Tag: racism


Anti-Racist Teaching and Justice

Posted on January 30, 2021 by

“Power at its best is love implementing the demands of justice.
Justice at its best is love correcting everything that stands against love.”
-Martin Luther King, Jr.

It’s tough to think about the damage done during the last presidency. I remember in 2017 being devastated at the election results and then deciding to choose optimism.

That didn’t last long. Watching people I love, and people I don’t know, live in fear, anxiety, and pessimism is heart-wrenching and exhausting. What Trump impacted on our country hit us hard in education; we teach developing humans who watch and listen and sometimes question. We teach everyone who walks through our door, and for the last year, we did it during a pandemic that didn’t have to happen.

Mostly, the kids I taught struggled with understanding why there was so much hate, injustice, and blatant cruelty in America. To kids, it’s much more obvious in some ways – they learn right from wrong, they learn to be kind and share, and when they don’t see that reflected in their world it’s hard to comprehend. And extremely hard to explain to them – especially from one side of a computer screen, not able to look them in the eyes, give them a hug or high five, and reassure them that they and their family will be ok. That people really ARE good at heart.

And now again with a new president, a female woman of color for our vice-president, and a cabinet that looks more like MY America, I am once again optimistic. I feel a bit lighter. A bit more hopeful that we can be better than we ever have been. That we can begin to break down the systemic racism in our country. That we can all be anti-racist.

I’m not naive – I know what we are seeing in the news really IS our America. It’s not the America I want to live in, but it is where we are now. We have work to do – hard work – and educators can – and should – be huge players. Education IS political. We need to teach our children about racism, show them how it has shaped our country, and expose them to how it impacts our world today. We need to confront it, not conform to it. We need to challenge our young thinkers to make sense of what they see and experience and create opportunities for kids to make change happen – one small step at a time.

Are you an anti-racist teacher?

Not sure where to start, or how to keep going? I’ve been thinking that sharing some simple strategies and lessons that have worked in my classroom might just help “implement the demands of justice”. Here you go!

Start with books

Read alouds: My 7th graders LOVE to be read to, both during face to face learning, and even more during the distance learning we’ve been in. I use a combination of picture books and chapter books. I start my back to school read alouds with picture books – I focus on diversity of voice and the themes of empathy and inclusion. Here’s a link to get you started: Back to school read aloud picture book list.

I’ve typically followed the Global Read Aloud suggestions for chapter books in the last few years – last year we loved The Bridge Home by Padma Venkatraman, and this year’s choice, Prairie Lotus by Linda Sue Park was a perfect fit alongside the backdrop of the pandemic and racial justice issues in the U.S. Check out my Wakelet collection to help you build your classroom stack.

Another strategy is to try First Chapter Friday selections – I choose books from all genres with a focus on writers telling stories of marginalized groups in society. I’ve found that using clips of the author reading their work, when available, adds impact – when my students see people that look like them reading their stories, they are inspired to read – and WRITE!

And of course, offering choice – getting kids to learn to love reading means allowing them to have access to a diverse classroom library and agency over what and how they read – any genre, any format. Audio books and graphic novels ARE READING!

Use this link for Pernille Ripp’s Favorite Reads of 2020 – she’s always inspiring and spot on with her recommendations.

Build and maintain positive relationships

Kids need to be able to feel safe and trust that they can express themselves in order to do anti-racist teaching and learning. It starts by listening to your students – what are they passionate about? What’s at the top of their mind?

Ask for reflection and feedback – always. It’s one way kids know you care about them. And be SURE to act on their responses so they feel heard. I love to use this SEL check in form with my students – it’s their ‘do now’ at the start of class and gives me a quick glimpse at how they are, and who needs a deeper check-in.

Teach Empathy and Justice

My first unit of the year is always about empathy. This All Are Welcome HyperDoc allows students to gently understand the concept of empathy and explore how they see it in the world around them. The application of their learning in a collaborative picture book cements the validity of their perspectives while at the same time elevates picture book status in their eyes!

Lisa Highfill offered some Anti-Racist HyperDocs – take a look at Nadia Razi’s  lessons as well as two live shows recorded by the HyperDoc girls on the topic of justice and anti-racist teaching:

Keep learning

Teachers need to be active learners. The world is changing – we cannot rely on outdated textbooks and teaching strategies. Just because we’ve always done it that way doesn’t mean it’s right for right now.

