By Tanya Cowie
In our field, many of us strive daily to create a comfortable and safe classroom. We look at our biases, teach with empathy, and model cultural understanding. We want everyone to feel they are accepted and that their diversity is respected and worthy, but are we doing enough?
Different perspectives and opinions make for wonderful discussions, but conflict still occurs. I have found by using respectful guidelines, like BC TEAL’s, to guide classroom discussions, as well as talking about accepting cultural differences, useful. However, we have to also look at historical factors that have led to racism, both for ourselves as instructors and for our students. Two recent online events brought this home to me.
I participated in a twitter chat on intersectionality with #CdnELTchat that was really thought provoking. By looking at the parts that make up one’s identity, you can become aware of how you see yourself in the world and how you think others see you. I realized, by taking part in the intersectionality wheel activity, that I see myself as a teacher, mom, and west coast Canadian before I see myself as white. Many of the BIPOC (Black/Indigenous/People of Colour) instructors saw themselves as their race first. This gave me huge insight into the privilege I have taken for granted. It also made me think more about my classroom and the part that race plays in it.
One of the most meaningful webinars I attended this year was when BC TEAL hosted Ismaël Traoré on November 26th. The title of his talk was Beyond Celebrating Diversity: Basic Principles of Anti-Racist Education (click the title to watch). He gave us some great suggestions on how we can develop as anti-racist educators.
Ismaël talked about how the theory of intercultural communication aims at teaching the differences in culture to help us understand each other. The belief is that the root of conflict is cross cultural misunderstanding. This is a good start, but the anti-racist paradigm suggests it is incomplete.
Ismaël said that a critique of the intercultural communication paradigm is that it does not take notice of the dominant power. It undermines disparities in social outcomes. Looking at things from an anti-racist lens allows people to recognize the unequal access to power and focuses on organizational equity.
He says racism in education, and all institutions, discriminates against racialized people. It does not allow for a feeling of belonging and, therefore, creates disparities in racial outcomes.
We look at different cultures as “other” and the Canadian dominant culture as the norm, which can hold more power and have more agency. Even if we are sincerely working towards a classroom with equity, we cannot get there without considering the racism that is built into our society and institutions. We need to unlearn racism. Ismaël made many suggestions for teaching with this anti-racist lens. I invite you to read the suggestions (click on the button below) as we try to do more to make everyone around us feel they are accepted. Check in with yourself; are you really doing enough?
Bio: Tanya has been teaching EAL for over 25 years and teaches in the Pathways program at VCC. She is a lifelong learner and has interests in Intercultural Communication, Anti-racism, and EAL Pedagogy. Tanya has a certificate in Intercultural Studies from UBC, is an IDI Qualified administrator and is a SIETAR BC board member. Tanya currently works and resides on the lands of the Tsleil-Waututh, Squamish and Stó:lō.
What are you doing to be a more inclusive/anti-racist teacher?Write your comments in the comments section!
- Social Identity Wheel. (n.d.). Retrieved January 17, 2021, from https://sites.lsa.umich.edu/inclusive-teaching/sample-activities/social-identity-wheel/
- Gerald, J. (2020). Worth the Risk: Towards Decentring Whiteness in English Language Teaching. BC TEAL Journal, 5(1), 44-54. https://doi.org/10.14288/bctj.v5i1.345
- Tips for Supporting Children and Youth with the Impacts of Media Coverage on Racism and Violence. (n.d.). Retrieved January 17, 2021, from https://www.peelschools.org/parents/mental-health-and-wellbeing/parents/antiblackracism/Pages/default.aspx
- BCTEAL (2020, November 26). “Beyond Celebrating Diversity: Basic Principles of Anti-Racist Education” . youtube.com/watch?v=K4RRI_foa_k&ab_channel=BCTEAL
- https://www.researchgate.net/publication/254453003_Why_Do_Some_Employers_Prefer_to_Interview_Matthew_but_Not_Samir_New_Evidence_from_Toronto_Montreal_and_Vancouver. (n.d.).