Stop trying to do the work in private. Screwing up in public is the best use of your privilege.

I come from a place of privilege.  I am a 9th year white teacher lady with a permanent contract and a pretty strong union.  I am also an excellent teacher with a solid track record.  This is all to say, I am not afraid of losing my job.

There is work to be done in education.  There is work to be done in this math teacher community.  There are white teachers in schools across the nation still pretending they don’t see color.  There are white teachers in schools across the nation knowing race exists but having no idea how or no avenue to address it. And there are those of us with an avenue and some idea how and a solid amount of job security.  This post is for the last group.

HELLLLLLOOOOO many of my #MTBoS friends, particularly those of you with lots of followers. Welcome to the conversation!!  There have been a lot of conversations (as always) after TMC about equity and social justice and math.  Usually those conversations fade out after a couple weeks when we all get busy with school.  When we are teaching and we decide what we “really” need to know is if anyone has a good lesson for simplifying radicals or solving complex equations. We don’t have time for critical race conversations. Well not this year friends! I refuse. I just refuse.  There are lots of good ways to do social justice work. (I love Dylan‘s and Sunil‘s stuff) but what I want to work on and come back to this year is mistakes white teachers make.

Mistakes white teachers make. That phrase is a little scary isn’t it? It hits hard.  It implies that there are things you are doing wrong that have to do with race and since it has teacher in it, it also implies that these mistakes are probably (definitely) affecting kids.

In the same way we work to make teaching mistakes public I want us to work to make our social mistakes public.  This could include: a wrong thing said to a student, a conversation with a colleague handled poorly, or a blog post or twitter exchange that we are less than proud of.  We share these things in hopes that others learn from us and that we can help each other.*

It’s hard to know exactly what this looks like and I know that. So I’m going to give two examples. The first is from Tom Rademacher he first wrote a post that ignored the experiences of people of color, then he was called on it, and so he wrote really solid public apology. You should click through and read it.

Second, here’s mine.  I messed up the other night.  I got super white and fragile. I like to think of myself as a person working for justice. I got called out on methods which I deserved and instead of taking it in I got defensive. Here we go:

I tweeted:

José nicely replied:

Y’all here’s where I get embarrassed.  I then said:

José, very nicely, didn’t call me on my white fragility but guys, it’s right there.  You can click through if you want to read the rest but José is right and kind and I come off looking like a white person without enough cookies.

I was hurt by being called out. I was scared he was right. I was being a lazy ally and I got called on it.  So publicly I want to say sorry to Jose and also hope that this stops other white teachers from snapping back before you think. Being called out is not inherently bad.  It is almost always a place from which you can look for for growth.

So this is my first post in the Mistakes White Teacher Make series.  I am hoping other bloggers will want to join and share.  Doesn’t have to be a current story but anything you look back on and know you should have done better or anything that changed you looking forward.


Lastly, if you are in that first group of white teachers who are “colorblind” or just looking for an entry point into this conversation reading Dr. Tatum’s “Why are all the black kids sitting together in the cafeteria?” is a great start AND Julie is reading it and would love to chat.


*i have been in three separate conversations about how to add a private piece to this work and i promise i will share as soon as i have the logistics there

1 thought on “Stop trying to do the work in private. Screwing up in public is the best use of your privilege.

  1. I love this. I hope I don’t put words in your mouth, but I read this as an effort to redefine “failure” – in the context of “learn from one another’s mistakes”. I also appreciate your reference to DiAngelo’s “White Fragility”.

    Thank you for modeling the almost lost Art of Listening. Too often we take things personally or take things for granted (what white privilege?!?). I am reminded of Malcolm Jenkin’s very public “silent” message of “you’re not listening”, which, sadly, is true of many of us white people.

    To my shame and regret, one mistake I have made is to focus on a minority student because they were a minority. Another mistake is to group black and brown people into the social justice bucket of “underserved”. Is it really that helpful to be labeled as “underserved”?

    That is just two – there are more.


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