“Mrs. LaMay, do you believe in me?”

 If the student is black, my answer, as a white teacher, is more likely to be no, I don’t believe you are as likely to graduate from college  as that white child sitting next to you. I would not say that, but according to one recent study, I would believe it, harsh as it sounds. A black teacher, meanwhile, would look at the same student and see someone with huge potential for academic success. Which teacher  is right? 

MTV’s ‘White People’  documentary on race asks young white people “What Does It Mean to be White?” Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Jose Antonio takes on affirmative action, colorblindness and white privilege, among other topics.

Students generally tend to live up – or down – to teachers’ expectations, notes Seth Gershenson, of American University in Washington, D.C., one of the  authors of a recent study on the issue of racial mismatches between teachers and students. However, he noted that his study was unable to answer a critical question. Who is right about a particular student? Is the white teacher too pessimistic, or the black teacher too optimistic? Read the blog at http://www.brookings.edu/blogs/brown-center-chalkboard/posts/2015/08/18-teacher-expectations-gershenson

I can’t ignore the question.  Eighty-five percent of the students at Lincoln were students of color, much higher than the statewide average of 47 percent, and  half of all students were poor — poor enough to qualify for free or reduced-price lunches when we teachers marched them silently to the cafeteia each day in single file lines to sit with their classes. The link between poverty and low test scores also is well-documented.

  The issue is complicated, and it makes me uncomfortable. Nevertheless, if I am to be honest about my year and my lessons learned, I must tackle the issue. I know that because I am white, society gives me breaks that it does not give to blacks, especially black boys and men. For that reason, I tried harder to connnect with those children at school, but with little success overall.  Those were the children most likely to disrupt class by acting out, which made me wonder whether the students themselves brought racial biases with them to school, reacting more favorably to teachers of the same race. Or maybe I am just making excuses, and they just plain didn’t like me because I was me, not because I was white. Race, poverty and their impact on teaching will be a recurring theme in the story I am writing in this blog.

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5 thoughts on ““Mrs. LaMay, do you believe in me?”

  1. About half of the students at my school were black. Other black kids self-indentified as being of two or more races, a differerent category. Also, lots of Hispanic kids, and about 10 percent Asian. Hispanic kids also could be disruptive. Asian and white kids, not as much, perhaps simply because there were fewer of them. You are right. THere is much more to all of it than I can address in one post. I appreciate your comments. It helps give me perspective, since I taught only one year. I would have killed for class sizes of 17 students. My largest, most diverse class was 33 students. Do you mind if I ask you in which state you teach?

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  2. I am an African American teacher. My black students are generally more disruptive than my white students. But so are my Hispanic students. My school is probably less than 5% black. I average about 1 black student per class. My average class size is about 17 students. Maybe in my circumstance it stands out more if a black student is disruptive. Maybe they feel under represented/uncomfrotable? Maybe they are marginalized? I guess there are many maybes to consider. As you said, it’s complicated.

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