‘Take Your Hood Off’ and Other Teacher Microaggressions

In 2008, David Whitman, future speech writer for early Obama Education Secretary Arne Duncan, coined the term “paternalistic school” to describe what we now know as “no nonsense” charter schools. Whitman, a proponent of education reform, chose the word “paternalistic” as a flattering moniker for the movement. In an essay entitled “An Appeal to Authority” Whitman says that one of the aims of these schools is to teach students “how to act according to what are commonly termed traditional, middle-class values.” The overtly racist policies of these “paternalistic” charter schools are now well documented. More recently, many charter schools have dialed back on official attempts to use school rules to refine urban students of color into middle class white students. These attempts can be appropriately described as “macroaggressions,” large-scale overt acts of aggression toward marginalized people groups.

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The more pressing issue today, in both traditional public schools and on an even larger scale in charter and voucher schools, is what is known as “microaggressions.” To be specific, teacher microaggressions are the indirect, subtle, or even unintentional ways that teachers discriminate against students of color and other marginalized student groups. They include body language, choice of words, and other small seemingly innocuous daily decisions. Often teacher microaggressions are couched in an authentic attempt by the teacher to connect with students. Many times, however, these microaggressions are distinctly connected with the manner in which teachers choose to enforce school rules.

Teachers giving undue attention to student behavior that is technically against school rules but not directly tied to a specific consequence is sometimes referred to as “sweating the small stuff.” Teachers must examine their motivations when enforcing rules in order to recognize their own microaggressions. All teachers have “pet peeves.” Questions for every teacher to ask themselves include, “Why does this behavior bother me so much?” “Will enforcing this rule help keep students safe?” “Do I disapprove of this behavior because of the way I was raised?” “Is enforcing a rule at a particular time worth the potential loss of relationship capital with the student?”

Teachers must examine their motivations when enforcing rules in order to recognize their own microaggressions.

One student behavior that is clearly more about etiquette and an outdated understanding of what respect means, is the wearing of hats and hoods in the school building. It is true that students frequently use hoods to cloak the use of ear buds, which obviously can impede direct instruction. But just as often students wear hats or hoods to provide a sense of security in attempt to overcome something like social anxiety or an insecurity related to appearance (like a bad haircut). The idea that hats worn inside a building is disrespectful has fallen out of favor in almost every venue with the exception of the schoolhouse. Today, hats are frequently worn inside movie theatres, formal concerts, churches, and virtually any other public place. Constantly insisting that students remove hats and hoods at school is a microaggression because it is premised on an antiquated view of respect and does not account for present day cultural practices among communities of color.

The constant policing of language is another example of teacher microaggression. White middle class teachers often have a concept of what constitutes polite and acceptable classroom language, a concept that has likely not been made accessible to their students. The teacher may be the only adult in a student’s life who wishes to produce a “G” rated environment of language. In order to not impose their own language values, teachers must consider the intent behind each student phrase. An unengaged student may express frustration with instructional content by saying, “I don’t give a shit about this class!” The last thing this student needs is school discipline that would remove them from the classroom and further alienate them from their own learning.

In order to not impose their own language values, teachers must consider the intent behind each student phrase.

Punishing students for sleeping in class is also a microaggression. White teachers may have a concept of what it means to get a good night’s rest that simply may not be available to their students. Sleeping students cannot learn, but they might be able to learn better after a brief nap. A sleeping student indicates a need for rest, not a need for consequences. Teachers should not be personally offended when students fall asleep in class because chances are it has little to do with instructional methods and much to do with factors outside of the classroom. Although, teachers must be self-reflective in these moments to see if lesson plans could be more engaging for students. The goal should be for students to be engaged at a level where they want to stay awake whether they can or not.

To avoid microaggressions, white teachers should utilize what is called “culturally responsive teaching.” Teachers who are educated in how their students’ lives diverge from their own are better equipped at recognizing their own implicit bias, the mindset on which the microaggressions feed. Teachers must understand that deciding whether or not to “sweat the small stuff” is not just a matter of classroom management, it is a matter of social justice.

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37 thoughts on “‘Take Your Hood Off’ and Other Teacher Microaggressions

  1. Good post. I’m always getting yelled at by administrators because I don’t enforce some of the BS dress code rules. But you’re right about them. I also think it disrupts class to stop and discipline a child for a good or the wrong color pants or whatever. Good teachers know their kids well enough to know if they’re hiding ear buds or trying to get away with something. They know their kids cultures and mores and respect them.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Veteran teacher of color here, I disagree that hats and hoods are worn everywhere. When speaking to fellow African Americans that happen to be students I ask if they attend church. Usually the answer is yes, then I ask if the wear their hat or hood in church? They don’t so that hat usally comes off with no hassle. It’s okay to ask kids to comply with social norms otherwise they won’t be ready for an environment that is more formal than their social circle!

