With black history month literally days away, teachers across the country are dusting off their Martin Luther King videos and photocopying Underground Railroad worksheets. Something is better than nothing, but if you are looking for a few ways to make your classroom more inclusive to black students during the month of February and beyond, here are a few simple things you can do that do not require bundles of paper:
1. Hold weekly or monthly dialogues as a class in order to discuss the classroom and suggest ways to improve it.
Friday afternoons, when everyone seems out of gas and tired of working, are the perfect times for a little classroom “family time”. This “strategy” is two-fold: it creates a classroom synergy of collaboration and accountability while also fostering all important student agency. Discussions should focus on things both inside and outside of the curriculum.
2. Learn their lingo.
Maintain a relevancy in your teaching practice by learning community colloquialisms for the sake of maintaining engagement while you are teaching a lesson. You would be surprised how dropping one word or phrase can bring all your students back to attention.
3. Visit the community you work in.
Travel to the playgrounds, barbershops, stores, and spots where your students spend time. Become familiar with all the streets and buildings where your students live. When you can explain a concept or simply converse with students about their community, it creates a sense that you are a part of their lives, beyond just being their teacher.
4. Learn the culture they cling to.
If you want to know about the culture your black students embody, talk to them about it. Ask questions and take the time to learn about the things they are into.
5. Be open with your discipline towards students.
If you feel a student is being disrespectful towards you, instead of immediately chastising them, explain the reasons behind your thinking and allow them the opportunity to explain their side. As a teacher, I’ve noticed that much of the friction between teachers and black students arises from miscommunication and a misreading of cultural cues.
The month of February should not be a “check off” month where you chunk a little bit of black culture into your teaching practice. By all means, continue with your plans for the month. We all could use whatever lessons that come in the form of validating the black experience and black life. But let us try to carry it past February this year. In fact, here are ten ways to make your classroom more inclusive of black students, in case you missed it.
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