Home School Management How to Effectively Reach and Teach Black Students – TEACH Magazine

How to Effectively Reach and Teach Black Students – TEACH Magazine


Originally published June 2024

By Nicole Barton-Spencer

I have been a public school counselor for 18 years, and during that time I’ve worked in every type of environment. My current position is at a middle school of around 1,700 students, where African American students make up almost 12 percent of the population.

In this role, I primarily address and have been trusted with the task of helping Black students (and white/Caucasian teachers) navigate the challenges of race and culture. Students want to know how they can have a voice in their diverse community, and teachers, in turn, want to know how to address the personal, educational, and social needs of these students.

For many teachers, the hardest part is connecting with Black students when communications and behaviors are often misinterpreted or lost in translation. In the face of this disconnect, what can be done to successfully reach and teach Black students?

Fostering Acceptance and Understanding

Ever since the 1950s, when the United States shifted to desegregate public schools, there has been a perplexed dynamic about how to effectively accommodate and educate the Black child. Some of the most troubling questions and concerns are centered around culture. How to incorporate “traditional” societal norms with present day ideals of the Black family, and how to intertwine values that are not always aligned with a “white society.” A society that often believes in what can be referred to as the “white is right” mentality: that values and conventions are commonly shared among both races, which is not necessarily the case.

I think it’s important to understand that socially, Black people are by far one of the most linguistically woven people. This dates back to slavery where code words were created and used to communicate between one another to avoid persecution. We (Black folks) have an alternate set of words for every aspect of our experiences. This is something that evolves with each generation. Words and meanings change, styles change, and how we interact with others outside our races changes as well.

Culturally, we parent differently, we articulate differently, and the family’s expectation is different. There is no place on earth that we can’t connect—regardless of our predominant geographical location, we all share similar life experiences. We are oriented differently, which lends itself to our social constructs. Black culture often sets the tone for many of society’s present-day trends in fashion, music, and language/slang. And in Black culture, education is regarded as a valuable tool, but it does not define who we are. 

In thinking back to accounts of my own parents’ journeys as children who experienced segregation, I can’t help but recall stories of how their teachers who looked like them, resided in their neighborhoods, knew their parents, and taught all the children in their families fostered more acceptance and understanding. This is hardly a surprise; surely someone who shares all the same attributes as you would have an easier time relating and connecting with you.

However, in my own experience as a Black counselor in an educational setting, I am tasked with the unspoken responsibility of “handling” Black children. I also have many conversations with my white counterparts who come to me for guidance on how to “deal with” Black students and parents. “What do we say? What do we not say? How do we handle Black attitudes when a parent or student doesn’t like what we say? How do we appear not be racist even though we truly aren’t? Why do Black students respond the way they do to conflict?”

To answer many of these questions, I like to reference a book written by Christopher Emdin, For White Folks Who Teach in the Hood… and the Rest of Y’all Too. Here, Emdin addresses what he refers to as the “problematic savior complex,” which is the idea that some teachers think Black students (and Black families) need unwavering help in all facets of their lives, resulting in Black students being seen as less than, or otherwise treated as not having the tools needed to succeed.

This savior complex is something I’ve witnessed many times throughout my professional career and is often inherent in teachers of students from different cultures. That’s why I strongly encourage teachers to step outside of their own upbringing and learn about other cultures, norms, and values.

In order to better understand Black students, my thought is that you really must lay your biases down and allow yourself to learn from them. Reverse the role of student and teacher and establish an honest, open space. In doing so, this allows for the creation of moldable, conscious-driven educators.

Additional Tips and Takeaways

Of course, the strategies I’ve mentioned above are just one starting point. There are many other actions that can be taken to begin addressing this issue. And I would be remiss if I said it was something that could be fixed overnight. These conversations need to be revisited as each school year begins. They also require the willingness of school leaders and staff to allow opportunities to explore these dynamics.

In the meantime, here a few other tips on how to effectively reach and teach Black students:

  • Recognize that Black students must feel involved and accounted for. Educators need to create a classroom framework that specifically involves Black students. This can be done by acknowledging and affirming their differences.
  • Establish a personal relationship with Black students that fosters room for growth. Black students often feel seen and not heard. Educators need to loosen their idea of social norms and allow room for Black students to have buy-in. They must also have the flexibility to incorporate Black students’ differences. When Black students have a safe space to share their life experiences and values it creates an environment for their personal growth.
  • Educators must be willing to learn and embrace cultural norms, values, and traditions to effectively reach Black students. This also means showing cultural sensitivity and realizing that not all households celebrate holidays, accomplishments, or successes in the same way as their white counterparts. Lack of awareness creates a disconnect between Black students and educators, so it is important to ask questions when you don’t understand and then incorporate your learning into the classroom.
  • Lastly, non-Black people must speak up against the anti-Blackness in our communities. A one-size-fits all approach does not work. Learn how to be an ally and advocate. Focus on the Black experience without allowing your own prior understandings to distort this message.

It is my hope that putting these strategies into practice will assist school staff in having meaningful interactions with Black students and, ultimately, contribute to the development of culturally-responsive classrooms, so that we can all better serve the children in our care.

Nicole Barton-Spencer is a Professional School Counselor of 18 years, originally from Fayetteville, NC, and now residing in Marietta, GA. She is the mother of two adult children and in her spare time she loves to travel, meditate, and attend arts & crafts fairs.

Source link

You may also like