I teach at a majority bilingual school. On my team of nine first grade teachers, five teach bilingual (which in first grade means instruction is mostly all Spanish) and four of us are monolingual. The four of us teaching monolingual have a mix of students, including many Hispanic or Asian ESL students. However, because the teacher I replaced was not ESL-certified, I had no ESL students when I started. As a result, my students are predominantly black. To be precise, I had 17 black students and three Hispanic students when I started. I now have two more Hispanic students.
I, as a white teacher, am very aware of the segregation in the school. I found it hard to relate Martin Luther King’s fight for integration to my class. Usually I can point to my melting pot of students and say, “Isn’t it great that because of Martin Luther King’s fight for civil rights, we all get to be in school together?” This time around I said, “I’m so glad that because of Martin Luther King, I get to be your teacher.” I don’t think they got it.
When I first started teaching a month ago, we made a poster with the students’ faces all around. I had manila, light brown, and dark brown paper for them to choose from. I had drawn my face on manila. I really stressed that they should make their self-portrait look as much like them as possible. I was surprised at how many chose manila paper, while a couple of the lighter-skinned kids chose dark brown. I thought: Maybe they’re not aware of their “blackness” or “Hispanicness” or my “whiteness”.
Then this week, I changed my mind about that. Let me preface my first anecdote by explaining that I share lunch/recess duty with my neighbor teacher who is a bilingual teacher. She takes both classes to lunch every day, and I take both to recess. The two groups never interact (except for the bullies!). This week because of the weather, we had a painful five days of indoor recess. On one of the days after Mrs. B’s class had gone back to their room and Iwas asking about something that had happened during recess in my room, one of my kids said that “one of the white ones” did it, referring to the Hispanic students in the bilingual class. The White Ones.
Another day this week I was getting tired of all the tattling that was going on all day and decided to just start mimicking what the students sounded like. At one point, one little girl whined about another: “She won’t stop messin’ wi’ me!” So I cocked my hip, put my hand on it and threw back, “She won’t stop messin’ wi’ me!” which created many surprised looks and shut several students up. Then the tattler said, “You sound like a black person.”
So apparently I’m not the only one aware of my “whiteness” and their “blackness”.