California Educator

June/July 2021

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Who Do You Call On? When teachers who find evidence of unconscious bias take steps to correct it, they can create a more welcoming space for all students By Maurice J. Elias I W A S A P P R O A C H E D by a m i d d l e school student who said, "My teacher doesn't like me." I knew the teacher, and I couldn't conceive of him communicating something like that to a student. I said that I found it hard to imagine, and the student insisted, "He doesn't like me." I asked him how he knew. "He never looks at me." I said I thought that was surpris- ing but would look into it. When I sat in on a couple of classes, I saw that the student sat in the front on the far-right side of the room, and the t each er looked almost exclusively to the left half of the room. I spoke to the teach er about it, and h e had no idea about his tendency to look to his right. I su g ge st e d th at h e u s e a t e ch ni qu e I l ear n ed ab o ut from UK re s earch er Michael Fielding and rotate asking a few students over the course of a few weeks to keep track of some of his patterns: • Where he tended to face. • Who did he tend to call on — male/ female, race/ethnicity, disability status. • In what parts of the room did he tend to call on students. • With which students did he use or not use a student's name when he called on them. The teacher spoke with the student once the issue was brought to his atten- tion. He said the incident made him and hi s class more aware of how th ey all — teacher and students — could inadver- tently insult, offend or exclude someone without realizing it. As we work to improve our students' social and emotional skills and help them understand how to form relationships using both words and nonverbal behav- iors, it stands to reason that they will be more aware of how they are treated by their teachers, school staff, administra- tors and other adults. So adults need to be more aware of what they are projecting with their actions. Implicit biases? Tendencies to look left or right or call on boys more or usually call on people in the front or back of the room can be consid- ered forms of implicit bias. Similarly, it's a form of bias to favor students of certain racial or ethnic backgrounds in the fre- quency of calling on them or using their names. These are not patterns we con- sciously plan, yet many of us have them. As noted in a January 2021 Edutopia article, "A Simple Way to Self-Monitor for Bias," tracking is the most effective way to identify biases. Before introducing stu- dents to tracking some of the areas above, teachers would have a direct conversa- tion with their class about these kinds of 42 Teaching & Learning

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