I am writing this post with the sounds of the movie Selma in the background. As a teacher of color, I am continually humbled and uniquely aware of the sacrifices that were made so that I can have the life I have. Our practice, our teachers, our students have come a long way, but there is much further to go. As I type, teachers in Detroit public schools are struggling to teach their students in sub-standard conditions that can only be described as squalor. In Chicago, black young people are dying by gun violence daily. In Florida, black and brown teachers are struggling to bring attention to low wages and the erosion of their retirements. Across the country, teachers are full-throatedly opposing the rampant testing culture that’s been created in the wake of the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) act.
Teachers, we are still in the same fight, we are still being called to the same struggle that Dr. King advocated for. We are still called to amplify the voices of our students in a way that turns the attention of the nation on our students and the dream that all teachers have to see them become all they themselves dream to be. It is with this in mind that I share my passion for quality Black History Month resources. I know that it is part of the required course work for many states to create a space of time where there is a focus on the accomplishments of African Americans. Here’s what I hope that series of lessons includes:
1. Rich texts that exemplify and amplify the accomplishments of African Americans beyond the days of segregation and slavery.
There is a good bit of emphasis on these two time periods, and much of it seems to sometimes wrap a bow on the aftermath of these events, comparing today with those days, and noting how far we’ve come. Surely black men and women are not enslaved with physical chains, but, generational poverty and systemic white privilege prevent many black Americans from the progress that their efforts should afford them. We should be discussing scientists, mathematicians, scholars. People that our students have not yet heard of, who will pique their interests. Looking for some ideas? You might be interested in this free checklist from Naomi O’Brien of Read Like a Rock Star. It includes names that may be familiar, but others that are not. Read up on some of these influential folks, and share their stories with your students!
2. Dialogue that helps students deepen their understanding of their own personal biases and privileges.
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Remember, privilege isn’t only related to culture. It could be related to gender, class, even religion. This internalization will help our learners develop the empathy that’s necessary for true understanding to occur. I myself had to examine my own personal biases as it relates to several things over the years. I wrote a tandem post on examining bias, and the subsequent discussions that can be had with colleagues. You can see it here. Working on this concept with older students? Consider this post on managing bias from Tanesha Forman over at Raising Rigor and Readers.
3. Writing that helps students explore what they’ve internalized and share those feelings, lessons, and experiences in a meaningful way.
Allow your students to share their own struggles and pen them in a poem, an essay, a song… whatever they’re most connected to and will allow them to share that with their peers. It can be a powerful thing to have students advocate for each other!
A few years ago, at the TpT Teacher-Author conference, I was able to connect with several other colleagues of color. Latoya Reed (her blog is Flying into Learning) and I created a group called Teaching Mosaic. It’s for teachers of color who are interested in advocating for students of diverse backgrounds while connecting and encouraging teachers who are equally as passionate about this work. A smaller group of us from within that group are working together to create opportunities, resources, and ideas for teachers to use who are interested in elevating discussions on race and cultural responsiveness.
Take a look at this collection of blog posts from when Teacher-Bloggers joined Retta of Rainbow City Learning last Martin Luther King, Jr. Day in making a difference for students and teachers of the Detroit Public Schools. Each Teacher-Blogger chose a favorite quote of Dr. King and interpreted it in a way that addresses the current crisis facing the schools in Detroit. You can start with Retta’s post Setting Sail With Hope and click the thumbnails below the post to read the others.
If you are a teacher of color and are also a Teacher-Author on TpT, please consider joining us over on Facebook at Teaching Mosaic. We’d love to be able to support you and encourage you in your journey!
Tamara Russell is a National Board Certified Middle Childhood generalist from Orlando, Florida. She currently teaches 1st grade, but in her 19 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 her Facebook page and blog.