Reflecting on White Fragility – As a Montessorian: Learning From Past Mistakes

Reading through the introductory portions of White Fragility really sent my brain into overdrive. And this is only the appetizer to the real meat of the book. One particular incident really jumped out in my mind, a situation I didn’t handle as gracefully as I should have. And now I know better.

I grew up in a very multicultural Montessori program. My earliest friends were Black and Jewish, and later we had representatives of many different Asian countries. I thought for sure that as an educator, I was going to be prepared and open for having all children in my classroom and could be the best teacher for them. Then one parent disagreed and my whole sense of being turned inside out.

I had a boy who was mixed race. Mom was white and Dad was Black. He had a great sense of humor, loved to play around, and everyone liked him. He also presented with signs of sensory needs and I could potentially see ADHD. We had our challenges, but got along well and I did what I thought was best for him. He was progressing.

His parents weren’t quite on board with the activities that I had set up for him to help him center and dive into learning each day. Eventually I started hearing grumblings that he was likely going to move to another room in the following year. Reason? That teacher was Black.

My initial reaction was anger and frustration. This other teacher and I greatly disagreed in our ideas of how to carry out the Montessori philosophy in the classroom and how to work with parents. I was always very open about my observations and strategizing with them. She preferred to do it all on her own, which often led to a false illusion that nothing was of any concern. We honestly just didn’t get along at all. That dislike based on personality closed me off to anything being said by the mom about her reasons for potentially changing rooms.

And I admit that I didn’t see how this teacher, who was also mixed race, was going to be able to provide anything different to this child. I’m not proud of that. But I was just so focused on how her teaching style did not seem right for this boy that I could not even entertain this other cultural side to the request.

In the end, the child did end up staying with me for that second year. He continued to make progress with the accommodations I made for him. And I hear he has done well in public school. His father is a local business owner whom I periodically run into and he happily gives me updates each time.

Time away from the situation and the toxicity of my relationship with that other teacher has also allowed me to better reflect on and appreciate what the mother was asking for. It makes perfect sense now, especially considering where we live. I feel confident that I would have a very different reaction now if presented with the same or a similar situation.

None of us are perfect, and I’m sure you’ve had some cringeworthy situations in your career. Reflect on those and see what you learned. Feel free to share with me if you like. I believe conversing about our past mistakes and the lessons that we have learned from this mistakes serve to make us better educators now and in the future.

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