Opinion Blog

Ask a Psychologist

Helping Students Thrive Now

Angela Duckworth and other behavioral-science experts offer advice to teachers based on scientific research. To submit questions, use this form or #helpstudentsthrive. Read more from this blog.

Student Well-Being Opinion

Assumptions Teachers Often Make About Black Students and What to Do About Them

By Adaurennaya Onyewuenyi — March 10, 2021 2 min read
How do I better understand my Black immigrant students?
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

How can I better understand the experiences of Black students?
You’re taking the first step, which is asking about the issue. Here’s something I wrote about the topic recently for Character Lab as a Tip of the Week:
When people see me they often assume I am Black, which I proudly am. But I am also a second-generation Nigerian of the Igbo tribe—and that means reading Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe is a rite of passage, I make a mean jollof rice, and I can’t wait to rock a stylish Ankara print dress and gele to the next Naija party.
By 2040, 1 in 3 children in the United States will grow up in an immigrant family. Currently, more than 3.5 million Black children in the U.S. have at least one immigrant parent hailing from Africa (like my family), the Caribbean, and Latin America.
But when Black immigrant students go to school, they report feeling treated as a monolith, racially categorized based on their physical appearance. The result: Kids feel like they don’t belong, so they often struggle to persist in class.
So, what do we do about it?
First, acknowledge that everyone, no matter who you are and where you grew up, has a culture—and that shapes how you interact with the world and vice versa. Teachers who recognize students’ varied cultural backgrounds show that they do not have to choose one norm—home or school—over the other.
Seeing people for whom they are helps you notice things—like the way immigrant children are constantly adapting to new environments. For example, some may act as language brokers: They translate and interpret information between peers, family, and teachers. Taking pride in this skill helps immigrant students forge stronger ties with both their home and school cultures, which can boost their academic performance.
Being inclusive—and not assuming that the white experience is the norm—builds authentic supportive relationships and fosters a sense of belonging. When I was in high school, for example, my AP English-literature teacher purposefully crafted a reading list with women authors and writers of color to reflect the diverse backgrounds of the class. She also encouraged us to draw connections between the readings and our own cultural experiences without making us feel like we were the spokesperson for our cultural group.
Don’t use skin color as the only indication of cultural background. Check yourself before you wreck yourself (cue Ice Cube) and acknowledge that people are more than what meets the eye.
Do get to know people. When you approach new people with genuine curiosity and intellectual humility, they will often happily tell you about their history and cultural background. You can start the conversation by sending out an “About me” to students and families, so they can learn about your interests and teaching style. Students can also fill out a similar questionnaire, so you can learn about their cultural backgrounds, preferred engagement styles, and hobbies. Also, be open to learning from your students. By inviting them to be co-creators of the learning environment, immigrant students will feel more connected, supported, and valued.

The opinions expressed in Ask a Psychologist: Helping Students Thrive Now are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.

Events

This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Student Well-Being Webinar
A Safe Return to Schools is Possible with Testing
We are edging closer to a nationwide return to in-person learning in the fall. However, vaccinations alone will not get us through this. Young children not being able to vaccinate, the spread of new and
Content provided by BD
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Teaching Webinar
Meeting the Moment: Accelerating Equitable Recovery and Transformative Change
Educators are deciding how best to re-establish routines such as everyday attendance, rebuild the relationships for resilient school communities, and center teaching and learning to consciously prioritize protecting the health and overall well-being of students
Content provided by Campaign for Grade-Level Reading
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Reading & Literacy Webinar
Addressing Learning Loss: What Schools Need to Accelerate Reading Instruction in K-3
When K-3 students return to classrooms this fall, there will be huge gaps in foundational reading skills. Does your school or district need a plan to address learning loss and accelerate student growth? In this
Content provided by PDX Reading

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

Student Well-Being Spotlight Spotlight on Student Health & Safety
In this Spotlight, assess what the data says and how educators can play a part in protecting their students, and more.
Student Well-Being Nation's Pediatricians Call for All Students, Staff to Wear Masks in School
Countering recent guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control, the physicians say even vaccinated students should wear face coverings
5 min read
Students are reminded to wear a mask amidst other chalk drawings on the sidewalk as they arrive for the first day of school at Union High School in Tulsa, Okla., on Aug. 24, 2020.
A sidewalk-chalk drawing reminds students to wear a mask as they arrive for the first day of school last August at Union High School in Tulsa, Okla.
Mike Simons/Tulsa World via AP
Student Well-Being The Pandemic and Politics Made Life Especially Rough for LGBTQ Youth, Survey Finds
More than 80 percent of 13- to 24-year-olds who say they are lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and questioning said 2020 was very hard.
2 min read
People wave pride flags and hold signs during a rally in support of LGBTQ students at Ridgeline High School, Wednesday, April 14, 2021, in Millville, Utah. Students and school district officials in Utah are outraged after a high school student ripped down a pride flag to the cheers of other students during diversity week. A rally was held the following day in response to show support for the LGBTQ community.
People rally in support of LGBTQ students at Ridgeline High School on April 14, 2021, in Millville, Utah. The day before a high school student ripped down a pride flag to the cheers of other students during diversity week.
Eli Lucero/The Herald Journal via AP
Student Well-Being Kids Are Behind on Routine Vaccinations. Here's What Schools Can Do About It
Schools should prod families to get their children caught up on shots before classes begin, public health experts say.
4 min read
Digital generated image of many syringes with vaccine making a decline diagram.
Andriy Onufriyenko/Moment/Getty + Gina Tomko/Education Week