Considering Privilege as an Educator

I’ve been thinking about privilege a lot lately. I’ve been trying to organize my thoughts, but there is so much I want to say. It is my goal to be an anti-oppressive educator, so I’ve been considering some bigger questions about power, privilege, and my personal capabilities. What do I do with my unearned privilege? As an educator, what can I do about power and privilege? How can I overcome my own fears around showing my own vulnerabilities?

To begin, I am aware of my privilege as a white, middle-class, straight woman. I was also the traditional “good” student. I had societal support and the kind of personality that allowed me to succeed in the education system. Now that I am aware of systemic inequality and my own privilege, I know that I have to use my voice to make the school system equitable for all.

What can I do about my unearned privilege? I can use my voice to be an ally in changing systemic inequity. That means that I will give up my privilege. It means that I will stand up against injustice; because as an educator, I want to know that the system I am part of does not disadvantage some and privilege others.

As an educator, what can I do about power and privilege in the school system? I can be culturally responsive. I can include many different perspectives, not just those that our history has privileged. As an English educator, I can teach my students to read texts and the world through different lenses to see varied perspectives, privilege, injustice, and unfair common sense ideas. I can question my biases. I can question the way systems work. I can question common sense. I can ask others, and I do, is there something I’m missing? In what other ways can I be a part of changing issues of power and privilege in my classroom and in student’s education? I want to hear more thoughts on this.

How can I overcome my fears around showing my own vulnerabilities?

A huge part of my teaching philosophy stems from my own challenges, which led me to see the way the system did not work for all. As a teacher, I want to give my students a safe environment. I want them to know that I am working to support their learning and their needs, not to satisfy my ego. I have always wanted to be an ally for my students, and for them to know that I will stand with them in that capacity.

However, I am now questioning my ability to use my voice. I am afraid to be vulnerable. I am afraid, sometimes, to use my voice. I am afraid to open up about issues that hit closer to home, about issues that have hurt me personally, about the overwhelming anxiety that I struggled with in high school and continue to struggle with now. It’s too real. I would look weak. Or I would just be making something out of nothing. I don’t want to be looked at differently. Do I have a choice? Do others who feel this way have a choice?

So the next question is, how can I be a model and an ally for my students if I am silent? How can I be an anti-oppressive educator, when I am so afraid to give up the privilege I have from being silent about my personal challenges? How can I expect others to do the same? How can I overcome this and do what I set out to?



5 thoughts on “Considering Privilege as an Educator

  1. Pingback: Considering Privilege as an Educator | STARS Regina

  2. Hi Paige, looking at your questions reminded me of a beautiful article by Chris Friend on Hybrid Pedagogy. I’m trying to get the link for you but having probs – the title is “On Finding My Voice as a Minority Teacher” and he talks about how important it was for him to “come out”, the impact it had on students and other minorities. I realize that making ourselves vulnerable puts us at risk in traditional academic/school settings… I do as much of it as I can in my own classes and my blog, less (but also as much as I can) in my interactions with other teachers and academics, and have started to even do it in academic articles (a little crazy, I know). I’ll tweet you the link to Chris’s article when I find it.

    • Thanks for the shout-out/connection, Maha. The biggest thing I can think to offer Paige is encouragement: The story I told in the piece Maha suggested was probably the scariest thing I’ve done in the classroom, and I’ve now done it seven times. The response has been, without exception, wonderful. The students think of me as a person who is sharing experience/insight with them, rather than a dictator sharing a curriculum with them. My, what a difference rapport can make.

      So share! Open up! Be vulnerable. (Think how vulnerable your students are when they submit their essays for grading. They’ll appreciate a bit of equity.)

      • Maha, thank you for the link and for your words on being vulnerable. And Chris, thank you so much, both for your wonderful article and for the encouragement. Hearing how both of you show your vulnerabilities is really inspiring. I do not share how mental health issues have impacted my life with many people and when I do it is often minimized. I really connected to your post and the point you made about if you were hiding anything it was from yourself. For me, part of not speaking about things is not being able to come to terms with them. However, I really take to heart everyone’s support and I believe I will be able to open up to my students and use my voice as well as my actions to create a secure and safe space where it’s okay for us to show our vulnerabilities. Thank you both again. Your words really make a difference.

  3. Pingback: Making Connections and Building Rapport | Paige Mitchell's Blog

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