Monday, July 23, 2018


Yikes! I've finished reading BEING THE CHANGE, and have pages and pages of notes, but somehow, I'm way behind on my responses. I'm not a very good group member this year! So sorry to all of my colleagues...

MicroAggression: Everyday verbal, nonverbal, and environmental slights, snubs or insults, whether intentional or unintentional , which communicate hostile, derogatory or negative messages to target persons based solely upon their marginalized group membership” Dr. Derald Wing, Columbia University, quoted in Ahmed, p. 58.

Micro aggressions. It's so easy to think of those that have been committed against me. Shorty. Four eyes. You've never been married? Aren't you retired yet? I laugh them off, and yet even so, they really do hurt a little.

And then I think of those committed by well-meaning educators on a daily basis.

Not quite ten years ago. Two weeks into the school year. My phone rings and I see a number from the school district. It is my oldest son's English teacher. She introduces herself, and then explains that she is calling to talk about independent reading. Several times a week, students in her class are given time to read independently. They need to bring a book so they are prepared for independent reading. My oldest son, it seems, has not been doing this. She wonders if I could help? Do we have any books at our house? If not, she can help him check one out from the school library. I look at the two groaning, seven-foot bookshelves in my dining room, think of the teetering piles in my office, or the garage full of boxes of books, and assure her that we can probably find at least one book at our house.

The call amuses me more than a little, but at the same time, it's really not funny. I imagine the teacher pulling up my son's name on our district website. Making assumptions about my son. About our family. African American boy. IEP. Athlete. Single parent. Probably no books in the home. She does not know that I am a past president of the state reading association. Or that I am a teacher. She really does want to help my son.

This is maybe an extreme case, and yet I see teachers, including myself, commit micro aggressions all the time. These are the first few that came to mind:

1) The child shows up without school supplies.
Her parents expect me to supply everything.
Reality: The family is one step away from homelessness. They either pay the rent, and buy groceries, or they send school supplies. Hard choices.

2) The family is 15 minutes late, pretty much every day.
That mom needs to get organized. She needs to get her kids up earlier and get to school on time.
Reality: Mom is a cleaning lady at a hospital. She puts her kids to bed, and then goes to work. She gets off at 7:30, and races home to pick up her children. Even so, they are ten minutes late every day.

3) The parents that don't show up for Back-To-School Night or miss parent teacher conferences.
You know why that child isn't doing very well in school.
Reality: The single mom doesn't have any one to watch younger children, or doesn't have transportation to get to special events.

4) The child that is severely overweight, but comes with a large bag of chips, no fruit or veggies, every day.
That family doesn't care about their child's nutrition. Someone should call social services and report them for child abuse.
Reality: The school is located in a food desert. The family doesn't have a working vehicle. The local 7-11 is where they grocery shop. Sometimes there is fruit, mostly there is not. There are never vegetables. Convenience stores don't stock perishable goods.

5) The child has failed the last 3 (you fill in the blanks).
Teacher: You need to work harder. You need to study more after school.
Student: I do study. But it's hard to find a quiet place.
Teacher: Just go to your room and study

Reality: Seven people are living in a two bedroom apartment. There's no place to go to be alone. 

This chapter reminds me that all of us really do the best we can, pretty much every day. It's important to treat each other gently.

1 comment:

Lisa Corbett said...

These are important reminders, Carol! I think teachers make so many assumptions about children & their home life. We should stop that. There are so many micro-aggressive comments made about food alone!

I’m also wondering why your son’s teacher needed to call to say she could take him to the library. That seems like a bit of ...shaming maybe? Just send the kid to the library! Or, better yet, take the whole class. That’s what school libraries are for. I’m thinking now of the “equity...justice” poster with the kids watching baseball over a fence.