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Addressing Bias
in Teaching

Incorporating Anti-Oppressive Curriculum
into Teaching Training

JULY 2024

My name is Tabatha and I am in my final year of my Masters in Child Study and Education at the University of Toronto.

I became a regional president in the UofMosaic program to further develop skills that I can utilize in my teaching career. As such, I choose to write about the significance of anti-oppressive based education in elementary school classrooms. Through conversations with fellow teacher-candidates and research, my publication examines the need and desire for for anti-oppressive training for educators. This aligns with UofMosaic's philosophies of youth professional development and values of inclusion and dismantling prejudice. Hopefully readers can understand how myself and fellow teacher candidates are striving to become anti-oppressive educators to best meet the needs of students.

AUTHOR

Tabatha Whitney

UofMosaic Regional President

Cohort: 2021 - 2023

tabatha.jpeg

As teachers, we are biased as we have preconceived notions and ideas about our students based on their identities, whether we are consciously aware of it or not. In reality, every individual is biased as we have all been victim to a society that has embedded prejudicial ideals within us. But as teachers, these biases have a significant, long-term and devastating impact on our students. Therefore, we have a responsibility to recognize and unlearn them.

In the Toronto District School Board, 23% of students were not born in Canada, there are over 120 languages spoken by students and their families, and racialized students are the majority population in the TDSB with only 29% of students identify as white (Toronto District School Board, n.d). This is just the tip of the iceberg and by no means encompasses all identities that are marginalized within the school system. Given how the elementary education field is dominated by white women, it means we have far more work to do when it comes to addressing our biases and creating classroom spaces that are equitable and promote success for all our students.​

UNDERSTANDING BIAS IN THE CLASSROOM

Studies have shown that educators have biases towards their students based on race, body size, gender, sexuality and disability, which impacts their relationships with these students, the language they used to describe them, how they are assessed and their perceived abilities which can lead to long-term deficits in student academic success (McEntarfer 2013; Lavy and Sand 2015; Graff et al. 2020; Black and de New 2020; Stephens, Rubie-Davies and Peterson 2022; Desai 2019; Castor 2021).

 

Teachers are critical in the success of their students and anti-oppressive education must begin at the pre-service level, which refers to the level of training provided to student teachers. Teacher candidate and pre-service teacher are terms used interchangeably to define a person in a teacher education program learning how to be a teacher. This is particularly because training and education for pre-service teachers can make a difference in their biases, how they approach relationships with all their students, the language they use, how they perceive student ability and how they discuss important issues such as race, gender or sexuality (McEntarfer 2013; Lavy and Sand 2015; Graff et al. 2020; Black and de New 2020; Stephens, Rubie-Davies and Peterson 2022; Desai 2019; Castor 2021). Unfortunately, teacher education programs often include this training in addition to regular or mandatory classes, rather than being embedded in the entire pedagogy and therefore, it only reaches a smaller portion of pre-service teachers (Kelly and Brandes 2010; McEntarfer 2013).

”teacher education should adopt a systematic approach to critically consider how pedagogy and curriculum are infused with values of social justice.” (Le Roux and Mdunge 2012).

So how do some pre-service teachers in Toronto feel about their education and training thus far? I interviewed nine individuals who are in a teacher education program at the University of Toronto’s Ontario Institute for Studies in Education (OISE) about their thoughts on their anti-oppressive learning and pedagogy.

ANTI-OPPRESSION TRAINING: PRE-SERVICE PERSPECTIVES

“Throughout the course work in my first year of teacher education, there have been varying degrees of incorporation of anti-oppression training across our course work. I engaged with extensive anti-oppression readings and discussions during a six-week course entitled Equity and Advocacy in Education where we read works by scholars such as Paulo Freire, Bettina Love, and Kimberlé Crenshaw. Through student-led discussions, we explored topics such as intersectionality, allyship and accompliceship, and radical healing - with a focus on application to teaching practice.” – Megan Pham-Quan
 
“Coming from an equity background in undergrad, I feel confident about a lot of this content, but I'm not sure other people from my program with different backgrounds would feel the same based on our learnings.” – Joanna Priori
 
Both Megan and Joanna highlight how although our teacher training program has engaged in this learning, it is ultimately up to individuals themselves as they enter the field to continue to engage in this learning. Most others interviewed expressed similar views, in that they have also engaged in additional learning either through their undergrad program or independently in other means. 
 
