‘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.


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.


21 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 4 people

  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 2 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 1 person

  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. 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 3 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?


    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 2 people

  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 1 person

  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.”



  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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