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A teacher instructs just as much as they learn – Lean into your discomfort

Today’s post is authored by Literature Teacher, Morgan Schaefer @ms.schaefer20 on Instagram

I want to thank Morgan for her humility and grace in sharing her reflections as a white teacher embracing culturally responsive teaching about race in the United States.  – Leslie Maniotes

The above video White Teachers can teach Antiracism is from my conversation this summer with the teaching team.  In the post below, Morgan explores how some of her own faults were exposed in the work but how she’s aware and willing to change which is the most important part.

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The best teachers are the ones that change their minds.’ –Terry Heick

Teaching the Tulsa Race Massacre allowed me to become aware of my faults and role in systematic racism. 

As a white teacher, I believe that it is my job to teach hard history, speak the truth in situations of injustice, and do Antiracism work. However, we often are unaware of our flaws until they are on display. There is one instance while working through the Guided Inquiry unit that sticks out in my mind. Our project centered around assumptions, with the main event being the Tulsa Race Massacre. Part of this unit was working through a novel with two main characters. One main character is mixed and set in the present day. The other main character is white and established in 1921. My students enjoyed reading William’s (1921) chapters. However, William is not a nice person. He is a jerk. 

One day after reading, we discussed why the main character would choose to oppress a black character. One of my students said, “I would be on the side with the black man.”

To which I immediately replied, “no, you wouldn’t, you are a white.” 

After I said this statement, the student replied, “no, I am not white.” The fact that this student was able to pass for white opened the discussion of what white privilege is and, on a smaller scale, the savior complex. 

We all want to believe that during the 1921 massacre, we would stow away a black citizen in our home; however, would we be willing to risk our own safety and comfort?

This conversation caused me to check my own privilege and assumptions.   I wanted to believe that I would do the right thing during the massacre as well, but the truth was I wasn’t sure. 

When I think about this conversation in the middle of the summer of 2020, it opens up a lot more. 

We are living through the most significant racial revolution of our times. It is no longer optional to choose what is easy; we must all choose the right. Teaching this unit forced me to do some serious soul searching. As a teacher, I want to believe that I am free of bias and assumptions, but the truth is that I am fallible. More importantly, the idealism of myself roots itself in a white savior mentality. 

As I read and begin the work of antiracism, I will teach this unit differently. When I think about the idea of being brave, teaching the Tulsa Race Massacre is the opposite. Ultimately, this was the right thing to do. It may not have been comfortable or straightforward, but as humans, we have to lean into our discomforts. 

There is an old saying that a teacher instructs just as much as they learn. I found this to be valid throughout the process. However, there is one part of learning that no one teaches you in university. A huge part of being able to teach well is often admitting that we were wrong about the information we put out. Admitting where I messed up is how I see myself progressing with this unit into the next school year. 

Morgan Schaefer @ms.schaefer20

Literature English Language Arts Teacher

Shawnee Middle School

Shawnee, Oklahoma

 

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