Do Teachers Believe in our Students?

Tyrone C. Howard, Ph.D., associate dean for equity and inclusion at UCLA’s graduate school of education and information studies, recently spoke to Los Angeles Unified School District’s Curriculum, Instruction and Educational Equity Committee about how Implicit Bias creates an achievement gap in our schools. Bias perpetuates the school to prison pipeline and failure among our Latino and African American youth. So, what is implicit bias? Implicit biases are the unconscious associations and assumptions made between groups of people which affect the routine classroom and administrative decisions that produce failure and achievement gaps with our black and brown children. Breanna Williams from the Civil Rights Lawyers Committee has some key points about implicit bias that should be kept in mind:

1) Implicit Racial Bias impacts if not lowers teachers’ expectations for their students. Recent research indicates that teachers tend to hold lower achievement expectations for African American and Latino students than their white peers.

2) Subconcious fear felt by children of implicit racial bias affects the academic performance of Black and Latino students. When Black or Latino students fear that their performance on a test or other assessment will confirm a negative stereotype about their racial groups, it becomes a self fulfilling prophecy.

3) Implicit racial bias influences the way that school administrators perceive student behavior. This idea explains why Black and Latino students are more likely to be referred to the office for punishment under subjective school policies than whites.  Implicit-bias-black-latino-students

Here’s an example from when my son was in kindergarten in a public school that served predominantly white children. The teacher targeted him frequently for behaviors most all kindergartners display, especially the boys. In her eyes, my son was the culprit of any disruptions. I enrolled him there because the school scored well statewide and had several academic acknowledgements. But I never expected my son or any other child to be targeted in such a great school, right? Wrong. Perhaps children of color are more likely to be targeted for removal to keep the scores on the standardized tests higher in those schools. What a novel idea!  

He was the youngest child in the class, one year behind most of the kids, yet the teacher felt compelled to refer him to the school psychologist in the very first trimester. Why? I recall her telling me at the first parent teacher conference that she didn’t think he had normal child development 1) because my son drew a dog that was blue, and 2) made a drawing of mommy that didn’t have enough hair, and 3) she pointed to the fact that my son had a difficult time sitting down for too long. I reminded her that my son was at least a year younger than most of the kids in the class, but she didn’t feel that was relevant. She blamed my son for disruptions in the class, yet had zero suggestions for me on how I could help. Her implicit bias against my son led to her recommendation for his “expulsion.” He was only four years old.

Well, perhaps, expelling my four year old son was intentional and strategic?  Could the root cause be the teacher’s lack of tolerance for the only Latino child in the class? She wasn’t kind to the African American kid in the class either, and it was clear to me this was not the school for either of them. I took my son out of that school before the actual expulsion took place. My take away from this experience was quite simple: if the teacher does not believe in a child’s potential, the child will fail. Yet this is the case far too often at LAUSD and other school districts that don’t know how to inspire our children. How many times have we heard that a kid failed at school, because he was troubled,  disruptive, had anxiety, or undiagnosed learning disabilities?  However, even before schools diagnose our children, schools must address both implicit bias and mindfulness, in order to cultivate compassion and belief in the potential of all our children.

This takes me back to Dr. Tyrone Howard and his impactful words. “Bias is real and discrimination is rampant,” Howard told the committee, made up of four school board members, administrators and representatives of some of the major school unions. Howard added, “Even teachers of color have biases against students of color.” Sadly, my son’s teacher was Latina, but she chose to work at a predominantly white school, and targeted children of color, so yes this is so true, I experienced it.  But it is also true that there is a new wave of mindfulness, and acknowledgement among younger teachers that implicit bias is real, and that they can do something about it. If they don’t make assumptions on our kids because of the color of their skin and motivate them while believing in their potential, the future of our children can change.

The school must encourage teachers to see the potential in every child. I know that the teachers who believed in me were also my mentors and allowed me to believe in myself, and I will never forget them. The bad teachers for me were outnumbered by all the ones that believed in me. The teachers who didn’t believe in me, predicted I would fail to my face and in front of the entire classroom, and also told my parents. These are the teachers we need to transform or eliminate. Yet, we can’t improve our system by targeting teachers, it’s about changing an entire system from top to bottom and bottom to top. My son thrived after he was placed in a school with a system that truly cared for each child and saw each one as a gift full of tremendous potential. My father always said, “children are like knowledge sponges, they soak up all that we teach them.” I would now add that the knowledge sponges dry up when we don’t add a belief in their potential and add daily inspiration. Whether it’s unconscious or conscious, our schools can’t accept or tolerate implicit bias. At the core of all of this is our leadership at the schools. We need leaders that are transformational, accountable, transparent and passionate about the children. Educational leaders should believe in the success of each child. Schools must be more intentional about their values and demonstrate them to our kids because these kids are soaking it all up.

Why Race and Culture Matter in Schools:

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Marta A. Segura, M.P.H.

Marta A. Segura, M.P.H.

Marta A. Segura is the CEO of her Public Affairs firm GOLD, a change agent, strategist, coalition builder, nonprofit consultant, and Board member of the Southern California Leadership Network, Los Angeles League of Conservation Voters. She is also an appointed member of the Mayor to the LA METRO Community Advisory Council, and formerly a City Planning Commissioner for the City of Los Angeles.
Her network is vast as she has been working across sectors for over 20 years. Her passion for civic engagement knows no boundaries. Marta has more than 20 years of management, leadership and advocacy experience in the public and nonprofit sectors, and served as District Director for then Councilmember Eric Garcetti, now Mayor of Los Angeles. Marta has an uncanny ability to integrate both her leadership and people skills into all that she does. Also she is an advocate for Open Space, Toxic Free Communities, and is passionate about building the wellbeing and voices of our most marginalized communities. Her recent clients have included Nike, LA 84 Foundation, LA SAN, City of LA, Housing Authority of the City of LA, and the Los Angeles Latino Chamber of Commerce.
She graduated from public schools in San Jose, California and from there she went to UCSB for her bachelor’s degree and then later received her Master’s Degree from UCLA’s School of Public Health. Marta wanted her son to also to attend public schools, but she transferred him out in the 3rd grade, because the school system was in decline in her neighborhood, and she made the very difficult choice of transferring him to a Catholic School in South LA, where he has thrived free of bullying and has been inspired to learn every day.

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