In a recent article, it has been reported by the United States Department of Justice that the Ferguson Police Department have employed racist tactics against Blacks which will have an impact on relationships between White Ferguson Public School teachers and Black students. Blacks students and parents will have a heightened distrust of White teachers as a result of the Ferguson Police Department report. White Ferguson Public School teachers will have to implement strategies that transform the gap between the Black student perceptions and White teacher intentions.
According to the United States Department of Justice report, Ferguson’s law enforcement practices are shaped by the City’s focus on revenue rather than by public safety needs. This emphasis on revenue has compromised the institutional character of Ferguson’s police department, contributing to a pattern of unconstitutional policing, and has also shaped its municipal court, leading to procedures that raise due process concerns and inflict unnecessary harm on members of the Ferguson community. Further, Ferguson’s police and municipal court practices both reflect and exacerbate existing racial bias, including racial stereotypes. Ferguson’s own data establish clear racial disparities that adversely impact African Americans. The evidence shows that discriminatory intent is part of the reason for these disparities. Over time, Ferguson’s police and municipal court practices have sown deep mistrust between parts of the community and the police department, undermining law enforcement legitimacy among African Americans in particular.
The same distrust that Ferguson Blacks will exhibit towards the Ferguson Police Department will transfer into distrust between Black students and White Ferguson Public School teachers.
What strategies can White teachers use to transform the gap between Black student perceptions and White teacher intentions?
White teachers must understand some of the racial challenges that exist and have the high probability of producing the Black student perceptions regarding White teacher intentions. One possible source of classroom problems between White teachers and Black students is how trust is developed.
Trust is developed before the White teacher and Black student have any type of verbal encounter. Trust is developed through initial facial expressions such as eye contact. Whites believe maintaining eye contact in face-to-face communication is most desirable. White American employees and employers believe maintaining eye contact communicates trustworthiness, masculinity, sincerity, and directedness and conclude when Black employees fail to maintain eye contact that the Black employees have something to hide. European Americans view looking away or looking downward as a sign of disinterest, shyness, or disrespect.
Some Black parents teach their children that looking an adult in the eye is a sign of disrespect while White children learn to do the opposite. When reprimanding Black children, they tend not to look at the teacher as a sign of respect. Blacks are less likely to maintain eye contact with persons in a position of authority, and Black children increase eye contact as they begin to trust the teacher. Black students who avert their eyes and verbally express themselves may be just as attentive as White students who gaze directly at the speaker. Students may avoid teacher eye contact when they do not want to be called on or do not know the answer and respond by busily taking notes, rearranging books and papers, and fropping their pencils. Black adults gaze at others when talking to indicate interest. Blacks often “give the eye” as a displeasure indication related to negative feelings.
One way to reduce classroom problems that results from distrust between a White teacher and a Black student due to the Ferguson Police Department report is to ask the class, “What steps can we take to develop trust?” You can take this opportunity to set-up classroom expectations with the intent of reducing classroom problems.
The next possibility for classroom problems that result from the racial differences between White teachers and Black students is standing differences. Colleges teach teachers to ensure there is a distance between themselves and the students so the teacher can maintain discipline in the classroom. European Americans are more likely to have close social distance with Mexican Americans when compared to Blacks and prefer to keep their personal space at arm’s length. Hispanic Americans stand close to or side by side instead of face-to-face when talking to another person. Hispanic Americans stand 6 to 8 inches within an arm’s length when talking to another person. Latinos interact at a close distance and frequently touch one another. Latino Americans prefer closer standing distances when compared to North Americans. Blacks prefer closer social distance when compared to Mexican Americans. Blacks are more likely to touch each other in a conversation when compared to Whites. Individuals who perceive a proximity violator as someone who will provide them with negative rewards will react negatively when the proximity violator moves closer. Maintaining the appropriate or comfortable proximity is associated with a positive effect, friendship, and attraction.
One way to close the standing distance challenges is when students are working, examine and critique their work from a close distance. You can go as far as placing your finger on their papers that are resting on the desk to close the standing distance without it being considered offensive.
The next possibility for classroom problems is the verbal exchange between the White teacher and the Black student is debating techniques. Blacks not only debate the idea; they also debate the person while Whites debate the idea rather than the person debating the idea. Blacks often probe beyond a given statement to find out where a person is “coming from,” in order to clarify the meaning and value of a particular behavior or attitude.
A White teacher can elect not to take this debating technique as a personal attack on them or their character. Or use this opportunity to teach students the proper techniques for winning a debate as an instructional tool.
While many may believe that the Ferguson Police Department report will cause additional problems for the Ferguson Public Schools, it is also an opportunity to begin the healing for the community by promoting positive racial teacher student classroom relationships.
Dr. Derrick L. Campbell, Ed.D.
PO Box 1668 Blackwood, NJ 08012
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Author of Promoting Positive Racial Teacher Student Classroom Relationships
“The model that you use to analyze teacher-student relationships is a good one for most school districts”.
~ Joe Vas ~ Perth Amboy Mayor
“Dr. Campbell’s Cultural Relationship Training Program is comprehensive, informative, and should be required training for all schools”
~ Darrell Pope ~ Hutchinson Kansas NAACP President