Considering Privilege as an Educator

This post originally appeared on Paige Mitchell’s blog.

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?


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