White Teacher is a non-fiction book written by Vivian Gussin Paley. In this book, Paley shares all of her experiences of teaching an integrated kindergarten classroom during a time filled with racial tension, which was not an easy task. Many parents had taught their white children to distance themselves from black children. Offensive comments referencing skin color and other cultural differences were constantly being tossed around the classroom. Paley admits that although she was not racist herself, she was completely unsure of how to react when these comments were made. Throughout the book, Paley makes references to past events that occurred in her classroom. The reader constantly sees Paley “biting her tongue” or questioning herself before she speaks. She wanted to be the best teacher and role model for these students that she could possibly be, but her fear of acknowledging differences amongst the students stopped her from reaching her greatest potential.
The innocence of children often causes them to speak their minds without understanding the ramifications of their statements. In other words, children often do not understand the intensity of what they say. Paley gives an example of this early on in the book as she recalls one of her first black students, Alma. She says that one day Alma was sitting at a table with a white boy named Paul. As Paul ate his chocolate pudding, he went on to tell Alma that she looked just like his snack. Paley was absolutely mortified and had no idea how to react. She knew that Paul was not intentionally being mean to Alma, and she also observed that Alma did not seem to take offense to his statement. However, Paley had such strong anxiety regarding issues such as these in her class that eventually, she began to ignore cultural and racial differences in her classroom all together. Acting as if the differences did not exist not only made her completely uncomfortable in her own classroom, but also it hindered her teaching...
Citations: Paley, Vivian Gussin. (1979). White Teacher. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press.
Written By: Vivian Gussin Paley
October 1, 2011
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