Starting From Scratch, In the Best Way

Before beginning the Master of Arts in Teaching program, my expectations and ideas about teaching were completely different. I’ve worked with children my entire life, starting with babysitting in 5thgrade and moving to my first real job as an overnight camp counselor. I thought, with this experience, I knew all I needed to know about teaching, I just needed to go back to school to learn how to create a lesson plan and to be able to put “Master’s of Teaching” on my resume. I assumed with my math degree and my background with children, I would be an amazing math teacher. I would be a gift to the education system. I really thought I would skate through this MAT program, no problem; I was already prepared. How arrogant of me. What a wake up call my classes have been.

A few readings have taught me more about myself and the importance of self-reflection. “White Racial Identity Development,” by Ali Michael, has deeply affected me. For much of my life, since I learned about the idea of racism, I operated under the illusion that, because I am half Filipina, it was not possible for me to be racist. Growing up, the acts of racism I learned about in history classes were almost always performed by white people against people of color. I didn’t realize for a long time that racism came in all forms, from all different types of people. I grew up privileged, going to private schools, supported by two parents, with college always in my future. I never experienced blatant racism directed towards me, and I never noticed it directed towards other people, so I believed that we were truly in a post-racial society, at least in Washington and California (the two places I’ve lived).

In the past few years, as I have ventured out of my privileged bubble in many ways, I was met with the harsh reality that racism is still so prevalent in this country. Ali Michael talks about the six phases of white racial identity development:

contact
disintegration
reintegration
pseudo-independence
immersion
autonomy

While reading this, I wanted so badly to place myself in the autonomy category; I didn’t want to admit that I have things to work on. I couldn’t place myself in one category when I really took the time to think about it; I found parts of myself in every category, and I recalled times in my life where I was in one phase or the other.

Michael defines disintegration as the phase in which “people begin to question the foundation of their beliefs about the world and feel torn between different realities, different racial ideologies” (p. 69). In recent years I have found myself in the disintegration phase as news reports upon news reports of police brutality towards Black Americans have come out and as I have become a more informed citizen about race relations in our country. Part of me thought, “Well I’ll become a teacher and I’ll make a difference in kids’ lives because I’m a person of color and I know what it’s like; they’ll relate to me and trust me.”

I now understand that I can’t rely on my half Filipina ethnicity to make me a good teacher to students who have backgrounds and experiences that are unlike my own. Just because a handful of students may be able to relate to me as a person of color, doesn’t mean I’m done; it’s not enough. There is so much I have to learn as a future educator. In many ways I feel that I am in the disintegration phase of developing my teaching identity, if there is such a thing. Coursework has forced me to unlearn everything I previously thought about teaching. I’m now starting from scratch, in the best way.

 

Michael, A. (2018). White racial identity development. In E. Moore, A. Michael, M. W. Penick-Parks (Eds), The guide for white women who teach black boys(pp. 66-73). Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin.


Lane headshotMadeleine Lane is a secondary math teacher candidate in the University of Puget Sound, School of Education, MAT program.