How to Support BIPOC Teachers
Leaders in administration are beginning to understand the need to discuss race theory, discrimination, and support for BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, People of Color). One thing that is common among many teachers of color is the exhaustion of being asked to do a workshop, talk, or presentation about the importance of racial inclusion. Oftentimes, this work is expected to be done without compensation and on the teacher’s own time. That is unacceptable, not only because it singles out the teacher of color, but because this teacher now has to go out of their way to create a “workshop” about diversity. The support for teachers of color needs to come from administration and the leaders in the school.
Including education surrounding diversity for the staff’s professional development is not solely up to the BIPOC teachers in the school. Administration needs to make it a priority that people of color are not singled out because of the color of their skin. These teachers are not spokespeople for particular races or cultures and should not be treated as such.
For example, to have a teacher talk about growing up African American in a conservative town is not a factual history lesson. Everyone has specific experiences that are unique and personal. The best way to educate adults is by hiring professionals who have studied this topic come in and give unbiased information to employees. This can include workshops that will find solutions for an inclusive school environment and educate teachers/administration about historical facts involving people of color. The company should include professionals who have studied race theory and can share their professional expertise on the subject matter.
Without factual history, some things that are said or done to teachers of color can be hurtful. For example, using the word “nappy” to describe someone’s hair in a negative way is disrespectful. This suggests that coarse and coily hair is a negative attribute and feeds into discrimination surrounding African Americans styling their hair naturally. Also, because “nappy” is used in a negative way, people are suggesting that African Americans' natural hair is something to talk down upon. The hardships that African American people have had to go through just to be able to wear natural hair should not be dismissed. Learning from an expert will give everyone involved an understanding of prejudice and hardships that people of color have encountered in American history.
Ignoring the past will leave anyone ignorant about the importance of “seeing color.” The sentiment that one does not see color suggests that the imperative differences in another person is not being acknowledged. This phrase implies that we are all the same color which is just not true. African Americans, because of the color of their skin or texture of their hair, have been historically ridiculed for their differences from the “majority.” Instead of being ridiculed we, as a society, need to recognize the differences and embrace them. Being blind to color ignores the beautiful individuals that make up a community. Also, education about the history of BIPOC will give insight to teachers and school leaders.
“Seeing color” will allow adults to recognize what might be an offensive comment. For example, historically calling an African American a slave was degrading. If a teacher or administrator was describing working hard as, “I slaved over this document for hours!” to an African American employee then that is offensive. When the adult recognizes that the word slave is historically disrespectful to African Americans then it most likely will not be used again in the school setting. Hired experts with this specific skill set can provide teachers and leaders in a school environment an understanding of the history and significance of certain phrases.
The classroom environment should not only be a comfortable environment for the students but also for the educators. Allowing the teacher to decorate the classroom the way that supports personal interests is a great start to supporting BIPOC educators. There is a possibility that a teacher will want to do a lesson that might incorporate personal traditions or celebrations. Allowing the teacher to create an educational lesson about personal traditions or celebrations has benefits beyond teaching the children something new! The educator will feel supported knowing that administration permits personal traditions to be taught to the students. The school does not need to purchase brand new materials, which can be costly, but simply acknowledging and supporting the teacher’s diverse curriculum will be helpful.
If the school does have a budget for extra materials then leaders should take advantage of the opportunity. The money can be used on books containing accurate historical information, materials that support an educational lesson or for decorations that embrace teachers. This practice of being inclusive is ongoing, it does not stop once requested materials are bought or one lesson is approved. Administration can support BIPOC teachers by approving educational lessons, letting the teacher decorate the classroom to their own personal preferences (school appropriate), and possibly purchasing materials for the classroom.
Another way to support BIPOC educators is by recognizing teachers who speak a native language, other than English. Having an interpreter for meetings can eliminate any confusion while communicating important information. If there is no budget in the school to hire an interpreter then maybe another teacher in the school can help with communication. This teacher has to be trustworthy and compensated for the services. Before any interpreters are involved, the teacher should be asked if they would like that service provided. Everyone has to be in agreement that the interpreter will be beneficial for specific meetings. Teachers who originally speak another language will also benefit from receiving any reading materials in the native language. These materials include employee handbooks, handouts given during staff meetings, and even books specific to education. This will not only make the teacher feel included in the school environment but also the educator will have a clearer understanding of what is expected from the school. When school objectives have to be translated then certain ideas could get lost or interpreted incorrectly. Administrators can also take the time to learn a few phrases in the teacher’s native language. This will help educators who are new to English feel supported by administration. It is important for any leader in a school setting to be inclusive to everyone on staff.
Administration has the opportunity to also acknowledge every teacher’s cultural traditions or holidays. A school could consist of many educators all around the world where different holidays are celebrated. To ignore the importance of these holidays can make a teacher feel excluded from the school community. If there is recognition of the different holidays and traditions then each teacher will feel supported by administration. Also, it is important to give the teacher the option of taking specific days off because of a traditional holiday that the educator celebrates. Just because it is not a holiday that is celebrated in the United States does not make it any less important to the teacher. Learn more about equitably approaching holidays in Montessori settings.
To help prevent any negativity in the school, leaders in administration will benefit from having a plan of action that centers equity policies and practices while also promoting culture that outlines the expectations for anti-racist behaviors. There should also be an agreed upon plan for when a teacher of color has experienced a racist encounter. This plan includes listening to the teacher, understanding the situation, and acting accordingly. The support from the administration will decrease the chance of this unfortunate incident happening again. If the teacher does not receive support then the school community will see this behavior as acceptable. This will make an unsafe environment for every person of color in the school, including parents, guardians, and students. The tone will be that the school accepts racist behavior without giving support to the teachers who need it the most.
As a leader in a school, assumptions about the needs for BIPOC teachers can be harmful. Hiring professional support for workshops geared towards race education will eliminate the urge to ask the teachers of color to do extra work in the school. Experts will give an unbiased stance on the topic and will have the correct tools to present the subject matter. Understanding the history behind different minority groups will decrease the ignorance that ignores the importance of conversations surrounding race theory. Supporting teachers of color is critical for an inclusive school environment.
About the Author
Saniyyah Khalilallah worked in a Montessori classroom for over a decade, first as an assistant and then later as a certified guide (Primary, 3 – 6 years). Now, she is writing books for children, consulting and tutoring. Contact her at skmontessori.com or email@example.com.