Monthly Mentor

Natalie C. Jones (February)
Each month, a different member is the guest writer for the NAEA Monthly Mentor Blog. Natalie C. Jones is an artist, small business owner, and the director of education at the Harvey B. Gantt Center for African-American Arts + Culture. She has 10 years of experience working as an art teacher and teaching artist throughout the east coast and the Midwest. Click "GO" to read her full bio.



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« Your existing curriculum CAN be a social justice curriculum Part 2 | Main | Where do we start? My Journey of Whiteness in Art Education »

June 30, 2020

Moving forward: Reflections on teaching while white in the time of COVID-19 and Black Lives Matter

By Krissy Ponden

This past month I have been reflecting on my teaching practice, the possibility of continued or intermittent distance learning in the fall, my own complicity in oppressive systems, and how I must prioritize my own unlearning as a white woman socialized to blindly accept the status quo. Frankly, it’s exhausting. But I know my choice to work toward a more just society doesn’t even begin to compare to the daily struggle of being Black, Indigenous, or a Person of Color in America. And while 80% of teachers in America are white, more than half of their students do not have to read a book or participate in a webinar or watch a documentary to understand the depths to which history, politics, economics, and prejudice negatively affect their lives. For them it is not theoretical; it is their reality.

I did not touch on all the myriad cultural identifiers that fall under the umbrella of “diversity” this month in my posts. It is important to remember that while race is at the forefront of the conversation right now, ability, age, gender, ethnicity, religion, socioeconomic status, and a host of other identifiers contribute to the marginalization of millions of people. The intersection of these identities adds a layer of complexity to discussions about equity and justice, as every individual’s experience is made up of all the factors that position them farther away from the accepted norm.

As professionals who are tasked with the education and care of young people, our highest priority should be working to dismantle the systems that keep our students from succeeding. If not, all of our efforts to teach them watercolor techniques, perspective drawing, art history, and ceramics will be in vain, and we will continue to lament the fact that students seem disengaged and are underperforming (according to our standards). Just as we as educators are more than a pay scale, our students are much more than a seat in a system designed to fail more than half of them. Listen to your students. Believe them. Support them. And help remove the roadblocks that stand in the way of their success. 

Student presentationCenter students’ lives in their learning and let them use art as an outlet to process their experience.

To wrap up my month as the NAEA Mentor Blogger, I am posing the following challenge to myself and my fellow art educators: Commit to learning something new each day that challenges your worldview. Be open to the experiences of others, and believe that what they tell you is true. Understand the difference between intent and impact. Position your students’ lives at the center of their learning, rather than your preconceived ideas of what they should know or do. Diversify and decolonize your bookshelves, social media feeds, the businesses you patronize, and the company you keep. And finally, for teachers who, like me, perceive themselves as white, lean into your own vulnerability; settle into the discomfort of unlearning a lifetime of unchallenged whiteness. That is social justice in action.



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