Teachers treat African-American males differently from their white and Latino counterparts based on negative stereotypes and perceptions, according to a dissertation presented Wednesday.
“Sally can skip, but Jerome can’t stomp” is the title of Denise L. Collier’s dissertation, which explores teacher perceptions and beliefs of black male students and how these may impact the teachers’ treatment of those students in the classroom setting.
Collier concluded that teachers subject African-American males to harsher punishments than other students for the same infractions. She learned this through interviews with teachers and students, observations in the classroom and data analysis.
Collier is a specialist for the Los Angeles school district in closing achievement gaps. Her presentation, titled “The Intersection of Perceptions and Practice: Examining the Discipline Outcomes of African-American Male Students” studied fourth- and fifth-graders at an L.A. school.
Her presentation last month at the Hyatt Regency Chicago was part of the 88th annual meeting of the American Educational Research Association.
Collier found “normalized racism” in the classroom, meaning that teachers were often unaware of their own behavior.
“Teachers said racist things all the time and didn’t even know it,” she said. Collier noticed the statements even when she, a black woman, was interviewing teachers.
Black male students had negative responses to their teachers as a result of this mistreatment. In student interviews, Collier recalled, one boy said he hated his teacher, while another noted that she always picked on him.
“What they saw was just unfairness and part of everyday life they have to contend with,” Collier said.
The other students noticed the unequal treatment as well, Collier said. She said a Latina student purposely avoided talking to an African-American student for fear of him getting her into trouble with the teacher.
Collier cited specific examples of classroom management strategies by teachers as unfair to African-American male students. In one observation, Collier noted that when a group of students was being rowdy and talking, the teacher singled out one black male to be quiet and sit down, and all the students followed.
Similarly, in a classroom game, the teacher clearly stated that if you step on the line, you are out of the game. When a black male stepped on the line, the teacher said he was out. A Latino boy stepped on the line a couple of times and the teacher ignored it, and when it was pointed out to her, she merely told him to go to the end of the line, allowing him to stay in the game.
Through teacher interviews, Collier found the negative perceptions of black males arose from media influences as well as personal beliefs. She cited articles, television programs and the belief that black parents do not care about their children as examples the teachers gave as to why they viewed African-American males the way they did.
Another finding was the perception among teachers that black students are loud and yell their responses versus Latino students, who are seen as quieter. This made teachers perceive African-American males as argumentative and as having an attitude.
Collier said the school’s principal chose the most inappropriate teacher, according to Collier’s findings, as the “best” teacher. She deemed her the best not because she was teaching her students effectively, but because she could control her classroom the best, Collier said.
The Chicago Public Schools offer a six-hour class called Community and Culture to help teachers acquire skills in avoiding stereotypes and recognizing cultural differences, said Anitra Schulte, a schools spokeswoman.
First-year teachers are required to participate in either the Community and Culture class or the Classroom Management class. But, despite the school system’s statement that “Chicago’s children bring an extensive range of backgrounds, beliefs and experiences to school everyday, making this course extremely important,” the Community and Culture class is not a requirement.