We all come into classrooms with preconceived notions, or biases, about groups of people or, in some cases, particular students. These biases directly impact our interactions with students, parents, and even colleagues. Implicit bias tends to favor people that look and act like oneself and can be dangerously harmful to those perceived as “other,” especially marginalized groups. But all types of bias, whether implicit or not, are damaging to students and acknowledging our own biases may be the toughest part of addressing this issue.
Bias is defined by Merriam-Webster as “an inclination of temperament or outlook; especially, a personal and sometimes unreasoned judgment.” Our biases impact our daily interactions with others: They may dictate who we approach to ask a question at a public venue, how we relate to others while shopping, and even how we view current events. Our biases can also hinder, or even destroy, the relationships in our classrooms and schools if they are not recognized and addressed.
Here are some examples of the ways educators commonly demonstrate bias in school settings:
- Making assumptions about race based on the names on the class roster
- Making assumptions about a young lady who wears a hijab to school
- Suggesting an American nickname for a student whose name is unfamiliar to them
- Assuming a student who is obese is less intelligent than a student who is slim
- Disciplining a black student more harshly than a white student for the same behavior
Educator bias can hinder a student’s ability to feel safe in a classroom, making it difficult for the student to enjoy school or certain classes. Sadly, some students are categorized and labeled before the first day of school. Still other students suffer from bias based on visual differences (e.g., skin color, dress, body size) during the first few days of school. Students in marginalized groups may experience microaggressions on a daily basis throughout the year. All of these students may experience significant emotional trauma. For many students, educator bias causes lasting damage in academics and beyond.
We must protect all students by actively working to combat bias and foster a safe environment. The recent events in Charlottesville were an unfortunate reminder of the need for educators to lead in the fight against bias, racism, and bigotry by creating a safe space for all students to learn, even – or especially – when internal reflection is the necessary first step.
Not sure where to start in regards to combating bias and securing safety for all? Here are some suggested resources and actions.
- First, the implicit bias test offered by Harvard is a great way to examine your own biases. The results might shock you, but will give you a starting point from which to understand the preconceived notions you bring into the classroom. It is impossible to fix something you haven’t acknowledged. This part can be very uncomfortable but it is necessary.
- Learn about the groups you hold biases about: their history, their culture, their norms. The best way to combat bias is through education.
- Amplify your students’ voices and their cultures through novel/text choices and content in your classes. Discovery Education includes a huge variety of texts, including study guides, to use in your classroom. Choose from narrative prose, poetry, essays, speeches, and songs.
- Converse with your students. Letting your students know you are thinking about and combating your own biases empowers them to be better advocates for themselves, building their self-worth. Take advantage of the strategies that support respectful discourse described in Discovery Education’s Spotlight on Strategies series. Some of the best ones are Talking Sticks, Paper Chat, and Table Top Texting – these all allow for respectful, moderated or written discussion.
So do our biases as educators impact the classroom? Absolutely. Hopefully this school year, you can check and combat your biases to not only become a better educator but, ultimately, to create a safer learning environment for all the diverse students in your care.
Here are additional helpful resources
- Discovery Education’s Hot Topics: Tolerance Collection
- Ed Week (Bias in the Classroom)
- Teaching Tolerance: I don’t think I’m biased
- Bias-proof your classroom,
- Challenge Bias
- White Privilege in Schools by Ruth Anne Olson
- Racial Microaggressions by Secondary School Teachers
- “Why are all the black kids sitting together in the cafeteria?” by Beverly Daniel Tatum
Shana is a veteran educator of twelve years serving in both public and private school during her career. Shana is a passionate educator who believes in purposeful disruption of status quo, is passionate about safe and inclusive schools for all students, and works as an advocate for marginalized groups in education.