July 10, 2021 - 9:00 pm
I have been teaching the greater part of my adult life. I have taught military soldiers preparing for deployment to Iraq and Afghanistan, and I’ve taught young children in some of the poorest neighborhoods in Clark County. Teaching is rewarding to me because I am able to help equip my community with the knowledge and skills to alleviate generational poverty, address social-economic issues and combat institutional racism.
As an Afro-Latinx educator, I feel empowered to facilitate courageous conversations in my classroom about systemic inequities, systematic racism and racial injustice. I use my experience and capacity to connect with my students, empathize with the challenges they encounter and encourage and empower them to persevere through the daily barriers they face.
During remote learning, I noticed that students who were usually engaged during in-person instruction were disengaged and unmotivated. Additionally, as a result of school closures for a year, many of my students did not have full access to the diverse resources provided by the school that help to sustain the health and well-being of their families. Students who usually walk to school to receive meals during the day or on the weekend — or to separate themselves from a chaotic home environment — were suddenly unable to do so. As a result of the pandemic, some families were not able to pay rent and household bills, meaning they may not have access to secure housing, adequate food or power. It would thus seem that our current system is more a measure of privilege than it is a measure of academic prowess. Students of households with two parents, financial security and high-speed internet seemed better positioned for success than students of lower-income backgrounds with fewer resources.
The persisting inequities, exacerbated by the COVID-19 crisis, continue to be overwhelming for my students and families of color. In an effort to mitigate the challenges within my purview, I commit to and recommend the following:
■ Establish and maintain meaningful relationships.
Remote learning increased the difficulty for me to engage with students and build authentic, personal relationships. I was able to build strong connections with students in an in-person environment where open dialogue was easily facilitated. Yet I hesitated to speak to my students in their native language or make jokes that reflect our shared culture and personality during virtual instruction because of how families of students that are not of color may perceive the interactions.
I recognized that this limited our connections and negatively impacted my students of color and further isolated them, lessening motivation and engagement. So I regularly checked in and communicated with my students to build positive and affirming connections and relationships via email, phone and breakout rooms, in addition to engaging them during virtual instruction. I am eager to return to full-time, in-person teaching and learning to deepen relationships with my students and support them in their social-emotional health and learning.
■ Embrace and foster open, authentic, vulnerable reflection and communication.
As teachers, we can and we must empathize with the challenges their students of color encounter and encourage and empower them to persevere through potential obstacles encountered as result of the pandemic. Creating opportunities for individual and collective reflection and confidently engaging in open and meaningful conversations about COVID-19, racism and hope for the future can help students better navigate the ongoing, persisting crises in our communities.
■ Differentiate student learning opportunities.
One of the best ways to address diverse student needs is to differentiate student engagement, assignments and assessment. Limited technology access and internet connectivity impacted student engagement. However, students placed into breakout rooms enabled engagement in Socratic discussions that emphasize discourse and team work. This can be an effective way to foster student learning opportunities and increase engagement for students of color as we return to face-to-face instruction.
As district schools reopen in August, offering full, in-person instruction, our students’ and families’ challenges will not miraculously disappear. We will have students who continue to cope with stress and trauma as a result of the coronavirus pandemic that disproportionately impacts our communities, and we will see families that remain without employment and thus have limited resources to support their children. We need to lean in, leverage our capacity and privilege and foster hope for our students.
Dawrin Mota is a math instructional coach at Elizondo Elementary School in Las Vegas and serves as a Teach Plus Nevada senior policy fellow.