    Liked by 7 people

    1. Thank you, Glen… I also take offense to the author making the claim that is it the “white race” that imposes restrictions on their children, like getting proper sleep. From my experience as a teacher, responsible parents (black, white, green, yellow and pink) parent their children. And, by the way, “middle class ‘white’ values?” Pretty sure the values being taught are not race nor class specific…

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I take issue with the idea that sleeping students should be left undisturbed. Even beyond the disrespect, it’s a safety issue. What looks like a sleepy student could be a intoxicated student, an ill student, or, even worse, a student who has taken pills to commit suicide. Several years ago, we had a student who was sleeping in class, and her teachers let her. She nearly died — she had taken a bottle of pills in an attempt to kill herself. It was her coach who figured out that something was very wrong. Her teachers who let her sleep thought they were being sensitive to her needs.

    Liked by 4 people

      1. Well, then the teacher who lets the student sleep in class should also not be punished.

        Agree with the entire article. Many of my colleagues in urban schools would too. It’s a shame though that our administration and evaluation system is written, enforced and completed based on these ‘white middle class’ standards.

        Have you ever even read the Danielson rubric?

        Perhaps directing us towards an article that also explores the oppression that begins from policy would make this a more complete piece. Instead all it reads as is complicity with scapegoating the invisible evil teacher portrayed by all sides.

        Liked by 1 person

  4. Frankly, I’m kind of sick of people (mostly men, like Ken Robinson) telling kids they don’t have to listen to their teachers (most of whom are female). There’s nothing progressive about telling women (yes, most teachers in the US are women) that we have no right to set standards for language, culture, behavior and values in our class. It just reveals contempt for teachers and is yet another attempt to put women in our place.

    Liked by 8 people

  5. Schools are purposeful sites of indoctrination.

    Especially considering that in the USA education is compulsory, it is expected that our White-dominated culture would use schools to further the “inevitability” of White supremacy. (Before getting triggered, note that someone doesn’t have to be a KKK member to hold a foundational opinion that the “White, middle-class way” is the “right” or “better” way – which is, by definition, White Supremacy).

    This article isn’t about disregarding women; nor is it about being non-responsive to out-of-the-ordinary behavior of a particular student on a particular day. What it IS about is examining our own “baseline of acceptability” and checking how deeply rooted it is in “White-middle-class-rightness.”

    Does swearing affect one’s ability to learn? Nah.
    Does forcing language restrictions affect one’s ability to learn? Absolutely.
    Does one’s penchant for (or aversion to) swearing indicate their desire to learn? Fuck no.
    ……so why worry ourselves about swearing? (Like, really …. why? …. and BTW – if “a clean mouth” is a priority because of religious opinions, to enforce those on students is in violation of the law).

    Does wearing a hat affect ones’ ability to learn? No. Silly idea. We talk about “thinking caps” all the time!
    Does being forced to adorn and present oneself according to the dictates of someone else’s preferences affect one’s ability to learn? Absolutely.
    Are hat-wearing people not interested in learning or knowing things? ‘fraid not.
    …. so why the obsession with bare heads? (No ….. stop right there — this isn’t about earbuds. Dress codes began explicitly prohibiting hats in the 1980’s … as the War on Drugs began ** and before ** earbuds were a consumer item. This is about hats. Why? Really — are we afraid our students’ will get squished brains? Or …. could it be that hats make it more difficult to enforce a White-middle-class behavior code? (Which is –well– um, White-centric and not culturally respectful and responsive.)

    Does sleeping when exhausted (or bored ) contribute to an ability to learn? Nope. When exhausted, or mind-numbingly bored we don’t retain what is presented to us anyway.
    Does sleep deprivation affect one’s ability to learn? Absolutely.
    If someone is tired does that certify that he or she is not willing to accept, process, amend, and retain new knowledges (intentionally plural)?
    ….so why a refusal to allow sleep? (If we say “the classroom is not the place for sleeping” we are admitting that our classrooms are NOT a haven from the outside world and/or that we are incapable of making the material we teach engaging and relevant.)
    And…if our position is that it is not our responsibility to have a classroom which helps students leave trauma outside the door and/or which presents information in interesting and meaningful ways — well, then, we are not being culturally-responsive teachers.

