At the lovely Katia Hildebrandt’s suggestion, I have started reading Revealing the Invisible: Confronting Passive Racism in Teacher Education by Sherry Marx, a book discusses the “damaging effects of unaddressed racism and white privilege on the capacity of white teachers to effectively teach students of colour.” Chapter 2: “Illuminating the Invisible” explored the ways that Whites make sense of Whiteness and colour as well as the common role model and saviour constructs developed by preservice teachers. This chapter connected to an assignment (curriculum-as-place.docx) I did last year for ECS 210, in which I wrote an autobiography to represent my identity and to identify significant moments in my journey that shaped my life, beliefs, and values as a future teacher. After I handed it in, I was asked to reflect on whether I included the ways in which my gender, race, class, sexuality and other parts of my identity affected my life experiences. I reflected that I was able to leave those parts of my identity out because I occupy positions of privilege in those areas, but I did not reflect on the specific ways my experiences were affected by my privilege. To be honest, the reason it has taken me so long to write this post is because it’s not comfortable to recognize the ways my privilege has affected my life experiences. It means I have to own up to the fact that the experiences I’ve had and the things I have accomplished are not all due to my own hard work. After reading Chapter 2, I knew it was time to go back to this assignment and compare what I wrote to the patterns of dialogue between Marx and the pre-service teachers she engages with. The first thing I noticed when reading over my autobiography was the pattern of writing about myself as a role model/”self-aggrandizing helper” in my volunteer work, just as many of the young women in the book do. When I discussed my first three experiences, I wrote in a very self-centred way, focusing on the ways I was able to help the youth I worked with. For example, I wrote about how I helped a child come out of his shell, how my support was so encouraging to students in the Functionally Integrated Program, and how I could provide new and exciting experiences for my mentee. My language consistently focused on myself and what I was doing to help the underprivileged youth I worked with. Marx explains that “while those acting as benevolent role models and saviours are often lauded as self-sacrificing, well intentioned, and in possession of hearts of gold, this construct of the helper necessitates that the person helped is constructed as needy, dependent, and incapable of achieving on her or his own” (pg. 72). Looking back, I think I had a deficit perception of some of the youth I worked with, which in turn allowed me to construct an idealistic version of myself as a role model. In the next part of my autobiography, I discussed my experience on a humanitarian trip to Pachuca, Mexico, with the U of R Cougar Women’s Soccer Team without acknowledging that it was my privilege as a middle class female and member of a university soccer team that enabled me to go on this trip. Additionally, I did not once refer to how my whiteness affected this experience. This connects with when Becky, one of the preservice teachers, stated regarding children of colour, “They are people. I’m a person. And… I just like kids. So, I just talked to them. You know, I don’t really think about [racial and cultural differences.] (pg. 48). Similarly, when I wrote about my experience in Mexico, I tried to cling to my sense of racial neutrality, using colour-blind language and avoiding discussion of experiences that emphasized my Whiteness. For example, at one of the elementary schools we visited, my teammates and I signed autographs for children at the school for almost an hour straight. They treated us like celebrities because of our Whiteness; however, I preferred to think that they were just excited to have visitors painting murals at their school. Another example of ignoring my Whiteness is from a blog post I wrote on our trip blog. Describing the tour of Technológico de Monterrey, I wrote, “We received many curious stares, for a few possible reasons: because we were all wearing matching grey Cougars t-shirts, because we were all in shorts while most students were wearing jeans and sweaters, or (most likely) because we’re a group of 21 incredibly good-looking girls (plus Bob!).” I am quite sure that the real reason we were stared at was that the majority of my team was White. Marx explains that this desire to shrug off the marker of race is a common feeling among Whites because we are so used to our race being neutral/invisible/normal. She goes on to contrast this with the markedness of colour, explaining that Whites often perceive the White racial group as being extremely complex and ambiguous, while perceiving cultures of colour as homogenous, tight-knit identities. Looking back, I think I also perceived Mexican culture in that way at times. I remember making comments about not wanting to leave because there was such a strong sense of culture and shared history. Through these comments, I was implying that “Whites are so diverse they don’t share any of those markers of culture.” There are definitely the same elements of diversity within Mexican culture as within White culture, however it is harder (for me) to see because of the stereotypes/single stories I have absorbed. My privilege shaped the first three experiences I discussed by making it possible for me to view myself as an idealized role model while holding deficit views of the youth I worked with. My privilege as an able-bodied middle class female made it possible for me to go on the humanitarian trip to Pachuca. While in Pachuca, my White privilege made it possible for me to ignore my Whiteness completely and to think about Mexican culture as homogenous. This reflection forced me to make sense of my experiences in an uncomfortable way, which was necessary because I knew that the ways I had made sense of my experiences in my autobiography were not only inaccurate but complicit with oppression. Now my challenge is to continue reflecting on how my privilege shapes my experiences. Even though it is a really difficult, uncomfortable process, I know it is worth it.
