Teaching while white is the norm in my community. It is the everyday, the routine, the predictable. When I go to school as a white teacher, I am surrounded by mostly white teachers. In my community, I will teach mostly white kids. The administrators in my community are mostly white; teachers are mostly women and the higher echelon of administrators are mostly white males.
Here are some of my observations as a white teacher.
1. I really don’t have to think about my race at all. I cannot imagine my race ever being an issue related to job security, advancement, and competence. Even in a country of changing demographics, my race is the norm, the successful group, the face of most people in power. I notice that photos in books and posters depict kids of color, but the faces that look back at regular classroom teachers in my world are mostly white, which leads to the next point.
2. As a special educator, I will serve more students of color proportionately than other teachers. The classes for kids with behavior and emotional problems are primarily populated by black males.
3. I notice that everyone expects the white kids to attend college or at least have that option. The kids of color are already struggling, so the commonly held belief is that they will be lucky to graduate from high school.
4. All the custodians in my school are black. So are the people who mow the school lawns, replace broken parts, bring our packages, wash our windows, repair the roof, and cook our food. Most of their supervisors are white.
5. There are a few black teachers but more black assistants. “Everyone” notices when black teachers and/or black assistants talk or stand together. No one ever makes a comment about a group of white teachers or assistants talking or standing together, because that’s the norm. When a black teacher works with a black assistant, it becomes an issue. I hear teachers asking, “Should that be allowed? Is it fair for the kids?” The norm is white teachers with white assistants.
4. If there’s a black administrator, I will hear that she was hired because she’s black. When a black teacher is hired, I hear that she was hired because she is black. No one ever comments to me that a white teacher was hired for her race.
5. When I talk about race, when I point out racism, when I make friends based upon mutual interests and attraction regardless of race, I start to lose my inherent white advantage. I am viewed with some suspicion. Teachers tell me they are tired of hearing me talk about race. They say I am oversensitive or misinterpreting comments and actions. I am grateful for a special friend who tells me when am I operating out of that white privilege of ignoring racism. Her courageous comments help me examine my own prejudices, of which there are many.