Gripe : Teacher Who Disciplines Faces Unjust Labeling

Sophomore English teacher, ABC Unified School District, Los Angeles County

“For the fourth time, T----, will you stop talking while I’m talking to the class!” I hear her mutter to someone, “She’s a racist, you know.” J--- takes the hall pass to go for a class readmittance form and returns an unacceptable 33 minutes later. His comment on his subsequent referral slip reads, “She’s racism” (sic).

In both cases, I addressed the behaviors of the students, yet each perceivedmy admonition as a racist act. Although these scenarios are not common, theyoccur often enough to be unsettling. Off the tongues of young people who barely know its meaning rolls this current “in” word--this button-pushing, sit-up-and-take-notice, I’m-good, you’re-bad word-- racist.

I am a racist because I do not allow graffiti on the desks and walls of my room. I am a racist because I assign detentions for tardies. I am a racist because I do not tolerate classroom disruption. I am a racist because I demand respect, not so much for myself as an individual but for my seniority and my professional position. All too often, however, I find myself on the defensive as I attempt to maintain an environment conducive to learning. I am the bad guy--not because I am the teacher and an adult, but because I am not the right color.

With all of the conferences and activities and publicity on tensions between cultures and races at our multiethnic, multicultural high school, one would be naive to think that there is no racism here. But maybe there’s been too much ballyhoo. There has been so much rhetoric about different races and cultures over the last few years that many of the students see any confrontation between members of different cultures or ethnic groups as racist.


Perhaps it’s time to de-emphasize and the prefixes of those words that seem to be separating the student body. Perhaps we should take the black student, the white student, the Hispanic student, the Asian and Pacific Islander student (did I forget anyone?) and make each simply a student. Within the classroom walls, then, would be teachers and students, labels undisputed and understood by all. Disciplinary measures from teacher to student are necessary, expected, and, in most cases, beneficial to the social and emotional growth of the adolescent.

A student who regards discipline as something based on color or background, not behavior, is unlikely to change. And there, not in knee-jerk accusations of racism, is the real harm to society.