What will you say? What will you encourage students to say?
The best way to be ready to speak up is to prepare. The more you and your students can identify stereotypes and explain why they are hurtful—or just inaccurate—the easier it will be to respond the next time you hear one. Remember, your response can have an impact.
Here are some prompts to get you started, along with background information to help you address the inaccuracies.
An elementary student holds up the corners of his eyes and utters an inappropriate remark as a Korean student walks by.
Making fun of someone’s physical appearance, especially in cases where the traits being mocked are related to race, ethnicity or cultural background, is dehumanizing. The same holds true for mocking another language.
How can a student bystander respond? What about an adult overhearing the taunt?
A boy who likes attention gets laughs by chanting to a classmate with hearing aids, “Can you hear me now?”
Making fun of someone for a disability or physical characteristic isn’t funny. What effect did this student’s humor have on the classroom environment?
How might the targeted student feel when this comment was made? How might a teacher respond? How might other students be encouraged to consider their own reactions in this situation? How might they speak up to stop this behavior?
You hear a student in your class yell to a Latine student, “You don’t belong here. Go back to Mexico or I’ll report you to ICE.”
All students belong and deserve to feel welcomed and included in their schools.
The targeting of students based on their ethnicity, appearance, assumed immigration status or any other reason has no place in schools. It harms individual students and distracts everyone from learning.
Schools have a legal obligation to educate all students, regardless of their immigration status.
What assumptions is this student making based on the appearance of the Latine student? What doesn’t this student understand about the immigration process? How could this teacher respond to support the targeted student and reinforce shared values so that all students feel included and respected in this classroom?
During a staff meeting, some teachers cheer when the principal announces that students from a nearby trailer park will be attending a different school next year.
Teacher attitudes matter. The stereotype that students from a particular neighborhood, or those who live in poverty, are low achievers or disciplinary problems can have a real impact on their achievement and behavior.
Stereotyping by teachers has a negative effect on student performance; negative expectations on the part of teachers can lead to poor outcomes.
This is a good scenario in which to employ the “tell me more” strategy. Ask teachers practicing this scenario to explain why they clapped. Be ready to provide information on how teacher expectations influence student performance.
What might the principal in this case do? What might an individual teacher do or say?
During a service project planting trees at a local park, you hear a group of students laughing as one of them complains, “Why are we doing this? This is what Mexicans are for.”
The idea that any one ethnicity is particularly suited to any one profession is a form of stereotyping.
Mexicans, like every other group of individuals, occupy a range of positions in a variety of industries.
Students from middle-class, dominant-culture backgrounds may enjoy unearned advantages that allow them to feel above particular tasks, even those performed in the service of others.
What does this student understand about stereotypes and privilege? What do those who were laughing understand about them?
You overhear students laughing about a post on the school’s parent social media group. It says, “Heads up parents of middle school girls. The transgender is already using the girls’ bathroom.”
Students thrive when they can be open about who they are and be affirmed in all of their identities. When schools provide full access to facilities, they send a clear message that all students are trusted and valued members of the school community.
Any student who doesn’t feel comfortable accessing facilities in certain situations should be provided the option—not a mandate—of separate accommodations.
The use of “The transgender” as a noun is derogatory. It is important to use appropriate language in creating safe and inclusive spaces.
How could the concerns of these parents and students be addressed in a way that all feel respected and heard? How could the teacher respond in the moment to these students? How would a teacher explain that the phrasing “The transgender” is a slur and address issues of bigotry in the language and intent of the post?
A student who is lesbian comes to you, upset. A classmate told her that homosexuality is a sin and she is going to hell unless she chooses a different lifestyle.
The right to be safe and welcomed at school applies to all students, including those who are LGBTQ. While students should be free to hold and practice religious beliefs, that practice cannot come at the safety or expense of others.
Any speech—religious or otherwise—that makes another person feel unsafe or excluded has no place in a school. There are ways to validate and create safe spaces for all students.
How would you facilitate conversations between students to help them raise awareness, promote unity and build a community of allies that celebrates diversity?
During group work, you hear a boy say to a girl, “Stop PMS-ing and just take notes, OK?”
Menstruation and its related side-effects (imagined or otherwise) are used to marginalize women and exclude them from particular job functions or decision-making roles. PMS references are sexist barbs used to portray women and girls as over-sensitive, emotional, inconsistent, irrational and angry.
What was this student trying to convey to his female classmate? Is there another way to say it?
You put students into groups and overhear one turn to another and say, “Good, you can be our token Black.”
“Token Black” indeed tokenizes the Black student by characterizing them and all their contributions as “token” and not integral to the completion of the project. This student’s contributions are marginalized before the assignment even begins.
“Ironic” racism calls attention to race in what the speaker intends as witty and modern but really just reinforces stereotypes and dehumanizes people of color. If the “humor” in the joke is based upon someone’s group membership, it’s a racist joke, even if it’s meant to be ironic.
What did this student mean to imply with his statement? How might the student being singled out as a token feel?
A teacher criticizes a girl about her earrings: “Don’t you realize that those look ghetto?”
“Ghetto” is a layered term that has speciﬁc stereotypical connotations (urban, poor, racial) and shouldn’t be used in the school environment except in a historical context, e.g., the Warsaw Ghetto.
Does the context and significance of the comment change if this teacher is from a background similar to the student? Does the significance change if a student makes the comment?
During an informal chat, a parent offers to hire a “bunch of illegals” to paint your classroom.
People are not illegal. Their actions might not have followed the law, but the people themselves are not illegal. Characterizing anyone by a single factor is dehumanizing.
Race and class privilege insulates students and parents alike from the experiences of those from different backgrounds.
In many states, hiring an undocumented immigrant is a crime.
Can the offer of help be disentangled from the bias? Would asking for the speaker to explain their intent or addressing the issue of inappropriate language lead to different outcomes?
A fellow teacher makes a joke in the faculty lunchroom about the band students and uses an anti-LGBTQ slur.
Like the r-word or the n-word, the f-word has no place in a welcoming school. Respectful and appropriate language should be expected of all teachers.
Epithets used to characterize or marginalize a group of students hurt efforts to build community in school and perpetuate bigotry, in this case anti-LGBTQ bigotry.
How would you address the comment in the moment? What considerations regarding the location, others present and situation would you need to consider? How would the echo effect described in this guidebook be important in this situation?