COMMENTARY_educationletter_JustineTouchon_WEB

Commentary | Student teachers in solidarity

No one should be left alone in the face of racism in the classroom

Re: “Speak louder than racism” (February 8, Commentary, page 9)

Dear anonymous student of colour who hopes for change,

We are Bachelor of Education (B.Ed.) students currently taking the class Communication in Education. In our class, we talk a lot about communication. Each week, we write brief responses to a prompt related to our readings, class discussions, guest speakers, or relevant newspaper articles. Recently, your letter was our writing prompt. We took your letter seriously, and thought about everything you wrote; many of us were deeply affected by what you shared. We are a diverse group with different perspectives, identities, and experiences, but each of us saw something in your letter that we could relate to. When we returned to class after reading week we decided that we wanted to share our collective response with you. We wanted to let you know you are not alone.

YOU ARE NOT ALONE.

We are so sorry for what you went through, and are grateful to you for sharing your experiences publicly in The Daily. We commend you on your bravery, both in the classroom and in writing and publishing your letter. You have inspired us, and we think that your courage will inspire other students who feel that they lack power and are afraid of the potential repercussions of speaking out critically to people in positions of authority. We are so impressed with your strength in being able to complete your internship under the conditions you described. We understand why you chose to remain anonymous. Some people may be able to shrug off your letter, but to us it has incredible value.

YOU ARE NOT ALONE.

We know that schools can be unsafe places; this is precisely what has motivated some of us to become teachers. We have experienced racism, homophobia, and sexual harassment; we have faced discrimination and exclusion because of our beliefs, the way we dress, and our accents. Your experiences remind many of us of our own previous school experiences, and they remind several of us of previous internships:

I had almost the same experience as you did with my cooperating teacher. Yet, you were courageous enough to talk about it and take action. As for me, I preferred to be quiet and survive my three weeks in that school. I just wrote about it in my journals and cried alone in my bed.

You know what I did all of those times when I was made fun of or teachers tossed racial jokes at me in front of all of my peers? Nothing. I didn’t say anything. I just accepted that as a reality. I shrugged it off and did not linger on it, thinking no one would really care what I had to say – no need to turn this into a “race thing.” So, thank you. Thank you for being braver than me.

YOU ARE NOT ALONE.

Those of us who are students of colour are especially sensitive to your experiences. But all of us, regardless of our various identities, feel that racism and other forms of oppression have no place in our future classrooms. Several of us have heard internship horror stories from other students in the program. For most of us, your letter highlighted some of our greatest fears as pre-service teachers: we too could be paired with a cooperating teacher (CT) who mistreats us or their students; we too could turn to our supervisors for advice only to be confronted with a lack of concern and understanding. Not being able to speak about our experiences and being denied necessary support is as bad, if not worse, than being paired with a terrible CT. An institution as prestigious and well-regarded as McGill, one that welcomes so many international students, should be prepared to support all students, including students of colour.

We are told by professors in our professional seminars to be quiet, and not to report or comment on a CT’s conduct, strategies, or behaviour. At the same time, we are also being taught to think critically about pedagogy and the importance of creating inclusive, safer classrooms.

We want to join you in calling for resources for all members of the Department of Integrated Studies in Education that would explain how to better understand the struggles people of colour face, and how to approach students dealing with those unique situations that white students and faculty simply do not encounter – we feel that mandatory workshops for all members of the Faculty of Education would be an excellent step. We agree that McGill has a responsibility to ensure that every CT is a positive model for student teachers to observe and learn from. Students should be given the opportunity of first meeting different CTs before being assigned to one; McGill should hold events similar to career fairs in which B.Ed. students would have the opportunity to meet different teachers who have agreed to offer their services as CTs.

We also think that CTs should have less power to determine whether a student teacher passes or fails – students need to know that their supervisors and the Department have their backs, and will support and protect them. Clear procedures to help a student teacher who is mistreated, or witnesses the mistreatment of students during an internship, are helpful only if we know about them, talk about them, and if we and our professors are prepared to abide by them. More attention needs to be paid to the problems that may arise during field experiences, and student teachers should be explicitly taught what to do if they witness or experience racism or any other serious problems during an internship.

Your description of your experiences has renewed our determination to become teachers and make positive contributions to the schools in which we will one day work. You are not alone: we still hope for change too. We hope that the Department of Integrated Studies in Education, and the Faculty as a whole, is taking your letter and the concerns you have raised much more seriously than the short letter published in response to yours suggests (“Support pathways in the faculty of education,” February 22, Letters, page 12). Indeed, some of us felt betrayed by that response. But, we have learned from you that we do not have to be silent: if you say something, and if I say something, then maybe someone else will, and someone after that. We hope that you are able to stay positive and hopeful about teaching. We still think it is a beautiful profession, and would hate for this experience to take away your spark and hope.

YOU ARE NOT ALONE.

With gratitude and solidarity,

—Students in EDEC 203-001: Communication in Education and our instructor, rosalind hampton


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