Do your research. Read CURRENT information on anti-racist teaching pedagogy. Read books – biographies, memoirs, non-fiction, poetry, and fiction written by BIPOC. The following are a few resources I find helpful:

Jennifer Wolfe

Jennifer Wolfe, a writer-teacher-mom, is dedicated to finding the extraordinary in the ordinary moments of life by thinking deeply, loving fiercely, and teaching audaciously. Jennifer is a Google Certified Educator, Hyperdoc fanatic, and a voracious reader. Read her stories on her blog, mamawolfe, and grab free copies of her teaching and parenting resources.

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mother and daughter on grass

Choosing Anti-Racist Teaching in 2020

Posted on December 1, 2020 by

When I first became a teacher 30 years ago, I knew my true self wouldn’t be 100% acceptable in mainstream public education. Suddenly I became ‘Miss Mason’, someone who instantly became an adult around children not all that much younger than myself. Definitely not what we would call anti-racist teaching today; that part of my self was shadowed as I set about doing what was expected.

I knew that my days of extremes were over. The jet black hair was artfully shaved and teased. Dark eye-liner, perfectly powdered skin, and personal statements adorning my body were no longer acceptable in my chosen profession.

The days of twenty-something expression of individuality – let alone political beliefs – were shelved. That’s a huge reason why I chose NOT to teach in my hometown; the idea of 24/7 censorship terrified me. I thought anti-racist teaching was impossible.

Slowly, though, I got used to doing what I should do.

Doing what I thought I should do as an English teacher, one mask replaced another. Teaching days became years. It was easy to fall into teaching reading strategies, traditional white male texts, journaling, book reports, reading logs…I was doing a great job teaching the content of English.

Just not so great at being myself.

And I did a good job. Kudos came my way: awards, great relationships with students. Marriage. Motherhood. Maturity. All the parts of life that are supposed to add depth and shape us into who we were meant to be.

mother and daughter on grass

Photo by Daria Obymaha on Pexels.com

Slivers of my real self slipped out occasionally, followed by sleepless nights. You know, the kind of teacher nightmares we have when we think we might have accidentally said something controversial? That anxiety of waiting to be called in, to listen to a parent complaint that teachers shouldn’t be saying those kinds of things in the classroom…

And then…2017

anti-racist teaching

One day in early 2017 one of my young UCD AVID tutors, “L”, pulled me aside and whispered, “I’m really sorry Mrs. Wolfe, but I can’t work here anymore. I have to lay low. I’m DACA, and I can’t do anything that might impact my enrollment here. I’ve got to go back home.”

I remember my shock, my confusion, and my anger as I looked into her eyes. “L” was a few years older than my own daughter, but she was Mexican, first-generation, and mine was white, from college-educated parents.

My daughter wasn’t feeling the need to go into hiding to save her education.

My daughter wasn’t moving back home, giving up her job, her friends, her life because of her ethnicity.

But “L” was. And I realized that staying silent in the classroom wasn’t going to change anything. Avoiding anti-racist teaching wasn’t going to create equity, or help someone else’s daughter or son. Teaching is a political act. Education is a political issue. And no longer was it a question of should I speak my truth – but I must.

“Just do right’

“Just do right”, Maya Angelou told us. But what does ‘doing right’ look like in education when it comes to anti-racist teaching? The last four years have shown America that whites must use their privilege to effect change. We must examine and change what we are teaching our children at home and in the classroom. Teachers must question if they have a job versus a platform for change, or if they teach for the money versus the opportunity to mold minds? 

I must ask myself if I’m afraid of anti-racist teaching. My students aren’t. They say, Why should we be afraid to talk about race? It just is.

So if we must talk and teach about it, why is it so hard to know where to start? And if kids aren’t afraid, why are adults?

Look for the leaders

In the article ‘America’s schools are failing black people: When will education have its own #BlackLivesMatter movement?’ the author S.E. Smith asserts:

Instead of confronting racial and cultural divides, American education only serves to further them. Racial division is an inescapable fact of primary and post-secondary education itself, thanks to huge gaps in education quality that are closely tied to race and socioeconomic status. Some of the nation’s most underperforming schools are in primarily minority areas, reflecting the diminished opportunities for the nation’s children of color. Moreover, students of all races and backgrounds are subject to wildly differing history curricula, with Southern students often instructed that the Civil War was a “War of Northern Aggression.” Those distinctions matter.