“Recognizing that teaching and existing through commitments to anti-oppression is an ongoing learning process - where we should be continuously challenging internalized oppressive biases and thought systems - I do feel adequately prepared to begin the journey of teaching equitably and from an anti-oppressive lens. Extending from my belief that this is an ongoing process, I think that teacher candidates, such as myself, need to learn underlying concepts that will guide them in these learning journeys, such as an understanding of intersectionality, a commitment to truth and reconciliation, practice reflecting on their own privilege and the responsibilities that those privileges entail. To me, being adequately prepared to teach equitably and from an anti-oppressive lens simply means being committed to continuous teaching and learning for liberation (from oppressive systems) and having some of the foundational concepts to guide this work.” – Megan Pham-Quan
 
Megan highlights a key concept that is needed for pre-service teachers as she enters the field of education that will set her up to teach from an anti-oppressive lens, a growth mindset. This idea of a growth mindset and continuous learning was a common theme: 

“I don't feel that a specific training course is ever going to prepare me to teach equitably. I feel that anti-oppressive pedagogy has to stem from educators who are genuinely interested in creating equitable environments, if not mandated by clear policy from governing bodies.” – Adrian Mark

Adrian touches on the philosophy of a growth mindset, with a slightly different view of personal preparedness. With another accentuation on individual action on the teacher candidate’s part, to engage in further learning. In addition, the importance of clear policy and top-down changes to what this looks like, so anti-oppressive teaching is more widespread rather than maintaining hope individual teachers will take on the work. 

INCORPORATING ANTI-OPPRESSIVE CURRICULUM
INTO TEACHING PROGRAMS

“If there were to be coursework for this topic that was mandatory, I think it would be great to be more of an individual class to work through - by this I mean people should be able to work at their own pace and work through the content that is most relevant to them.” – Joanna Priori

 

“I think teacher candidates need to be trained and given information on all realms of oppression, not just the ones that are most valued by a particular institution, in order to teach equitably and from an anti-oppressive lens. Furthermore, this training should not be optional. While electives are great sources of training, they do not guarantee that all teacher candidates will leave their programs adequately trained as they are optional courses. Teacher education programs require students to take (often several) courses on topics such as literacy, mathematics, and science - these are never left as optional as they are seen as crucial. The same should go for anti-oppressive training, because it is just as, if not more, crucial for all teacher candidates to receive.” – Lindsay Orlowski

 

Research also found that these types of courses can be separate or optional rather than embedded, despite the necessity of this learning (Kelly and Brandes 2010). This is not to say that time should be taken away from learning about literacy or mathematics, but the value and importance of anti-oppressive teaching should be valued more highly and alongside classroom content. 

 

“With how diverse Canada is, I think all teacher ed programs across Canada need to focus on teaching through an anti-oppression lens, and I think all teacher ed programs need to prepare teacher candidates to better approach these topics and begin dismantling oppression. Teacher candidates need hands-on lesson plan ideas, real life experiences, and relatable course content for students who are oppressed to be engaged.” – Stephanie Ireland

 

Stephanie highlights how, it is one thing to do the individual work, but teacher candidates also need support in how to approach this in their classroom with their students. Particularly because of the inevitable likelihood most of our students will not share in our identities, concrete tools for teacher candidates can perhaps make them feel better prepared to enter their classrooms from an anti-oppressive lens. 

 

“Part of being an anti-oppressive teacher means critically examining systems, even those that we actively participate within.” – Adrian Mark

 

The education system itself is a system that can uphold these forms of oppression. Representation, or lack thereof, is another example of how the system is upheld as it does not bring in new or diverse voices to the classroom. 

