Monday, December 11, 2017

‘Take Your Hood Off’ and Other Teacher Microaggressions by Aaron Michael Baker

Originally posted at:

In 2008, David Whitman, future speech writer for early Obama Education Secretary Arne Duncan, coined the term “paternalistic school” to describe what we now know as “no nonsense” charter schools. Whitman, a proponent of education reform, chose the word “paternalistic” as a flattering moniker for the movement. In an essay entitled “An Appeal to Authority” Whitman says that one of the aims of these schools is to teach students “how to act according to what are commonly termed traditional, middle-class values.” The overtly racist policies of these “paternalistic” charter schools are now well documented. More recently, many charter schools have dialed back on official attempts to use school rules to refine urban students of color into middle class white students. These attempts can be appropriately described as “macroaggressions,” large-scale overt acts of aggression toward marginalized people groups.

The more pressing issue today, in both traditional public schools and on an even larger scale in charter and voucher schools, is what is known as “microaggressions.” To be specific, teacher microaggressions are the indirect, subtle, or even unintentional ways that teachers discriminate against students of color and other marginalized student groups. They include body language, choice of words, and other small seemingly innocuous daily decisions. Often teacher microaggressions are couched in an authentic attempt by the teacher to connect with students. Many times, however, these microaggressions are distinctly connected with the manner in which teachers choose to enforce school rules.
Teachers giving undue attention to student behavior that is technically against school rules but not directly tied to a specific consequence is sometimes referred to as “sweating the small stuff.” Teachers must examine their motivations when enforcing rules in order to recognize their own microaggressions. All teachers have “pet peeves.” Questions for every teacher to ask themselves include, “Why does this behavior bother me so much?” “Will enforcing this rule help keep students safe?” “Do I disapprove of this behavior because of the way I was raised?” “Is enforcing a rule at a particular time worth the potential loss of relationship capital with the student?”
Teachers must examine their motivations when enforcing rules in order to recognize their own microaggressions.
One student behavior that is clearly more about etiquette and an outdated understanding of what respect means, is the wearing of hats and hoods in the school building. It is true that students frequently use hoods to cloak the use of ear buds, which obviously can impede direct instruction. But just as often students wear hats or hoods to provide a sense of security in attempt to overcome something like social anxiety or an insecurity related to appearance (like a bad haircut). The idea that hats worn inside a building is disrespectful has fallen out of favor in almost every venue with the exception of the schoolhouse. Today, hats are frequently worn inside movie theatres, formal concerts, churches, and virtually any other public place. Constantly insisting that students remove hats and hoods at school is a microaggression because it is premised on an antiquated view of respect and does not account for present day cultural practices among communities of color.
The constant policing of language is another example of teacher microaggression. White middle class teachers often have a concept of what constitutes polite and acceptable classroom language, a concept that has likely not been made accessible to their students. The teacher may be the only adult in a student’s life who wishes to produce a “G” rated environment of language. In order to not impose their own language values, teachers must consider the intent behind each student phrase. An unengaged student may express frustration with instructional content by saying, “I don’t give a shit about this class!” The last thing this student needs is school discipline that would remove them from the classroom and further alienate them from their own learning.
In order to not impose their own language values, teachers must consider the intent behind each student phrase.
Punishing students for sleeping in class is also a microaggression. White teachers may have a concept of what it means to get a good night’s rest that simply may not be available to their students. Sleeping students cannot learn, but they might be able to learn better after a brief nap. A sleeping student indicates a need for rest, not a need for consequences. Teachers should not be personally offended when students fall asleep in class because chances are it has little to do with instructional methods and much to do with factors outside of the classroom. Although, teachers must be self-reflective in these moments to see if lesson plans could be more engaging for students. The goal should be for students to be engaged at a level where they want to stay awake whether they can or not.

To avoid microaggressions, white teachers should utilize what is called “culturally responsive teaching.” Teachers who are educated in how their students’ lives diverge from their own are better equipped at recognizing their own implicit bias, the mindset on which the microaggressions feed. Teachers must understand that deciding whether or not to “sweat the small stuff” is not just a matter of classroom management, it is a matter of social justice.


