Non-White Elementary Student’s Experiences with White Middle Class Teachers

Young Non-White children from high poverty backgrounds being taught by White middle class teachers have different experiences in the elementary classroom. Being that classrooms are becoming more diverse nationwide it is important to understand if all the children are benefiting from their elementary teachers. Gary R. Howard (2006), the author of “We Can’t Teach What We Don’t Know” explains to readers, “The growing presence of diversity in our public school population is the face of our future” (p.3).  Non-White children can gain both a negative and positive experience from having a White middle class teacher teach them, but it is important they  receive the most positive experiences. This blog post aims to bring a brief awareness to readers about both the positive and negative effects of having White middle class teachers teach non-white students from high poverty backgrounds.

According to the National Center for Education Information in 2011, 84% of public school teachers are White. On the other hand, the US Census Bureau reports as of 2008 that 43% of students in public elementary schools are Non-White. That is almost half of a teacher’s classroom and the number of Non-White students is steadily increasing. This means that the majority of White teachers have the responsibility to reach out to both White children and Non-White children. It is important to reach Non-White students by letting four very important principles guide one’s work when teaching. Howard (2006) writes that these four principles are, “Growth in multicultural awareness is possible. Growth in multicultural awareness is desirable. Multicultural growth can be observed and assessed. Multicultural growth can be stimulated and promoted” (p. 102).  It is important to point out what multicultural awareness is. Multicultural Awareness in my opinion is a greater understanding, sensitivity, and appreciation of the history, values, experiences, and lifestyles of groups that include, but, are not limited to: race, ethnicity, gender and socio-economic status. Therefore, White teachers should engage and believe in multicultural growth in order to connect with the children. This helps the children feel comfortable with one another and their teacher. Multicultural awareness can also change an educator’s perspective positively. How, you may ask? It can help an educator gain greater self awareness and greater self awareness of others. This self awareness can lead to developing better interpersonal skills, promote harmony and healing between different groups and able to live in a more multicultural world. If educators believe in multicultural awareness it  can be enthusiastically promoted in their teachings.

Not all White teachers feel it is necessary to relate through multicultural awareness with their students and do not choose to relate to their class in this manner. This semester in my field work experience I had the opportunity of working with a Brooklyn native, White 1st grade teacher in her 50s or 60s. She is a teacher of a first grade class in Brooklyn, NY. In an interview with her, she states, “I am the teacher, I do not have to relate with the children’s cultures. In the beginning of the year I don’t ask where they are from,  it doesn’t really matter.” It was quite shocking to hear that she does not care to relate to the children’s cultures. This can cause a teacher to be culturally insensitive to a child’s demeanor in a classroom. One time there was a child who was misbehaving and she explained to me, “I don’t understand why Black people do not believe in therapy because their child needs it.” It is interesting how this teacher claims not to care about children’s culture, but makes such statements. It is sad that she uses stereotypes against the child’s parents which can affect how she views the child.

On another occasion this teacher discussed with me how an African American parent was late to a parent teacher conference and said, “It’s not my fault they live in the projects and have no sense of time.” My jaw dropped when she made these statements because I feel she had no place to single out an entire race because of their lateness or because of their beliefs. If she chooses to become more aware of her class’s culture maybe she would think differently. However, as she states, she does not care to learn anything about their cultures. I find this is sad and cannot understand why she teaches at such a school with such a highly diverse student population. Without her realizing it, it affects the way she talks to the children and even her expectations of the children because they are Non-White. Since the teacher feels negatively towards the parents it affects how she deals with the child’s work. For example, we were putting together books and she saved a child’s book for last to do because she wanted to forget it about. She did this because she cannot stand the parents, she even said “we still have time to ruin this child’s work!” Her attitude towards the parents should not affect how she treats any child’s work! This behavior can appear as if she she doesn’t believe in her Non-White student’s work. She even calls one of her African American students disgusting because of behavioral issues. This same African American student is in the highest reading group, but the teacher explains to me that she has made no growth in her reading because she came in the classroom a high reader. This makes me wonder if it was because the teacher has negative feelings for this student and if she purposely intended not to challenge the student. The teacher needed to believe in her and help her grow regardless of her negative attitude towards the child. This negative attitude doesn’t show that she believes in the child’s ability of succeeding.

It is vital for White teachers to understand that beliefs determine outcomes. White teachers have the duty to set the same high standards and high expectations for all their students. This belief that Non-White students can exceed in higher standards and expectations when the children are in elementary school, can benefit the children for the rest of their lives because it provides a foundation for the students (Howard, 2006). All children need to be believed in because it challenges them for the betterment of their education and lives. When a child is Non-White and comes from a poor background it is a teacher’s duty to teach them to the best of their ability because it will affect the students for the rest of their lives. Lisa Delpit (2012) writes, “For children of poverty, good teachers and powerful instruction are imperative. While it is certainly true that inequity, family issues, poverty, crime, and so forth all affect poor children’s learning opportunities, British educator Peter Mortimore found that the quality of teaching has six to ten times as much impact on achievement as all other factors combined” (p. 73). When children are in elementary school they will be strongly affected by their learning  because elementary school is where they learn the foundations before they move on to higher levels of education.

To conclude, I believe teachers should want to teach a multicultural audience. When deciding to teach they should understand that their students may not be from the same culture as them and look forward to relating to them as much as possible. This is why I am grateful that Kingsborough promotes multicultural awareness. In my education courses these past two years, they have taught us to promote this awareness, regardless if your classroom is located in an urban or suburban area. We have to have the passion to want to promote this! As Howard (2006) mentions, “Teaching is a calling, not just a job” (p. 125).Teachers should want to teach their students regardless of race, to want  their students to learn and love learning as much as they do. It’s a journey of commitment to make an effort of giving all children the wealth of their own intelligence and future success. Non-White children can have a positive learning experience with White teachers, as long as White teachers believe in becoming multiculturally aware and not judging his or her students. I am a product of being taught by White teachers at a young age and I feel there are teachers who teach us all equally, for this is why I am able to write today. It is important that all teachers aim to help all students equally so we can all be productive members of society, regardless of race.



C.E. Feistritzer. (2011, July 29). Profile of Teachers In The U.S.2011. [Education Week]

Retrieved from

Delpit, L. (2012). “Multiplication is for White People” Raising Our Expectations for Other

People’s Children. New York, NY: The New Press.

Howard, G. R. (2006). We Can’t Teach What We Don’t Know. New York, NY: Teachers


United States Census Bureau (2008).

School Enrollment. Retrieved from


-written May 2013