 

“More diverse voices the better, representation among teacher staff should be a given which means teacher programs need to cast a wider net and ensure adequate funding for folks who may not be able to afford and make the programs more accessible and flexible.” – Naomi Milla-Koch

 

Much of what teachers will teach and how they will teach it, will stem from their own interest and desire for that learning. So how do we create more teacher candidates who want to engage in this learning to create these environments?

 

“…all educators face myriad pedagogical decisions (and non-decisions) in teaching about the social forces shaping who they and their students are as well as their arenas for action locally, nationally, and globally.” (Kelly and Brandes 2010). 

 

Teaching is a responsibility that should not be taken lightly. There are countless decisions teachers must make daily, with the understanding of the long-term impacts these decisions can have on their students. With the development of a growth mindset, rather than a fixed mindset, pre-service teachers can enter the field of education better prepared to teach a variety of learners (Stephens, Rubie-Davies and Peterson 2022). Although the teacher candidates interviewed here have further engaged in this type of learning, that is not necessarily the case for all teacher education programs. This once again leaves the responsibility for the teachers themselves to engage in anti-oppressive practices, but only if they so desire to do so. As demonstrated by the interviews, many pre-service teachers desire to engage in this work, so let's hope all educators, those brand new to the field and the veterans, wish to engage in it too, for the sake of the students. 

REFERENCES

“About Us.” Toronto District School Board. Accessed August 23, 2022. https://www.tdsb.on.ca/About-Us/QuickFacts

Black, Nicole, and Sonja C. de New. 2020. “Short, Heavy and Underrated?  Teacher Assessment Biases by Children’s Body Size.” Oxford Bulletin of Economics and Statistics 82 (5): 961–87. https://doi.org/10.1111/obes.12370.

 

Castor, Whitney M. 2021. “Teachers’ Perceptions and Expectations of Students: A Phenomenological Study on Bringing Awareness to Teachers’ Biases through the Identification of One’s Cycle of Socialization”. ProQuest Dissertations Publishing.

 

Desai, Shiv R. 2019. “Humanizing Trayvon Martin: Racial Profiling, Implicit Biases, and Teacher Education.” Urban Education (Beverly Hills, Calif.) 54 (8): 1031–57. https://doi.org/10.1177/0042085916646609.

 

Kelly, Deirdre M, and Gabriella Minnes Brandes. 2010. “‘Social Justice Needs to Be Everywhere’: Imagining the Future of Anti-Oppression Education in Teacher Preparation.” Alberta Journal of Educational Research 56 (4): 388–402.

 

Le Roux, Adre, and Percy Mdunge. 2012. “Difficult Conversations : Lessons Learnt from a Diversity Programme for Pre-Service Teachers.” Perspectives in Education 30 (3): 78–87.

 

Lavy, Victor, and Edith Sand. 2015. “On The Origins of Gender Human Capital Gaps: Short and Long Term Consequences of Teachers’ Stereotypical Biases.” NBER Working Paper Series, 20909–. https://doi.org/10.3386/w20909.

 

McEntarfer, Heather Killelea. 2013. “‘I Saw Myself as Neutral in Some Ways, and Then Them as Other Things’: Narrative and Positioning in a Teacher Education Course Focused on Gender and Sexuality”. ProQuest Dissertations Publishing.

 

Santamaría Graff, Cristina, Josh Manlove, Shanna Stuckey, and Michelle Foley. 2020. “Examining Pre-Service Special Education Teachers’ Biases and Evolving Understandings About Families through a Family as Faculty Approach.” Preventing School Failure 65 (1): 20–37. https://doi.org/10.1080/1045988X.2020.1811626.

 

Stephens, Jason M., Christine Rubie-Davies, and Elizabeth R. Peterson. 2022. “Do Preservice Teacher Education Candidates’ Implicit Biases of Ethnic Differences and Mindset Toward Academic Ability Change over Time?” Learning and Instruction 78: 101480–. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.learninstruc.2021.101480.

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