  1. Okay, I'll bite. When it comes to language I am more relaxed than many of my colleagues. I'm a career switcher who worked in the restaurant world and I can out-curse my students handily without breaking a sweat. With that said, one must adjust one's vocabulary to the situation at hand and school is where- if home dropped the ball- you get to learn how to do that. Would it be "inappropriate" for me to drop f'bombs in this response? It sure would which is why sometimes you have to draw lines. Hats and hoods? Guess what, house rules! Frequently I see caps and hoods worn as a signal of aggression coming from the student's side, daring me to respond. Will I enforce the rule or not? Hoods in particular send a message of "I am blocking you out." and do in fact hide the omnipresent earbuds that further indicate that no one else in the room is worth any focus or attention. Asleep? Tell my administrator you just need a nap right now and that I should let you sleep. Teenagers are tired all the time and would much rather nap around me than their friends, so while I try to cut a little slack when I can tell a kid is really beat, I am required to get them to wake up or send them to the infirmary so we can make sure they aren't drugged. Welcome to reality.

  2. Let's not forget that we are preparing them for the real world too...sleeping and cussing on the job are not going to enable one to keep a job for long.

  3. Absolutely inane. So, I'm supposed to allow students to shout, curse, insult, and disrespect me when I wake them from their naps? Oh, wait, no, I'm not supposed to wake them. Look, I get that some students don't have the opportunity for a real night's rest, but neither the heck do I. I'm regularly up until 1-2 in the morning, getting up before 6, and at school every single day to do my job. My boss expects that of me, and I'll darn good and well be as microaggressive as need be to get my job done.

  4. Neither one of us get to wear hats or swear because there are social expectations regarding attention and keeping a civil workplace. I will let you sleep in class if you're really that shot out.

  5. I believe that students that insist on wearing headgear inside are being aggressive, and not in a micro manner. Learning how to adapt to the larger culture is part of what school is. The world at large has expectations of behavior, language, and dress that are not "culturally sensitive" of any culture. I don't wear at home what I am expected to wear at work, so it's not "white culture" either.

  6. I let kids wear hoods when the heat isn't working. I offer hot black tea if they're sleepy, or offer to let them stand. I let them cuss and we talk about how you have to be careful of who might be offended, how you have to know your audience and the situation. Basically 100% of my kids live in rural poverty.

  7. I can understand and see the point.
    Like other teachers I would go about the rules set up. If they cannot obey or follow rules that are set, how are we preparing them for the real world? It will not matter were one came from when it comes to hold a job or a productive life in society.

  8. Please tell me this is satire.

  9. So many miss the point so ridiculously is laughable.

    It is about the consequences black and brown students face when they violste these rules.

    If you think you can't teach these soecietal rules without suspending kids, you have a problem.

    If you think black and brown kids receive the same severity of consequences than white students, you have an ignorance problem.

    When research has shown that minority students, even as early as pre-k get disciplined more often and more severely than their white counterparts, these school-wide policies become a stumbling block for minorities... Hence making them racist!!
    Get a clue!!

  10. As an african-american teacher, born and raised in Detroit, Michigan, and 60 years old, I do not agree with this article. If students can’t follow the small rules, like no gum and no hoodies, how can we expect them to follow the big ones? In my opinion, when students are held accountable for following the rules, it transfers to the adult world when they are told to follow the rules by people in authority, for example, police officers. I recall an incident where a child was riding a four-wheeler illegally. When told to stop by the police, he refused, consequently leading to his death. I am not debating the right or wrong actions of the police, but the child not responding to a person in authorities directions, something I experience almost on a daily basis as a classroom teacher and I teach elementary school. In my opinion if a child is not being held accountable for their behavior, this disregard for authority will continue into adulthood. I guess I am antiquated, as I still do not like hats worn inside, however, I have allowed it in my classroom if the child does have a valid reason. There are exceptions to every rule. I will never support profanity as appropriate language from anyone. I am of the opinion that people who use profanity often do so because they are angry cannot find the appropriate words to use due to frustration. If a child is sleeping in school that is an issue, in my opinion, for protective services, as the home is responsible for the child’s physical well being. Who is this author to speak for the entire black community? There are a growing number of senior citizens in the black community who remember the antiquated days and who, in my opinion, would welcome the return of these antiquated rules that in my opinion build a safer community for all. School is not only a institution but for gaining knowledge but also structure, and these rules provide that.


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