Speak Up: Responding to Everyday Bigotry

What Can I Do About Teacher's Bias?

'Those Students...'

An 18-year-old woman is one of seven Jewish students at a large high school in the Southwest: "One day in chemistry class, we were bargaining with the teacher to not have a test the next day. I happened to have 50 cents in my pocket, and I said, 'I'll pay you 50 cents if you don't give us a test tomorrow.' Some kid in the back said, '50 cents is a lot of money to a Jew.'"

The young woman says the teacher took her aside later and told her he was offended by the student's comment, but she wishes the teacher would have said something in class, for all to hear.

Two teachers, one white and one Asian American, are in the hall at school. The white teacher, looking disdainfully down the hall at a group of African American students, says of the group, "Those students are always so disruptive." The Asian American teacher says nothing —"which didn't help," he writes — because he isn't sure how to respond.

The principal of a school, handing out award certificates, stumbles over Cambodian and Vietnamese names. She laughs about "how hard it is to pronounce these foreign names." Teachers who have made an effort to learn the names wonder what they can say to the principal.

Ask for leadership. If a teacher or administrator fails to set a good example — or sets an outright bad example — call upon that person's high-profile role in seeking change: "You're the teacher. People look to you as an example. If you don't speak up, no one will know it's wrong to say those kinds of things."

Appeal to school spirit. Use your school's mission to challenge a leader's biased or disrespectful comments: "This school is dedicated to providing every student with an education in a safe and welcoming environment. We need to honor that."

Offer help. Model good behavior, and provide assistance when others struggle: "I've worked hard to learn to pronounce my students' names. I'll be happy to help you learn them, too."