Education Letter to the Editor

Identity Exploration Helps Teachers

March 24, 2020 1 min read

To the Editor:

I was delighted to read about the University of Washington’s identity caucuses, where teacher-candidates who share part of their identity “can unpack shared experiences and reflect on how their identity shapes their worldview” (“Teacher-Candidates Get a Safe Space to Air Touchy Issues of Identity,” March 4, 2020).

I had a somewhat similar experience many years ago as an academic adviser and fieldwork supervisor at Bank Street College of Education’s Leadership in Mathematics Education master’s program. Our all-white advisement group read articles about the issues faced by black students, their parents, and black teachers.

Later, as an instructional coach in a 6-12 public school, I led a diverse Perceptions of Race group with teachers eager to more effectively interact with their students of color. We discussed articles about the needs of students of color and about the history of racial issues in education. There were several teachers who knew little or nothing about the Civil Rights Movement or its achievements. They were shocked to hear about racial tension during the New York City teachers’ strike in 1968, or about violence toward black students when they were bused to white schools. The teachers had never heard about these events, yet these and other stories were what informed the worldview of parents of color and their children.

Identity groups can introduce us to other experiences and perspectives and allow us to explore our reactions without fear of being judged or offending. It’s wonderful that as a whole we educators care about all our students, but we need to care effectively, and we need to know how to have these difficult conversations. Teachers today are leaders beyond the school building.

Cathy Wilkerson

Retired Public School Teacher and Math Coach

Bronx, N.Y.

A version of this article appeared in the March 25, 2020 edition of Education Week as Exploring Their Identity Helps Teachers Be Better