing to me as we stood in the parking lot.  Her look lack judgment but her words exposed my bias.  The exposure was hard to swallow, but necessary to digest.

So I asked myself, what makes *these kids and ***those kids so different from **my kids.  Answer, me! It was my own biases which didn’t match my belief of every kid deserves a solid foundation in mathematics and the flexibility to learn in their own way.  So now that I am naked before you, let me share my next steps in hopes that when your biases are exposed you can work to eliminate them.

Yes, I have a bias, now what?

Define what good teaching is and what it looks like.  For me good teaching starts with a context which automatically engages the learner.  This context allows the learner to bring their own knowledge to the table and and naturally discover what they know and what they don’t know.  It looks like consistently identifying misconceptions and developing a plan to intentionally address the misconceptions in a timely manner.  Good teaching allows for student goal setting and self assessment in addition to the formative assessment pieces determined by the teacher.

Be conscious of your thoughts.  Where are your expectations?  Be intentional about keeping the bar high no matter who is in front of you.  Reflection helps to check your “bar level”.  If your thoughts are focused on what the students can’t do instead of what they can and build from there you may be encountering your biases.

Remember your why.  What’s your philosophy?  Why are you an educator?  Check your actions and thoughts against your why.  If they don’t match, change your actions and thoughts.

Confess your flaws to a trusted colleague or friend.  Someone who is a critical friend and will call you out on the biases and help you work through them.  Not the person who will feed into your biases and deepen the level of the roots.