Discussion of race in the U.S. varies across the board depending on regional and district policies, the inclinations of an individual school, and a teacher’s personal approach. In a nation where some students learn about the civil rights movement and church burnings in detail, while others complete units in history class where slaves are treated as commodities just like cotton and sugar, race relations are going to be a serious problem.

So what are WE going to do about it?

Is it a question, finally, of should versus must? Is it even a choice?

Choosing must is a scary direction. It’s the place that pushes us outside of ourselves, that opens us up to criticism and ostracism. It leads us to vulnerability, to hurt, to isolation. But not to silence.

Author Elle Luna says, “Must is different. Must is who we are, what we believe, and what we do when we are alone with our truest, most authentic self. It’s that which calls to us most deeply. It’s our convictions, our passions, our deepest held urges, and desires — unavoidable, undeniable, and inexplicable. Unlike Should, Must doesn’t accept compromises.

Must is when we stop conforming to other people’s ideals and start connecting to our own — and this allows us to cultivate our full potential as individuals. To choose Must is to say yes to hard work and constant effort, to say yes to a journey without a road map or guarantees, and in so doing, to say yes to what Joseph Campbell called “the experience of being alive, so that our life experiences on the purely physical plane will have resonance within our innermost being and reality so that we actually feel the rapture of being alive.”

Choosing Must is the greatest thing we can do with our lives.”

Teaching my truth

The greatest thing I can do with my life as an anti-racist teacher is to teach my truth. I can’t hide behind worrying about what might happen when I step out of the shadow of expectation. Kids deserve to talk about racism, to hear their white teacher be honest about what is…and what could be. They deserve to hear the truth.

I must call it out and must be intentional about talking about books by BIPOC. Teachers must prod students’ thinking to make connections between what they read and write and what is…and what has been. We must teach about empathy, and justice, and equity.

I must be me, even when it’s scary – even when it’s easier to be someone else.



Jennifer Wolfe

Jennifer Wolfe, a writer-teacher-mom, is dedicated to finding the extraordinary in the ordinary moments of life by thinking deeply, loving fiercely, and teaching audaciously. Jennifer is a Google Certified Educator, Hyperdoc fanatic, and a voracious reader. Read her stories on her blog, mamawolfe, and grab free copies of her teaching and parenting resources.

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Aren’t You Tired Of Seeing People Die?

Posted on July 7, 2016 by

White America, aren’t you tired of seeing people die?

I made a mistake of watching the news today. I tuned in to see the first videos released of Alton Sterling being put to the ground and shot to death

I made a mistake of watching the news to see his widow behind a podium speaking about raising her children knowing they had watched every moment of their fathers death. They couldn’t escape it.

And I made a mistake of watching when I saw Alton Sterling’s 15 year old son collapse in grief and cry out for his daddy.

I wanted to wrap my arms around his sobbing body and whisper that it’s going to be OK, even when I know for him, that is a long, long way away. He’s just one year younger than my own son. And the differences between them? He’s black. My son is white. His daddy is dead. My son’s daddy isn’t.


Why are these American boys living such polarized lives? Why, in 2016, are we watching a repeal of the work of the Civil Rights Movement?

Why are we waking up once again to another story in our news feed about a black man being stopped by police and shot? Aren’t you tired of seeing people die?

Why are black lives so expendable?

I’m well aware of my white privilege. I’m aware of my ability to walk down the street without fear, of being able to shop without suspicion or drive down the street in my safe suburban oasis.

I’m aware of my ease in parenting two white children who don’t need to be taught that people in their country will question their worth. I know I have nothing on black mothers who not only have to teach their children they are worthy just for being who they are, but also must figure out how to teach their sons and daughters to be aware that others think just the opposite. And that their opposition could get them killed.

Oh yes, I understand. I just don’t know how to balance it with what I see on the news. I don’t know how to make the black community see that I’m devastated, horrified, embarrassed and ashamed for what I see happening to them.

I’m also well aware of my ability to speak out. I know I have a voice, and a platform, and an ability to use my words to make public this insanity that we can become numb to what is going on in our black communities.