    Consider this: To presuming that every student lives in a home with loving family and plenty of food and a soft bed and quiet time to sleep is short-sighted, narrow-minded, and grossly uninformed. And to presume that all of our students of color are poor, traumatized, helpless, or “needing a hand up” is paternalistic. To presume that a student is in greater need of conformity than eloquent expression of self is conceited. To make an assumption that, even if well-off, a student shares a core belief in competition and the infallibility of the market in determining worth is arrogant.

    Nobody wants or needs a short-sighted, narrow-minded, grossly uninformed, paternalistic, conceited, arrogant teacher. Demanding conformity to an arbitrary set of rules -set by a dominant culture determined to enforce the undermining of all “Others”- is the M.O. of such a teacher. Let’s not be that teacher.

    Even when our students are pretending to be completely detached and disinterested, learning DOES happen in classrooms. In some classrooms (generally those in which teachers attempt to “mold” students rather than accept them) the lesson is this: learning is boring, painful, degrading, embarrassing, and it sucks.

    I refuse to be a teacher who teaches kids that learning sucks; and consequently, I am always open to suggestions given by them and their allies/advocates.

    The author of this article suggests a few things we might change in order to NOT teach that learning sucks … and maybe heeding his advice about cultural sensitivity, and culturally-relevant pedagogy is a great idea.

    Perhaps, rather than defending approaches/classrooms/rules laden with microaggressions, it will serve us and all of our students better if we put our egos aside and acknowledge that demanding conformity to a “White, middle-class” idea of “acceptable” is an egregious aggression committed against too many of our students.

    Liked by 3 people

      1. hoodies should be equal like any other clothing. It’s not fair because there are people that feel safe in their hoodies. For once the schools should loosen up and get a grip or go to hell. I get yelled at every day for my hood being up. Is all im trying to say is its not fair

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    1. Your comment is full of assumptions about POC. Do you think we allow our kids to cuss and yell at home? Do you think only white parents demand their kids treat with respect? I’ll just say that I’m so glad my baby is at a school where she is held to same high standards as her white peers. To expect any less of my daughter’s behavior because of her race would be racist, patronizing, unfair and ignorant.

      Liked by 8 people

      1. Very well-spoken comment!

        To me, this was a very disturbing article. The author believes teachers should not follow the rules and GUIDELINES given to them by their supervisors/ principals!!?!?!?!! What are we teaching our future workers?

        Liked by 4 people

      2. Kayla, hoodys are NOT like other clothing. They can and have concealed weapons and contraband. In addition, having your hood up in class demonstrates disrespect to your teacher and everyone else in the class. The hood should be down so that you are better able to see and hear what is going on ion the classroom, and interact with your teachers and fellow students.
        Put your hood down, and learn to be a part of society. You can’t hide from it–in order to survive, you have to learn to deal with it.

        Liked by 1 person

    2. As a culturally sensitive middle school teacher who was a nonconforming student, inspired by all the movies about renegade teachers, I have to say I’ve learned through trial and error there are some very valid reasons for classroom norms that have nothing to do with race or aggressions. I find it helpful to invest the first day of school in socratic discussion about what behaviors optimize and hinder student success in a shared learning environment. Each class collaborates on their own full value contract. Students understand that we will all sign the contract indicating we fully value one another, our shared space, and our unique needs and preferences. A safe environment is often tied with respect for our #1 norm. When 8th graders discuss what makes them feel safe and what doesn’t, hats have never come up. I teach in a very dI verse school so I’m just as likely to have farm kids with tractor hats as I am to have kids in hoods. Some of the farm kids are black and many in hoods are white. I never notice what’s on their head unless they seem to be brooding under it or avoiding learning. My response is appropriately either, “would you like to fill out a guidance form?” Or “do you think you could focus better with a clear line of sight?” Either question usually prompts the removal of the hat or hood. If it doesn’t, I ignore it and carry on with conferencing. I try not to call out a student during direct instruction or guided practice, but during independent work time. Language, on the other hand often makes the norms list, usually rated #3 or #4. Students agree that practicing use of academic language helps them and their learning community and foul language makes them feel vulnerable, angry, agitated, or unsafe. Students feel valued when they know the boundaries. It helps them mature when we include them in setting the boundaries. It compromises a student’s sense of security to feel that anything goes. I occasionally have students who have been parented with loose or lapsing boundaries and they have usually been aloof, angry, bitter, and ambivalent.

