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Now, here I was, a white teacher parking a candy-colored car in one of the There were bars on the windows of my classroom, but the windows. This story about teaching, race and equity was produced by The and how teachers can talk about these time periods in more honest and inclusive ways. In Peter Maginot's sixth-grade class, the teacher is white, but all of his back to the classroom, he says: "We have talked about racial profiling. Why Schools Need More Teachers of Color—for White Students of the population has traditionally shared the same background, culture, and race.

There he would talk in class about his childhood as an immigrant, and his.. Wright was a seventh year White teacher who received a.. Racial formation in the United States Second Edition. They could speak algebra.

No wonder these students were performing at levels similar to their more privileged counterparts. My co-researcher and I asked teachers about the racial dynamics playing out at the school. Most shied away. Some, however, got closer than others. He described being struck by the spontaneous cheers offered up by the parents in the crowd. The moment, he added, had also jarred him into recognizing just how little he knew about his students.

Students echoed this sense of limitation. They appreciated that the school was helping them — sometimes forcing them — to prepare for college. Her tone was matter-of-fact. One English teacher stood out. Like most of his colleagues, Mr.


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Tobbs was white, highly educated, and commuted to No Excuses High from elsewhere. Unlike most of his colleagues, however, Mr. Tobbs had begun to pinpoint what was wrong.


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  8. He felt that there must be a way to draw the two together in service of richer, deeper, less pre-packaged learning experiences. One of the steps he had taken as he began to explore this new vein was to start to talk explicitly about race with his students. There was much more that he wanted to try. He wanted to experiment with giving students more independence and choice.

    He wanted to make more space for students to talk about their experiences of racism and their evolving racial identities. He wanted to break down the boundaries between home and school. All of the schools that Jal and I visited taught us important lessons, but there was one school in particular which struck me as a profoundly humanizing place to teach and learn.

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    Dewey High is the flagship campus of a network of racially and socioeconomically diverse K charter schools in an urban area on the west coast. Like No Excuses High, the school has become known as a leader among its peers. In all other respects, however, Dewey High is the antithesis of the No Excuses model. There are no uniforms. There are no demerits or detentions or silent lunches.

    Rather than teaching canonical content derived from standardized assessments, teachers collaborate to design and teach interdisciplinary projects. For several days in a row, I spent time with one pair of students.

    Isabel, who identified as Mexican-American, was a soft-spoken young woman with a warm smile. She spoke fluent English but said that her family spoke only Spanish at home. Her partner Davon, who identified as Black, was tall, outspoken, and always wore a pair of calf-high combat boots. He had recently come out as gay. It quickly became clear that Isabel and Davon had a great deal of control over their process. Their collaboration reflected the intimacy of close friends: periods of comfortable silence were punctuated by serious dialogue as well as by squabbles and play.

    It also became clear that the topic Isabel and Davon had chosen to investigate — condom distribution in high schools — was deeply connected to their lives beyond school. Isabel had several friends who were teen mothers; Davon had a cousin who was HIV-positive.

    For both students, fear was exactly the right emotion with which to frame their film. The teacher, for his part, was an energetic but understated presence. He spent most of his time sitting with groups, listening to their conversations and asking probing questions. Although he was white and many of his students were not, they seemed profoundly comfortable with each other; there were few traces of the strained power relations that so often characterize high school classrooms. Not all of the projects that I observed at Dewey High were as strong as this one.

    The most powerful projects, however, all shared a similar set of characteristics. Students had real choices over what they learned and how they learned it. There was time to play with ideas, to fail and try again, and to explore things in depth. There were opportunities for apprenticeship and sustained collaboration. Students were not merely building knowledge and skills, but also creating things that had real value. Throughout all of this, students had ongoing opportunities to connect what they were learning with what they knew and who they wanted to become. It was Dewey High that helped me finally understand what had been wrong with my own teaching.

    A White Teacher Talks about Race

    I had doubted their capacities. I had negated their identities. It turns out that No Excuses schools are not only relentless when it comes to making sure that students behave and learn; they are also relentless when it comes to self-improvement. As a result, when my co-researcher and I returned to No Excuses High in the spring of , it was in some respects a quite different place than the one we had seen four years earlier.

    A white teacher talks about race book

    As Mr. Tobbs and his colleagues explained, there were several reasons why the school had decided to explore new practices. First, data suggested that No Excuses High was having more success getting their students to college then in getting them through college. Graduates were prepared for the academic rigor of their coursework, but they struggled with the abrupt transition from the micromanagement of their high school to the open-endedness of college.

    In addition, the winds of change were blowing in terms of conversations about school reform. Whereas the first decade of the 21st century had been dominated by an emphasis on basic skills as measured by standardized tests, the second decade saw an expanded focus on skills such as collaboration, creative problem-solving, and social-emotional learning — none of which had figured into the initial design of No Excuses schools.

    A White Teacher Talks about Race, Classroom Edition

    Finally, there was the national discourse about race and racism which had amplified in the period following the inception of the Black Lives Matter movement. For Mr. Tobbs and others, this meant taking a hard look back at one the unwritten tenets of the No Excuses movement: the practice of micromanaging Black bodies and Black minds in the name of social mobility. And so what we saw, when we returned to No Excuses High, was the institutional equivalent of accelerating with the brakes on.

    On the one hand, the school was making a real effort to incorporate opportunities for voice, choice, inquiry, and apprenticeship. Tobbs had restructured his senior English course to allow for extended periods of project-based inquiry. The school also was planning to add electives in African-American literature and Latin American history.

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    Students appreciated having more opportunities to learn things which they saw as being authentically connected to their identities. On the other hand, the shifts that No Excuses High had made can be seen mainly as tinkering around the edges. With the exception of Mr.

    Conversations about racism and privilege still did not seem to be taking place out in the open. But the school was, at least as yet, unwilling to reimagine the core components of its model. Last year, four months after defending my dissertation and 12 years after beginning my teaching career, I returned to the classroom. It was an experiment in bullshit detection. I needed to test whether what I thought I knew about powerful learning would hold water when I tried to put it into practice. And so, when I learned that an English teacher at a nearby high school in southeast San Diego would be on maternity leave for the first portion of the school year, I offered my services as a sub.

    Here is something else I knew: bringing our full selves to the table required talking about race.

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    The prospect of doing so still made me feel uncomfortable and incompetent. How should I start? What if a student took something I said the wrong way? After having spent several years talking with friends and colleagues about whiteness and white fragility, however, I knew that shying away from discomfort meant perpetuating insidious silence. Better to try and flounder than not to try at all. As the culminating product, students would work in small groups to create and perform theater sketches constructed out of interviews they had done in their communities.

    The first thing that I had my students do was to talk about who they were. I had them move around the room and cluster themselves based on their culture, their language, their academic strengths, their race. I learned more about my students from those maps than I had in four years of teaching at my previous school. Several other students talked about the complicated experience of being Iranian-American in a predominantly Mexican-American school. I made a map too.

    As part of the project, students did academic work — a lot of it. Students participated in book clubs and analyzed films and waded through academic articles and debated ideas in Socratic discussions.