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An Open Letter to Educators: How You Can Work to Shatter Systemic Racism by Dr. Teresa Flores

Jun 01, 2020
Here’s how educators can learn to treat each student as an individual
I am African-American. I was given that label at birth based on the amount of melanin in my skin. I cannot change it.
So, what conclusions have you already drawn about me? What assumptions have you made about my upbringing, taste in music, education, morals and religion?
Consider this, more than 41 million Black people live in the United States. Yet, we are often confronted with people who assume that because we are Black, all of us have the same experiences and inclinations. It seems impossible for all 41 million Black people to have the exact same experiences, ideologies and interests to fit any assumption that could be made.
(Hopefully, you are already shattering some of your assumptions. Hopefully, you can truly see us as individuals when you meet us, and give us a chance to create a vision of who we are as our own unique selves.)
As an educator, I want to help you see how you can break those habits, let go of assumptions and avoid placing all of us into a unilateral and unyielding stereotypes.

Become purposeful
Be on purpose. Challenge your assumptions on purpose. Get to know Black communities on purpose. Choose to be a light in the life of our Black children on purpose. It is amazing if you sit and talk with other Black people just how many of us have been purposely discouraged by educators.
I was told that no African-Americans had doctorates when I was in high school when I mentioned to a professor that I had that goal, a goal which I went on to achieve from a more prestigious university than his.
I have heard about teachers who say those kids are not going to amount to anything anyway, so why bother. Some students are placed at a lower level beneath their academic ability. Many Black children are set on a path educationally that does not allow for the option of college, or even military.
I personally have been singled out in class as the only African-American in the room. By treating me “special,” I was actually made to feel like I somehow needed more help and did not quite fit in with the others, which was untrue.
This is why we, as educators, need to consider how we treat children of color. Our job is not to discourage children, regardless of race. We should be a light in their lives and a safe place, because some children have no other place to feel safe and accepted. Black children within a few years of being born have already been told by someone, “You are different, therefore not accepted.” They have been discouraged from dreams and feeling successful.
Many non-white children struggle with self-esteem because they do not look like their classmates, or perhaps the kind of person that they have been taught is beautiful, smart and successful. Their feelings should be respected and their opportunities for education should be equal. You should treat them as equally capable of high grades, good behavior and long-term success. Anything else is injustice and a disgrace to our students.
How can educators learn to do better?
So how do you learn to treat your children equally? First, I would like you to self-reflect. Think of you how different and unique you are from other people categorized into your race or culture.
Maybe you come from a culture stereotyped as having fiery tempers when you are actually quite level-headed. Perhaps people tend to think you love dancing like all of “your people,” while you have two left feet.
If you truly reflect, you will find that you do not perfectly fit the stereotypes associated with your culture and race. So then is it remotely logical to assume that all people of any race would fit one mold?
If we are honest with ourselves, we all stereotype as a means of understanding others and making judgments about what we think about the people.
It takes a conscious effort to avoid those assumptions. As an educator, I cannot assume that an Asian child needs less help because he or she is smarter than the other kids. I should not assume that the Hispanic child cannot speak English well. It is unfair to think the white child has financial advantages to help their education. Likewise, a Black child should not be labeled by any preconceived notions about how they learn or who they are. It is unfair to the child and to us as educators.
For the remainder of the article, visit https://www.sylvanlearning.com/sylvan-nation/k-thru-12/an-open-letter-to-educators-how-you-can-work-to-shatter-systemic-racism