      Liked by 5 people

      1. Yup. I’m white and I teach in a white district (I’m now in Vermont, so that’s pretty much what we have, unfortunately.) So I’m asking white kids not necessarily to remove hats but to push them back at least so I can see their faces. I’d ask any kid, frankly, to do so. I don’t like the hats and hoods because I have to
        “teach to the eyes” in a French class in which there’s almost no English. I HAVE to really see their faces well in order to gauge comprehension. So I explain why. However, if there’s a kid who is having anxiety issues and/or has recently moved in to the district and that’s their safety blanket, well, I let it go completely.

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    3. How do we handle language nonconformity after the student moves on? I know this maybe a little lame for some, but I am concerned that dropping the f-bomb at school, brings a likelihood that it will happen in the work place. Am I ‘sweating the small stuff’ here? I want Students to have the ability, and right, to speak their minds. I also want them to be able to know that some language can be looked down upon depending on where it’s spoken. Shit or damn is one thing, the f-bomb is a totally different thing.
      Also, for many in the business world, in may create a negative opinion, when none is desired. One major one, other than the f-bomb, is saying the Lords name in vane. This hits to fronts for many; one religious and one professionalism.
      Please help me through this language usage in high school snafu.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Though I think you’re coming from the right place, I find it disheartening that, amid the escalating attacks on public schools, their teachers and their unions, we are debating this, and that it is “teachers” who are at fault.

    Don’t you see that this feeds directly into the scapegoating of teachers, although this time from the Left?

    The billionaires who are pushing school privatization laugh when they see this kind of thing, since it informs them that they need not fear an educated, organized and mobilized resistance to their hostile takeover of the public schools, as long as people are caught up in these comparatively minor issues that are certain to cause disagreement among people in the profession.

    First things first: fight the “macroaggressions” (terrible term; call it what it is, class warfare) of charter schools, vouchers, union busting and the attempts to turn teaching into temp work via organizations like TFA.

    Do that, and then you can call me an Oppressor for waking a kid up in class or telling him to take off his hat.

    Liked by 3 people

  7. Seen this response from the NYCEducator blog? “When I first started teaching, when dinosaurs roamed the earth, I had no concept about hats being bad, good or anything. However, a supervisor told me that students shouldn’t wear hats in class. It appeared if they did, I would get in trouble. I am not fond of extra trouble, so I enforced this policy. Over the years, it’s appeared silly sometimes. It’s especially ridiculous in the halls, where I see deans tell kids to remove their hats. Inevitably, they turn the corner and replace them. I say nothing about hats in the hall.

    “In the classroom, there are reasons other than social grace for discouraging hats. I don’t want students hiding from me, and anything that covers their faces facilitates this. Hoods are worse in that respect. It’s pretty easy to hide your earbuds in a hood. Fascinating though we may fancy ourselves, a lot of teenagers would rather hear music than us.”

    http://nyceducator.com/2017/12/are-we-microagressors.html

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Hi! I loved all your suggestions, but I think, I don’t know, but I think teachers of all races are guilty of the behaviors you described. I do agree that white teachers are probably statistically more prone to what you described, but I don’t think it’s only a white teacher problem.

    Also, I think there are white teachers who have never behaved as you described or who have evolved and no longer behave as you described. When I was a new teacher, we were ALL taught the hoods/hats off stuff. We were told that was what we had to do. Straight lines, no hats, etc……Luckily, some of us have figured out how silly a lot of that stuff is.

    Rather than blame white teachers, I’d blame poorly trained teachers and teachers who shouldn’t be working with children.

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    1. As a teacher, we were trained to help ensure students followed dress code nor effectively after the Columbine shootings. The shooter entered the school and hid his weapon in lose fitting pants and a hoodie was used to disguise his appearance. It had nothing at all to do with respect or hindering rights, it was about safety.

      Liked by 1 person

    2. Restrictions regarding hats and especially hoodys are not “silly stuff.” They are part of students learning to follow the rules and show basic respect to other people. Wearing hats and hoods in class hinders the teacher’s ability to make eye contact and communicate with the student and people can and do hide weapons and contraband in hats and hoodys.
      School is a lot more than academic material. It is teaching the students how to live and succeed in society. Following the rules is basic to that.

