How to Train an Anti-Racist Teacher: 9 Practical Takeaways (Opinion)

Schooling in the United States has been shaped by racism, and Black and brown students have been subjected to institutionalized conditions that sideline their identities, their assets, and their humanity. To correct that terrible injustice, we need anti-racist teachers who have abandoned color-neutral ideologies, understand oppression, know how to teach about horrific racist events, and see students as unique human beings. We need such teachers — even as many states try to restrict their work with laws and policies limiting discussions of race and racism. We need such teachers, but are they getting the training they need?

Teachers in the classroom often do not think so. In my work with schools, districts, and institutions of higher education, the critique I frequently hear is that too much professional development time is spent on providing theories and frameworks and not enough time is spent focusing on what anti-racist teaching looks and sounds like in practice. Teachers are asking how to translate anti-racist research and theories into what they do day-to-day in their classrooms and schools.

To ensure that teachers are equipped with the core competencies required of anti-racist educators, nine critical curricular components should be rolled into all anti-racist teacher professional development. Here they are with concrete suggestions about how trainers can help teachers acquire those competencies.

Build a shared understanding of concepts related to race, racism, and anti-racism. Teachers must first understand “anti-racism” as a term and a concept in order to begin to reflect on how they can develop the knowledge, literacies, and capacities that will support their development as anti-racist teachers. Trainers can work with teachers to collaboratively craft a shared definition of anti-racism and a chart of core competencies required of anti-racist educators.

2. Interrogate our own identities. Teachers must consider their own racialized identities and biases, particularly when making decisions in the classroom. Trainers can guide teachers in asking questions about their experience, including how their home, school, and community addressed race and racism and how that affects their ability to form relationships with students with different identities.

Examine and deconstruct racist stereotypes and tropes. Teachers must identify and unpack racist language and concepts so they can see how they contribute to racial oppression in schools. Trainers can guide teachers in identifying common stereotypes and tropes about students of color and provide counterstories and research that refute dominant narratives about students’ abilities, assets, and intelligence.

Teachers often think they are not getting the training they need.

4. Understand the history of racism in education. Teachers must have historical knowledge about the erasure, violence, and exclusion that Indigenous, Asian, Black, and Latinx students, families, and communities have faced in the US education system. Among the many possible topics trainers can choose to explore are atrocities like Native American boarding schools that forced violent assimilation on Indigenous students and the connections of the eugenics movement to intelligence tests and the standardized tests that we use today to sort and label students.

5. Develop anti-racist teaching skills. Teachers must develop skills and understanding to address the interpersonal needs of students through an anti-racist lens. Trainers can explicitly walk teachers through frameworks such as “community cultural wealth” that outline how to see, affirm, and make classroom use of the knowledge and skills students bring from their communities.

6. Critique how curriculum and school policies shape classrooms. Teachers must examine their own schools’ policies and curriculum for biases. Trainers can lead teachers in critically evaluating an educational policy or a curriculum in their own school to identify racist language and outcomes. Teachers can then rework the policy or curriculum to achieve anti-racist goals.

7. Engage collaboratively with students’ families and communities. Teachers must build relationships and networks that embrace community-led efforts related to race and education. Trainers can invite parents and community members to a training session as guest speakers to work collaboratively with teachers to respond to problems rooted in racism.

8. Provide strategies to sustain anti-racist practices when encountering resistance or racist events. Teachers must prepare for resistance from students, families, and colleagues. Trainers can provide real-life instances of racist occurrences in schools and have teachers role-play scenarios and develop plans of action to address the problems.

9. Grow anti-racist teacher leaders within each community. Teachers must become local experts and leaders in anti-racism. Trainers can prepare teachers to train colleagues at their respective sites using this framework.

There is no doubt that anti-racist teachers are needed and necessary. The time is now to invest in ensuring that teachers are prepared and empowered to undertake this work that is so important to the well-being and future of our nation’s most precious asset, our children.

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