I’m aware that by speaking out I may offend someone, but to be honest, I don’t care. Maya Angelou taught me that to be silent is to accept, and I surely don’t accept what is happening in Baton Rouge, or Minnesota or South Carolina…at this point, I could name every state in the country.

So here I am, laying it out. A white woman speaking out for black women, for brown women, for all women who are trying to figure out how to raise our children to understand that their lives matter, that they are worthy, and that their life is not expendable.

Teaching children is my specialty, but I cannot fathom the challenge these mothers have when trying to teach their children in the racist world they see around them. .

But, honestly, the children aren’t the ones doing the killing – the adults are. That’s who we need to focus on now. The kids I teach tell me they are comfortable with the topic of race- they don’t judge or define or see it as a factor in how they treat each other. We’re doing a good job raising them.

But aren’t you tired of seeing people die?

Now, we need to speak out to the adults in our lives who don’t understand. To the fathers and mothers and brothers and sisters who make racial slurs and then shrug it off as a joke. To the neighbors and people in the grocery store who carelessly comment with a protective code of white privilege. To politicians and powerful people with an audience much larger than mine, who with one tweet or post can share their ignorant  vitriol with equally ignorant followers.

Oh yes, I understand my power. I understand my privilege. And I understand I must use it to speak out, to start the conversations and end the racism in front of me.

And I understand there are many people in America who will disagree with me- the data shows that. I am aware that I will start disagreements, lose friends and anger people who view the world only through their privileged lens.

Thanks too bad, but I’m willing to risk it. Just imagine, if we used our power and our privilege together, what a difference we could make.

What can you do? What can WE do-white America, how can we stop racism if the majority of Americans think it doesn’t exist?

All you need to do is check the news to know that is 100% NOT true.

Enough is enough. Speak out today. Start by listening to what these women have to say about their experience mothering in America.

Just do something. And do it today.

Jennifer Wolfe

Jennifer Wolfe, a writer-teacher-mom, is dedicated to finding the extraordinary in the ordinary moments of life by thinking deeply, loving fiercely, and teaching audaciously. Jennifer is a Google Certified Educator, Hyperdoc fanatic, and a voracious reader. Read her stories on her blog, mamawolfe, and grab free copies of her teaching and parenting resources.

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Isabel Allende's The Japanese Lover

Book Review: The Japanese Lover by Isabel Allende

Posted on February 15, 2016 by

Isabel Allende's The Japanese Lover

I didn’t quite know what to expect when I cracked open the cover of Isabel Allende’s latest novel, The Japanese Lover. To be honest, I was surprised with the title – I always associate Allende with stories set in Latin America, magical and mystical and certainly not settings in Asia.

I quickly came to discover that Allende, in fact, utilized a familiar setting after all – San Francisco, close to her home in California, and sixty short miles away from mine. That got me hooked, and I could hardly put the book down.

Using the dual time periods of the 2000s and 1940s, The Japanese Lover tells the story of Alma Belasco, an elderly, eccentric woman living in a nursing home, and her decades old love affair with Ichimei, the son of her family’s Japanese gardener. At the end of Alma’s life, her grandson Seth and her care worker, Irina (who is harboring her own secrets) strive to discover who is sending Alma secret letters and gardenias.

I couldn’t help but be drawn into the story line as Allende weaves the disparate love stories of Alma, Ichimei, Seth, Irina against the backdrop of both World War 2 and contemporary San Francisco. I was swept into Alma’s life as a young girl, forced to immigrate from Poland to seek protection from Nazi persecution by living in the San Francisco mansion of her uncle Issac. And just as quickly, I found myself caught in the narrative of Irina, herself an immigrant who struggles generations later with her own back story and coming to terms with her inability to commit to a loving relationship.