I started my pre-internship on October 15th at a community school in the north end of Regina. My partner and I are placed in a 3/4 split class and have been enjoying every minute! We go to the school every Wednesday to observe, help out, teach, and learn. We taught our first two lessons together and our next two lessons solo, observing one another and giving constructive criticism and suggestions.
Although I reflect on the specifics of my lessons each week, I want to reflect on my experience in general thus far (one month in!) and summarize some of the challenges I have faced and feelings I have had throughout the four weeks.
The first lesson I taught on my own was social, a discussion based lesson looking at how culture is reflected in our family communities. The second lesson I taught was ELA, in which we read and deconstructed a mystery narrative, pulling out elements such as detective, suspect, clues, evidence, etc. Overall, I was happy with how both lessons went but there were definitely challenges in each lesson.
In the social lesson, the students were to move around the classroom to music and do a turn-and-talk about a specific question with a different partner each time the music stopped. The first few rounds of this went well, but after that some of the students started to talk in groups or always go with the same partner. Some students also started to misbehave in certain ways, like jumping over desks. Later in the lesson, we formed a talking circle to share our partner discussions. This also started out well and then became challenging, as the students really struggled to stay focused and listen to each other during the talking circle. In the ELA lesson, the students were really engaged during the story reading, but I started to lose some of them toward the end of the lesson when filling out the story map together as a class.
Transitions were challenging in both lessons, from moving all the desks to make space for a circle talk and getting students to form a circle in the social lesson to having to switch from the projector to the overhead in the middle of the ELA lesson. I also found it difficult to scan the room and identify which students were off-task or not following directions because I was so focused on trying to get my lesson across.
This past week, I used classroom management strategies as my professional development goal and got feedback from my teaching partner and my co-op teacher. My goals were to wait for complete silence before starting to talk, to call on students who were off-task to answer questions, and to move toward students who were off-task. These strategies helped and I’m improving my classroom management skills, but I couldn’t help but feel a bit discouraged at how the students were responding to my lessons. I have all these idealized notions of what teaching is and how teaching should look, and I felt like my lessons weren’t measuring up. I found comfort in a blog post from my classmate, Kara (follow her blog!). Part of her post read:
This was an important learning moment for me, because, of course, all teachers will become frustrated with their students at some point, yet I always have this idea that teaching is magical and will go perfectly. Letting go of some of these idealized notions has been a big part of my pre-internship experience. Having students test your patience does not mean you are a failure, it means you are human and so are they. It isn’t whether you are frustrated or not, but how you handle the frustration.
I was really encouraged that Kara was also experiencing these feelings and I realized that most of my classmates probably are. Also, I thought about why I faced those challenges and came up with a few reasons. One, my learners aren’t used to doing activity-based learning; they are used to worksheets. Two, they had only done a circle talk once before. Three, I should have planned better for transitions and given clearer directions in some instances. Four, the students love to tell stories but struggle to listen to one another for long periods of time. These are all things that can be worked on and improved with practice!
Based on that, I think some of my idealized notions of teaching can still be goals to work towards. I just need to realize and accept that I’m not going to be perfect and neither are my students, and it’s not fair to expect that of myself or of them. So rather than becoming disheartened about the practical aspects of teaching, I’m becoming excited about the opportunity to learn alongside my students in all our imperfections.