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Becoming Anti-Racist ELA Teachers

A photo of a teenage student writing at a desk

The opposite of racist isn’t ‘not racist.’ It is ‘anti-racist’

 – Ibram X. Kendi, author of How to Be an Antiracist

With a rising global movement to end racial injustice, the need to affirm, celebrate and advocate for Black students in our classrooms has become even more important. Teaching for an anti-racist future starts with educators, whether they come from a school that has a predominately White population or one that is diverse, including Black and other historically marginalized populations. 

The work to become anti-racist is difficult and ongoing, but is necessary for all teachers and all students, and will look different for people of different racial groups. But how can middle and high school English Language Arts teachers work towards becoming anti-racist educators? We can utilize these five steps, developed based on the work of scholars, teachers and activists, for actively moving towards anti-racist ELA education:

  • Listen and reflect: Anti-racism is the commitment to fight racism wherever it is found, including within yourself. Therefore, the journey to becoming anti-racist begins at the personal level. Remember, the goal is not about pretending to be free of racism, but working to become anti-racist.
  • Read: Educators, particularly ELA teachers, understand the importance of reading as a learning tool. There are a variety of books available to help address anti-racism and anti-bias in English language arts classrooms.
  • Interrogate: Interrogation requires deep on ongoing critical questioning and educators who unpack their current practices should know that it will not be easy work. Interrogation may lead educators to uncover hidden biases they didn’t realize they had.
  • Act: It’s important that educators move from listening to action, turn reflection into change and allow their interrogation to inspire transformation. Language has power, and English teachers should be sensitive, intentional and reflective in language that can lead to action.
  • Repeat: The work an anti-racist educator needs to do is never done. Step Five reminds educators that when they think they are done, it is time to return to Step One, or whatever step is necessary to revisit. Anti-racist and anti-bias education is a life-long commitment and practice.