Most teachers are white and middle-class, pt. 2

My implicit behavior sends signals to my students, too. For instance, I do not move immediately to the dean when a “ghetto kid” fails to heed my instructions. I stay calm, and repeat the student’s name along with the directive: “George, sit down…..” 15 seconds later, “George, now please.” “George…?” and I move toward him before he’ll back down. What is he doing, in his “gangsta style” clothes and chains? He is signifying–“throwing down” like the slave might have to when he is being ordered around by his “man.” He does not mean to join me in fisticuffs or get into some loud confrontation: he knows his limits. But to preserve his nascent manhood (and self-esteem) he must stand up to me , must “signify.”

Another “urban” female refused to get to work until she had publicly “signified” that I wasn’t worth listening to right away. That her own profile, held high and looking away from me, needed to be seen–“signifying” to anyone who say that she mattered, and was someone to be respected. This is her code, and white teachers would be wise to learn them, if only so they don’t take personal offense. What does my willingness to talk and work with them, despite their rudeness and exasperating mid the great majority of the students, who making eye contact

I believe that I am sending them this message, and I remind them of it before class the next day: “Hey, disadvantaged youth, I want to help. I’m not willing to let the dean deal with you but would rather you incorporated yourself in with the rest of us. The “learning activity” we’re doing is not so bad. We value your energy and intelligence. We want your voice in the community of learners, etc.” And mostly: “We believe you will find happiness in doing the required learning activity.”

But if it persists beyond the third repetition, it’s out of class they must go, and I always afford their parents the same notice and encouragement I do middle-class white students’ homes: “Your child’s behavior is now affecting the learning of others students. S/he needs to come prepared to collaborate with us or s/he will be getting LAC (Learning Adjustment Center) services.”

About half the time overall, and about 80% of the time with hispanic males, I fail in my attempts to persuade them to conform.

How can I “signify” better and get them to connect with their own learning? That should be the goal of my action research, no?

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