Allende skillfully weaves in and out of current time to Japanese Internment camps, sharing the back story of Ichimei, his family, and offering a snapshot of what life was like for Californians of Japanese descent pre-World War 2 who were forced to leave everything they knew to live in government-run prison camps. As a student of California history, I found Allende’s historical details descriptive and factual, thought provoking and tender. Alma and Ichimei, cognizant of their inability to publicly demonstrate their interracial love, share a passion that spans generations


Isabel Allende's The Japanese Lover

I just loved this book – everything about it resonated with me. Allende’s tender portrayal of Alma and Ichimei illuminates a passion that spans generations despite societal norms which restrict their ability to demonstrate interracial love, alongside relationships that are both acceptable and secret in a multitude of ways. All along the way, I couldn’t stop thinking of our world today in 2016, that has come so far in defining both marriage and love, and yet we live in a country which still struggles with racial and societal inequity. For me, The Japanese Lover provided the perfect vehicle to think deeply about what our world would look like if we could put down the barriers between races, if we could eliminate the huge divide between income levels, and really look at each other as soulful humans, each with an ability to love and be loved for who and what we are, not who or what others think we are.

Isabel Allende’s novel The Japanese Lover is one of those books that I know will linger with me as I move through my own work and life, attempting to teach my children to love and not hate, to be kind and not cruel, and to make the world a better place for those who come after us.

For more great book ideas, head over to Brynn Allison’s Literary Maven site.

Jennifer Wolfe

Jennifer Wolfe, a writer-teacher-mom, is dedicated to finding the extraordinary in the ordinary moments of life by thinking deeply, loving fiercely, and teaching audaciously. Jennifer is a Google Certified Educator, Hyperdoc fanatic, and a voracious reader. Read her stories on her blog, mamawolfe, and grab free copies of her teaching and parenting resources.

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reading with mamawolfe: A Life Apart by L. Y. Marlow

Posted on July 14, 2014 by

“Beatrice leaned into her daughters,  powerless to halt another round of tears. She thought about all that had happened, all that she had done, the years of deception and betrayal and hurt. And as her daughters held her, their contact comforting and familiar, she thought of them, and of Emma and Morris, all the lives that she had changed. So many lives. And she cried as she thought about Agnes.” ~ from A Life Apart

A Life Apart, a new novel by L.Y. Marlow, delves into the themes of race relations, love and family. A Life Apart is set first in World War II, focusing on a young sailor, Morris, and his wife Agnes. The novel is told from multiple points of view, each chapter switching narrators. The story begins in 1941 Hawaii, just prior to the bombing of Pearl Harbor, and concludes in 1970s Boston. During the 30-plus year time span, L. Y. Marlow weaves a complex story of Morris, his wife and daughter, and Beatrice, a woman he meets when he returns home after surviving the bombing of Pearl Harbor. Spanning nearly 50 years, A Life Apart subtly weaves the stories of Beatrice and Morris while breathing life into the often forgotten memories of both white and African-American soldiers in World War II.

I was immediately drawn to A Life Apart because of its historical time period. I love learning about history through reading, and when I realized that A Life Apart delves into the race relations of the time period I knew this book would be something unique. Interestingly, what I ended up enjoying most about the story was the character of Beatrice, the young African-American woman Morris meets after the returning to Boston in 1942. Beatrice was a well-developed character; through her I could feel the pain of not only living within the societal confines placed on women in the 1940s, but also could begin to glimpse a life I’ve never experienced – a life where segregation dictated nearly every aspect of life. I admired Beatrice’s strength as she grappled with the pull of her heart against the ties society imposed against her. I respected her strength of character, as well as her ability to stay true to herself. In the end of the book I was intrigued with her ability to go beyond herself and make amends, not because she had to, but because she felt it was the right thing to do.

I felt at times that the plot of A Life Apart took some huge leaps; relationships were built a bit too quickly, and especially in the beginning of the book I found myself questioning if this would really happen with the speed and expediency that the author created relationships. I wondered if it would have been so ‘easy’ to give into the pull of the heart, especially knowing how deeply Beatrice was rooted in propriety. Towards the end, however, I began to fall into the rhythm of the story, and found myself eager to uncover each new element of the plot. 

In the end, I would rate A Life Apart by L.Y. Marlow four out of five stars. For readers looking for an easy-to-read historical fiction novel about World War II and the aftermath with realistic characters, this novel will satisfy.

I received this book from the Blogging for Books program in exchange for this honest review.

Jennifer Wolfe

Jennifer Wolfe, a writer-teacher-mom, is dedicated to finding the extraordinary in the ordinary moments of life by thinking deeply, loving fiercely, and teaching audaciously. Jennifer is a Google Certified Educator, Hyperdoc fanatic, and a voracious reader. Read her stories on her blog, mamawolfe, and grab free copies of her teaching and parenting resources.

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