February 3, 2023

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According to new research from a social psychologist at the University of Massachusetts, primary school teachers in the US face significant psychological barriers to discussing issues such as race and racism with their students.

Linda Tropp, a professor of psychological and brain sciences, explored how teachers’ implicit racial biases and concerns about appearing racist can influence their intentions and confidence in engaging their students in racial talk. The findings were recently published online by the journal Social psychology of education.

“This research was done to try to understand what sometimes gets in the way of teachers’ best intentions from wanting to talk about race with their students,” said Tropp, who has extensive experience working in schools and helping teachers wants to support the involvement of students in discussions about race and other important and sensitive topics. “How can we equip teachers to participate in these conversations? What we hope is that the findings of this research can be used to inform future professional development programs for teachers so that they feel better prepared to ‘go there’ with their students.”

Analyzing data from two large surveys, each with responses from more than 1,000 K-12 teachers, Tropp found that teachers’ implicit racial bias and their explicit fear of being perceived as racist both independently contributed to lower intentions to teach. to talk about race with their students. These psychological barriers are still apparent even after Tropp took into account many other variables, such as teachers’ years of experience, their demographics, characteristics of the schools they teach, and their own previous exposure to diversity training.

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Recent teacher education and professional development programs have typically focused on educating teachers about implicit racial bias—that is, unconscious racial biases they may have and may have limited awareness of—without paying due attention to the conscious concerns of teachers about how they might be seen, or how their comments might be interpreted, Tropp explains.

“This is not just something that is unique to teachers, but something that we all experience in our society, where people are very quick to judge what we say,” Tropp says. “It’s understandable that we worry about how what we say might be perceived or received by others.”

Tropp emphasizes that future education efforts should consider how both implicit racial bias and conscious concerns about being perceived as racist can curb teachers’ willingness to engage students in meaningful and productive conversations about race. Tropp’s article states, “As we explore potential barriers to teacher engagement in student race discussions, we also need to learn how to effectively support teachers when called upon to facilitate these discussions.”

In light of current political and societal debates about race-related topics in school curricula, Tropp says it is becoming increasingly urgent for teachers to discuss race in the classroom to help students process what they see and hear outside of the classroom. She notes, “By providing students with the opportunity to engage in meaningful discussions about race, teachers can prepare them for a respectful exchange of perspectives with others and full participation as engaged citizens in an increasingly multi-faceted and diverse society.”

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More information:
Linda R. Tropp and Christina L. Rucinski, How Implicit Racial Prejudice and Concerns About Appearance of Racist Form K-12 Teacher Races Talk to Students, Social psychology of education (2022). DOI: 10.1007/s11218-022-09715-5

Provided by the University of Massachusetts Amherst

Quote: Implicit bias and concern over racist appearances predict teachers’ unwillingness to discuss race and racism in the classroom (2022, July 25) retrieved July 25, 2022 from https://phys.org/news/2022-07-implicit- bias-racist-teachers-reluctance.html

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