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  9. This article would be best aimed at school boards as they are the scgroups that adopt and amendi rules such as hoods, hats, and language. As a teacher, I’m bound to enforce the rules, like them or not. Teachers don’t make or change these rules. In my district the board was only 7 people, versus thousands of teachers. Much easier to convince those 7, just as a practical matter. However, as a side note, rule following is important. How many of us have to follow rules we don’t “get.” They are often for the greater good – not for one person’s benefit alone. Try telling your boss “this shit sucks” or that you’ve made some changes to the dress code. Won’t be employed long.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. I am a teacher who has been in classrooms in three different countries. Ignoring inappropriate language or dress codes doesn’t help students out when they are in the workforce. It also doesn’t help when trying to keep the school safe from gang or drug related activities. As far as the language goes, code switching is an important skill that students need to learn to be successful in the workforce. There are times and places when cursing is ok. However, court, places of worship, places of business and places of academia are not those places, and students need to learn that. I am Queer and my partner of six years is a person of color and has a disability. We are very familiar with micro aggressions, but this list isn’t a great compilation of them. I would actually argue that not teaching them those life skills is in itself a microaggression. It reduces students down to their home environments or economic status. To assume students either shouldn’t or can’t learn basic societal skills and expectations because of their home environment or their skin color or economic status is indeed a microaggression.

    Liked by 1 person

  11. Soft bigotry of low expectations. Creating a new set of expectations based on cultural background is damaging and makes a LOT of assumptions. Hats and hoods are a problem at my school because we use cameras to identify criminal activity and aggressive offenses in the hallway. I ask all students to remove hats and hoods, but unfortunately the fear of being labeled a racist gets in the way of preparing students for true success after high school.

    Liked by 1 person

  12. “Perhaps the most valuable result of all education is the ability to make yourself do the thing you have to do, when it ought to be done, whether you like it or not; it is the first lesson that ought to be learned; and however early a man’s training begins, it is probably the last lesson that he learns thoroughly.”
    Thomas H. Huxley
    English biologist (1825 – 1895)

    I teach my children this quote every year. School is not just about learning math, reading, writing, etc – we are helping these kids learn that as adults they will be held to a standard they may not always agree with, but their individual wants, needs, preferences cannot and will not always be accommodated in the real world.

    They are children. Of course they want to wear hoods and say bad words. They want a lot of things that are not necessarily good for them. They lack the judgement and perspective to understand how their choices impact their future. We are the adults. We are supposed to guide them, not accommodate them.

    Hoods aren’t allowed in my school for safety reasons. We have cameras throughout the halls and students are more difficult to identify when they are wearing hoods. Most rules and expectations in schools are in place for safety reasons. Unfortunately there are students who bring weapons to school, assault others, or vandalize property – so in this case it’s the few “bad apples” that ruin it for everyone… but that’s life, and kids have to get used to that. I don’t like that I have to pay more in car insurance because I am a woman, and women drivers are statistically more likely to get into accidents. I don’t like that I get touched by a stranger all over my body when I want to fly to Florida to visit my grandparents, but it’s simply reality.

    Cursing in school is an issue, especially in public education. Slipping up and cussing isn’t a big deal but almost all cussing at my school is derogatory statements made to other students and staff. How can you expect students to feel safe and comfortable at school when others are verbally assaulting them? And how do explain to children that one form of cussing is okay, but others are not? Sorry, but it’s easier to say no cussing… and I don’t know any parent that is proud when they find out how their kids cuss and use crude language when they aren’t around. I would never want a teacher to just let my kids cuss because “everyone else is doing it and it’s too disruptive to discipline them”.

    “The term in loco parentis, Latin for “in the place of a parent” refers to the legal responsibility of a person or organization to take on some of the functions and responsibilities of a parent.” When parents send their kids to school, our job is to do what’s best for all of them. The rules and expectations may seem petty, but there are legitimate reasons for them.

    When these kids enter adulthood, they can decide how they would like to proceed and what lifestyle they want. They can decide if they want to cuss out people they work with and get fired, or if they want a job that allows them the comfort of a hood – or if it’s even that important to them.

    My job is to give them knowledge and a basic set of expectations that will help them assimilate into society when it’s their time. I say keep expectations high, and consistent to help give these kids the best shot.

    I get what you are trying to do, but I wish you wouldn’t. Let’s not use blanket statements/ideas in regards to education and children. There is no “this one way is best”, or this is the real reason why kids where hoods or use foul language… Each situation is unique and should be handled accordingly.

    Also, these are not “white culture” expectations. Culture isn’t based off of skin color. It’s based entirely off of upbringing and environmental factors. Blanket statements and assumptions like these are micro aggressions in themselves.

    Liked by 1 person

  13. Let’s face it. Forcing children to attend school is in itself a paternalistic microagression. Really more of a macoagression, if you think about it. It is also highly discriminatory against cultures-of-colors and valuable experiences rooted in ghetto and third world experience. We should stop this state-compelled social and cultural aggression against children immediately. Make school voluntary! That way, only children who are willing to undergo the humiliation of dress and conduct codes, English grammar, and the like will have to endure this soul-crushing experience.

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