Being biracial, white and black, I’ve not, and never have, had a problem my white teachers. Even before I experienced having “minority” teachers, I was fine with my all-white instructors. However, once I had the experience of being taught by black teachers, my “issues” with my white teachers suddenly became apparent.
Before high school, all of my instructors were white. The only experience I had with a non-white teacher was in elementary school. Mr. Macaroni was our phy-ed instructor and a black man, but because he was only an occasional substitute, he was never someone I could relate to. During that time in my life, I never thought much of teachers anyway; they stood in front of me and about thirty other students for an hour, talking about things I wasn’t interested in. Developing relationships with them was never of importance to me - until high school.
Prior to high school, I lived in and went to school in Maple Grove - a predominantly white suburb. Just before my sophomore year, I moved to the “ghettos” of urban Minneapolis, also known as a predominantly black area. The culture of the new area and my new school was drastically different, and something I wasn’t prepared for. My mixed race background, and dominant white culture didn’t fit into my new daily environment and I experienced a racial identity crisis.
Going to high school was enough of a challenge with homework, extracurricular activities, jobs, and internships to juggle. On top of that, a racial identity crisis took place, and took over my inner thoughts on a daily basis. Not only was I experiencing this large adjustment, the little adjustments seemed to have more of an impact; my teachers were not all white, they were mostly black women. I still had white teachers, but again, up until this point that is all I had known. And though I hadn’t ever cared much about my relationships with teachers, I began to realize that maybe it was because of the way I was being taught.
In Maple Grove, there wasn’t a day I didn’t get swamped with homework. Having homework became a habit, so I did my work and turned it in like everyone else. That was the first contrast I discovered between my Maple Grove and North Minneapolis schools. As I went on through my years at North, I continued to make comparisons between the two schools and it wasn’t until now, my senior year at North, that I’m beginning to put the pieces together.
Maple Grove’s white teachers held their white students to a high expectation. The students were expected to have pages of homework turned in, they were expected to be involved in sports or extracurricular activities, and they were expected to excel. The same wasn’t true for students at North, and it was because the teachers at North understood that the majority of their students lacked the same white privileges that white students, like the ones in Maple Grove, had.
Up until senior year, I thought that this was okay. The small amount of homework, easy quizzes, and nearly impossible to fail classes made sense. Most of the kids in the school had challenges outside of school that most of the kids at Maple Grove didn’t have. Teachers understood their students had unfair lifestyles based on unfair things, and were basically “giving us a break.” But with these breaks, we are lacking the challenges that push us to learn more, we hold ourselves to low standards because our teachers do, the “easy” things become difficult, and being prepared for college becomes impossible.
Throughout my years at North, I formed tight relationships with most of my teachers. The small class sizes made room for more intimate conversations and in that, trust was built as well. My racial identity crisis was mended through the help of my teachers; they helped me navigate my way through identifying my culture and what it means to me to be biracial. On a daily basis, I would share my personal conflicts with them, cry to them, and share my pain, and in that I gained extensions, passing assignments, and low standards.
Junior year I began taking Post Secondary classes at Minneapolis Community and Technical College. Immediately I noticed how much harder the classes were. There was so much more work which required time, discipline, and patience that I had no experience with. Now, in my senior year of high school, I realize how much I would have struggled had I graduated high school and then started college versus taking college classes while in high school. I also recently made the connection that most students are not taking college classes and will not have the same experience as me.
Because other students are receiving extensions and low expectations, they are not going to be prepared for the heavy work load expected in college. The teachers pass their students because they want their students to succeed, but how will they succeed if most of them might fail? These students are used to extensions, late homework, and multiple retake exams. Who is going to tell them that those expectations change in college? Who is going to prepare them for the changes? No one. So, the extensions, late work, and low expectations are setting black students up for more failure.