June 11, 2020
The senseless slayings of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, and George Floyd have refocused attention on the many injustices that define and undermine our society. These horrific incidents are a predictable outcome of the systemic racism and oppression many experience long before they encounter police. For example, although Black students make up 15% of children in schools, they receive three times as many suspensions as White students for identical infractions. This and other inequities are a direct result of the different ways the education system responds to student behavior based on skin color.
Typically, efforts to increase equity in schools begins with calls to increase school funding. However, while equitable funding is absolutely necessary, it is not sufficient for addressing inequities in schools and classrooms. It is also essential that we focus on what teachers and other school personnel do to optimize learning and minimize harm in their daily work with children.
The past few months have demonstrated that teachers sacrifice more time on any given day than we have the bandwidth to appreciate. They touch more lives with greater frequency than people in any other profession. Teachers are powerful. That power includes the ability to intervene on the racism and other injustices plaguing our world. We are all born with and raised in these injustices. They are part of the very air we breathe, until we are shocked into realizing that this air suffocates, and this air can kill.
While we breathe and are influenced by this air, we recognize that intervening on racism and injustice cannot be done by pre-kindergarten to twelfth grade teachers alone. Instead, the systemic challenges we face demand collaboration across our profession.
Over the past five years, the Michigan Teacher Education Network (MITEN), a collaborative of ten universities across the state and their partner school districts, has built a learning organization wherein teachers and higher-education instructors work together to answer the question: How can we prepare teachers to practice in ways that no longer do harm to children?
Central to our work in teacher preparation is a focus on teaching practices. MITEN members seek to collectively surface the racist practices we see in classrooms, some of which we have regrettably enacted ourselves. In their place, we offer alternative teaching moves that can interrupt racist patterns.
The work of surfacing and intervening on racism in schools and classrooms is not easy. It requires significant personal growth and daily practice. We nevertheless know this to be the most important work we can do in our lifetimes. Intervening on patterns of injustice IS the work of teaching.
The MITEN learning network is committed to anti-racist teaching across Michigan, and we invite teachers, teacher educators, school and district leaders, policymakers, parents and caregivers, and all other, interested stakeholders to join us in this endeavor.