Are there moments in your childhood that have just stuck with you? For some reason or another, one little event may have changed how you felt about something or someone. That event for me was Kindergarten.
"It wasn't me!"
We were reciting our ABCs together at circle time. Within the group of children loudly yelling out A, B, C, D..., there was someone reciting 1, 2, 3...
My teacher looked at me and immediately yelled, "stop it!" I looked at her in confusion but the lesson continued. E, F, G... 1, 2, 3...
Again, she stopped and told me that if I did it again I would be in trouble. I told her it wasn't me. She continued on. H, I, J, K... there it was again. That 1, 2, 3. "It wasn't me!" I proclaimed.
But of course she "knows it was me," sent me back to my table and called my mom while I sat there angry with tears. I remember constantly being in the "red" as I desperately tried to stop being "bad". I was isolated from activities, I was always put at the back of the line but I never understood what I was actually doing wrong.
I was labelled as having a "behavioral problem" and overtime, I started to revert inside a bubble because being quiet and hidden would keep me out of trouble.
Here's the kicker. As I got older and my family moved to a different state, I told myself that because no one knew me, I can be a different person. I thought that because I "changed", my teachers would love me. Well, they did. I became a straight-A student right away and school was easier. But turns out, I didn't change much. My environment did and therefore I had a better experience.
Looking back, I did not have a behavioral problem. I was a child who was bored, had trouble focusing and played in my desk during lessons. I would use humor to fit in and cope but it was seen as disruptful. But when I was accused of doing something I didn't do, I wanted justice and would be adamant about my innocence.
Punishment doesn't bear fruit
It's important as teachers to know that it's not just about getting through the lesson. During our time as teachers, we are always learning from our students. I would never want a child to ever feel the way I did. I wouldn't want them to have to go from an outspoken individual to someone whose light is nearly fading away. When children are "acting out" punishment is not solving the underlying problem and preventing it from happening again. When they behave this way, they are dealing with an unmet need but overtime, with trust and a prepared environment, the "naughtiness vanishes" (1940 London Lectures, Lecture 32).
Dr. Maria Montessori says that the teacher "must keep her imagination alive; for whilst, in the traditional schools, the teacher sees the immediate behavior of her pupils, knowing that she must look after them and what she has to teach, the Montessori teacher is constantly looking for a child who is not there yet...the many different types of children must not worry her. In her imagination she sees that single normalised type..." (The Absorbent Mind, Ch. 27).
Dr. Montessori believed the teacher should first focus on the environment and self. Then the teacher must be what Montessori described as "seductive" in a sense. They must be able to "entice the child" with the environment and "be lively". When a child is becoming a distraction to an activity or the environment, the teacher must find ways to redirect, instead of penalize. Soon after, the child will be able to concentrate and the teacher must take care to not interrupt. The classroom thus begins to flow while the student and teacher are better off.
"If the teacher meets the needs of the group of children entrusted to her, she will see the qualities of social life burst surprisingly into flower, and will have the joy of watching these manifestations of the childish soul. It is a great privilege to be able to see them" (The Absorbent Mind, Ch. 27)
Barbara J. Love talks about the term liberatory consciousness which "enables humans to live their lives in oppressive systems and institutions with awareness and intentionality, rather than on the basis of the socialization to which they have been subjected." (Developing a Liberatory Conscious)
She goes on to explain how in order to develop the liberatory conscious is through awareness (giving attention to our behaviors and thoughts), analysis (thinking about and theorize about why something is happening and what needs to be done), action (recognizing what needs to be done and seeing that action is taken) and accountability/ally-ship (understanding and managing the opportunity and possibility for perspective sharing and allyship in liberation work). (Developing a Liberatory Conscious)
As teachers and as people, we all have our biases, implicit or not. This shows in the school systems where higher percentages of Black students receive out-of-school suspension compared to White students.
People of color have to look at more than just the best school for their child because it's not just about learning. I find myself looking into the suspension ratios, community pages, families experience and rather or not the school has enough diversity. You see these concerns in parents who made tough decisions to pull their children of color out of elite schools to protect their mental health and confidence due to the oppression that took place. All of this should not be on the place of the parent or the child. Of course, there is not much you can do when children come in with learned biases from their families but you can implement a peaceful zero-tolerance space for all students.
Educators should create a safe learning environment for all of their children. That begins with ourselves. Developing our liberatory conscious will help in becoming a true advocate for each child, giving them a peace of mind in their learning environment, bringing justice when they have been wronged.
When a child feels like a teacher is against them, they can feel as if the world can destroy their soul and snuff out their light because there is no one to protect them.
Tried but never good enough
I was one of about five black students graduating in a class a little of 200 white high school seniors. I was an excellent student who held offices in various clubs, volunteered throughout the school year and summer, worked, received awards throughout my high school career, was a part of the National Honor Society and had been accepted into the Ohio State University. I was so proud of myself. I would be a first-generation graduate from my family. However, another student who was just as good as a student but not as involved, was waitlisted.
The gut wrenching feeling I had when my math teacher pointed at me and said "the only reason you got in and she didn't was because of diversity". In an instant, he had shed me of all my accomplishments and said I was undeserving. While another teacher stood by in silence, I thought to myself, I will never be good enough.
Our words and actions have power and no one will be perfect. However, we should be cognizant of the result, working to change and better ourselves and our environment. When we bring our biases and prejudices into the classroom, we have the power to break the child. But when we liberate ourselves from the societal ideas of the oppressor, then we can free the child from the harm we could cause. We can bring justice to the child by giving "every human being the help he needs to bring about his fullest spiritual stature..." (The Absorbent Mind, Ch. 27).