This post originally appeared on the blog Mrs. Russell’s Room.
So, let’s talk about the relevance of white teachers teaching black history.
If we acknowledge that the majority of American teachers are white, and the majority of American students are NON-white, then it becomes critically important for white teachers to teach outside of the bounds of their own personal experiences. Much of the nuts and bolts of history is taught in classrooms, and representation matters. There are just not enough black teachers across the country to make sure that black and brown children learn their history just from us. Much of the data that we have on race relations and the importance of black teachers in the classroom indicates that:
The proof is in the data. Schools are suspending and expelling black and brown students in schools across the country at a much faster rate. Teachers are struggling to teach black children a history they don’t understand. Our biases as a teaching community are showing. No time of the year is it more obvious than February.
So how do we participate in a movement to improve instruction, particularly during Black History Month? Here are some things to consider.
History can not be taught to students in terms of ‘months’.
This style of teaching is too compartmentalized and inauthentic. Use rich texts that feature black men and women throughout the year. Do you have a passion that you want to share with your students? Look for ways to infuse influential figures by race, gender and sexuality.
Oppression is not a teaching tool.
With the rise of new strategies for engagement, escape rooms and simulations have become popular. These structures, however engaging for students, become wildly inappropriate in the context of slavery and oppression. Role playing circumstances of oppression is not ever appropriate. These types of experiences center the learning of the oppressor over the oppressed. It further marginalizes groups who are still feeling the impact of oppression. Instead, use authentic photographs, audio & video recordings, journals, autobiographies, and the like to get a picture of what people were feeling in that time. Which leads me to my final point.
Honor the ethnic reality of the culture you are teaching.
Teachers must always first be learners. If you’re trying to teach black history, research the thoughts and opinions of black people before teaching. This is a key point. If you had pain in your foot, you’d consult a podiatrist. You wouldn’t go to a cardiologist. It doesn’t mean that the cardiologist is somehow ‘less of a doctor’. You are just honoring the fact that a podiatrist should naturally know more about feet!
Black and brown children across the country need to be inspired.
Acquaint them with black excellence, not just black suffering.
Carter G. Woodson, the father of black history once said, “The thought of the inferiority of the Negro is drilled into him in almost every class he enters and in almost every book he studies.”
Your teaching of our history matters.
Make sure that it’s deep.
Tamara Russell is a National Board Certified Middle Childhood generalist from Orlando, Florida. She currently teaches 3rd grade, but in her 21 years of teaching, has had experience with students from K-8. You can find her here on Teachers Pay Teachers, but she connects most readily through Instagram, Facebook, and her blog.