Due to Super Tuesday we had a teacher workday in my school district. (Side note, for the first time ever my school is not a polling place. Military families vote wherever they hold residence so most of the people in our area wouldn’t vote in Virginia. Just one more thing that makes this school unusual.) We spent the morning in staff meetings. The majority of that time was the next equity module, a PD experience that all employees in my school district must participate in. On the whole the equity module PDs have been pretty well done and today was no exception. That’s pretty impressive given that these modules are being presented to ALL employees, meaning folks with a wide range of experiences and knowledge when it comes to understanding issues around equity in education.
One of the things we did this morning was explore some data from our district. We looked at percentages of different populations in our gifted programs. We dug into percentages of teachers of various races versus percentages of students of various races. (Interestingly enough, in my district there are far more Asian and Latinx students than there are teachers but only slightly more Black students than teachers. White teachers, however, wildly outpace the percentage of white students.) And we looked at different populations and disciplinary actions. Not surprisingly, students with disabilities are significantly overrepresented when it comes to discipline.
As we reflected on what all this data mean to us, I also thought about bias at a classroom level. I often find myself chastising a student for a behavior I would ignore from another student. Or doing exactly the opposite and ignoring a behavior from one student that would elicit a reprimand to another student. I became aware of this about myself, I think, when I didn’t reprimand a student because I thought it was someone else. I realized I would have reprimanded the child I thought I was seeing.
Let me make that muddiness a bit cleaner. Let’s say that Alex (as I don’t have an Alex this year and can’t remember when I last did) is busy poking at a friend while they’re all sitting on the carpet; tugging on the other kid’s hair, bumping them with his knee, etc. I notice but ignore the behavior because I think it’s actually Gabriel doing it. Gabriel is, in general, really well behaved and usually does what is expected. Alex doesn’t. So I’m willing to let it slide from Gabriel, feeling like it’s a rare thing, but I’d likely jump on Alex if he did it.
My own bias is impacting my disciplinary decisions. I can usually identify it and, therefore, correct it. Mostly. I’m far from perfect. It does make me wonder what other biases I’m not even seeing that are playing out in how I respond to children. I know I am full of biases. I’m human. I can accept that it is true. My goal is to not allow those biases to drive the choices I make, especially as an educator. But I can only do that if I am aware of them. This is true for individual biases, focused on specific children, and the wider, prevalent, societal biases. I have to work to step back, see the choices I am making from a distance rather than from my perspective, and question them.