How should a Teacher Handle Racist Attitudes Expressed by Students in the Classroom

Racist comments and attitudes hurt, no matter what people may think. The old saying “sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me”, is far from the truth. Sometimes, words hurt worse than physical abuse. Children can be especially cruel when it comes to racism, whether they mean to be, or not. In a classroom, it is essential that the teacher gets control of racial attitudes to ensure all of the students can get an education free from the distraction of being emotionally abused by other students.

Understand the child’s background

It’s important to realize that often, the child is just mimicking things he’s heard or seen at home. Sadly, many people are racist and they pass this attitude on to their children through words, actions or body language they use towards those they feel are below them. Because it’s being done by parents, the children often feel it must be correct, and bring it to the classroom. Teachers need to be careful not to develop their own prejudices against the child when this happens, but focus on retraining him.

Anyone can be a victim of racism

Racism doesn’t just happen to African-Americans or Mexican-Americans. It happens to people of all colors and race, including whites. Teachers need to be aware of this and not just focus on a handful of students. Even if it sounds like a one child is saying something to another and they are just playing around, it needs to be stopped. While they may not be offending each other, it could hurt someone else who is listening.

Handle situations privately

Never direct discipline at a child in front of the classroom. This can add to the child’s hatred, if that is what is directing her statements or actions. It makes the teacher look bad to the other children, possibly causing a loss of respect that leads to chaos. When something is heard, seen or reported by another student, take those involved out of the classroom and have another school authority present.

Once out of the classroom, allow both students to give their side of the situation. Encourage the victim to say exactly how she feels. Many times, children are simply repeating what they’ve heard without giving thought to how it makes others feel. Hearing it directly from the person who was hurt may prevent further occurrences from happening. Have the student who made racial comments apologize. If he’s angry, have him explain why he doesn’t like the child or what she did that made him mad, then address it. Sometimes, a child may not be able to properly express their feelings and act out in ways to hurt each other. Teaching them how to properly handle these situations may keep them from coming.

Class discussions

One of the best ways to handle racism, which is a form of bullying, is to teach others how to handle situations that come up. Choose students to act out scenes in front of the class involving racial situations. Prepare scripts for them to use that show typical scenarios involving a racist and a victim, or more than one of each. Make the scenes short but to the point. Ask each group how they felt, both victims and pretend racists. Get a discussion going with the rest of the class about how seeing the scenes made them feel and how to deal with similar situations. Explain that victims and bystanders need to stand up to racial bullies, but not in the form of saying mean things back. Have the students come up with ways to do this and discuss the options to find the best solutions.

Culture studies

To break stereotypes and to show children that regardless of where we come from or the color of our skin we are all basically the same, teachers need to spend time teaching about other cultures. This is done for African-Americans during Black History month, but it needs to be done for all cultures, and more than once a year. Spend a couple of weeks out of each month focusing on a particular culture. Show movies or videos, find examples of dress or religious views and if possible, prepare different foods for the children to taste. Teach about the history of each culture and how they live today. Show them that every culture has many similarities in how we live that far outweigh differences. At the same time, show them that the differences aren’t any reason to hate a particular group of people. Review the various cultures from time to time. Giving them knowledge of each other can go a long way in stopping hatred.

In society, there are consequences when racial acts happen. For older children, bring news clippings or show excerpts from the news regarding racist acts. Talk about what happened to the perpetrator, whether it was going to prison or others acting out towards him. Discuss the victims. Point out physical consequences as well as emotional. Lead discussions about how these things affected both families.

Buddy groups

When possible, or when a teacher can ensure proper supervision, have people from different races or backgrounds buddy up with each for class projects. They can help each other in various discussions or craft projects, working together. Use this to show each other that the color of their skin had nothing to do with the outcome of the project. Hopefully, they will become friends through something they wouldn’t have decided to do on their own. At the very least, they may learn to tolerate each other even if they don’t like each other personally.

Teaching children the negative effects of racism and how to handle it helps all of society. As they grow into adults, they will carry what they learned with them. Breaking through ideas learned at home, through the media or ignorance is crucial. Teachers need to address each and every situation that comes up, no matter how minor it may seem.