5 Things Every Teacher Should Know About Classroom Microaggressions

Microaggressions are a tricky territory for teachers. These behaviors might not look like bullying or outright physical abuse, but they cause harm at a very deep level and must be nipped in the bud. Before we get into this discussion, let’s take a look at the definition of microaggressions, according to Derlad Wing Sue, Ph.D., “Everyday verbal, nonverbal, and environmental slights, snubs, or insults whether intentional or unintentional, which communicate hostile, derogatory, or negative messages to target persons based solely upon their marginalized group membership.”

These behaviors can be linked to socioeconomic status, gender, disability, sexual orientation, ethnicity, race, nationality, gender or religion. These insensitivities could be shown by students or even by adults, sometime unknowingly. As teachers, there are several measures you can take to ensure that such behaviors do not take place in your class and do not affect the growth and development of your students. Have a look at these 5 things every teacher should know about classroom microaggressions:

  1. Microagressions are often related to language: Spoken words such as “retard,” “mental,” “gay” etc have an overall negative impact on the receiver. Language based microaggressions can be subtle as well – for instance, consistently mispronouncing a student’s name or making assumptions about their cultural backgrounds. As teachers, you can make a difference by being extremely conscious of the words you use and carefully consider your students’ feedback.
  1. Exclusive actions might cause harm: For instance, planning a field trip without considering the needs of a student who is wheelchair bound. Similarly, having gendered bathrooms might have a negative impact on transgendered students. Teachers should try and be more aware of the particular needs of different students and try to be more inclusive in their actions.
  1. Awareness of gender identity and sexuality issues is necessary: A supportive school environment would encourage behaviors that include people of all genders and sexualities, in ways that they want to be included. Instead of assuming that all girls will want to date boys, teachers should try and establish activities that are responsive to the needs of all students.
  1. Relationships might be used as potential weapons: Relational microaggressions take place when one person intentionally tries to embarrass another person, most often with some type of gossip, meant to cause humiliation. In this case, the hurt for the victim can be huge and might cause severe mental stress. Teachers should try and be aware of such concerns, particularly in middle school.
  1. Encourage brave actions: Teachers have a limited authority in controlling the behaviors of students outside class. But what they can do is make courageous behavior “cool”. So for instance if a student was being bullied, others around him would be daring enough to speak up about the hostile behavior and support what is right. Making civil courage a common thing in schools might prevent many instances of microaggressions.

To get numerous perspectives on this topic, a survey was carried out. Here are the results:

Teachers should work to create an inclusive classroom to avoid Microaggressions in their classroom. Many teachers are unaware of their own Microaggressions and by explicitly teaching lessons that focus on celebrating differences teachers can bring the issue to light and help identify their own biases.

Dr. Felicia Durden

Teachers *always *need to maintain their composure in a volatile or inappropriate situation. Speak to the student/s after class.

Bianca Ambrosio | Writing Professor

Children often don’t have the language needed to describe their needs or feelings and so they act, often impulsively, to communicate their need.

Maelisa Hall | Psy.D. - Hall Counseling Group

These responses reiterate the fact that teachers can play an important, yet subtle role in modifying student behaviors to discourage microaggression in school settings.

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