From The White Lady At The Front Of The Classroom: Five Tips For Leaning Into The Discomfort


I can’t stop thinking about  Terence.


Honesty at a rally in Allentown, PA in July 2016.  I went to listen.


And Trayvon

And Sandra.

And Philando.

I have to talk about this with my students.

WE have to talk about it with our students.

Just like 87% of public school teachers, I am The White Person At The Front Of The Classroom. In my district,  68%  of our students are Hispanic and 16% are Black. In the era of Black Lives Matter (yes, please click on the link and learn about the movement), it is crucial I work to hard to be a strong white ally for my students, their families, our community.  Being a white ally makes MY life better, it will make all of our lives better.

Fellow teachers, if you are ready to lean into the discomfort, how should you proceed?

Here are a few things I recommend doing, from my own experience:

  1. Listen.  Just listen to what others are saying around you, especially your colleagues and friends of color, and, of course, your students.  Also, what aren’t they saying?

2.  Start recognizing your privilege.  Listen, I grew up in the poorest town in my school district.  There wasn’t much economic privilege in Edwardsville, PA, but this article proves just how much privilege my white skin gets me.

3. Follow these organizations on Facebook to gain new perspectives and perhaps affirm current practices:

4.  Recognize you can support BLM and law enforcement:

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5. Dare. Dare to call someone out when they victim-shame the latest unarmed man of color is shot by the police.  Dare to post an article that addresses social inequality.  Dare to like a Black Lives Matter post.  Dare to be uncomfortable and angry, along with me and millions of others. Dare to question the canon of your school’s literature list – where ARE the writers of color? Dare to shift your mindset.

These are turbulent times, teacher friends, and we have to help light the way for the students who walk beside us, the colleagues across the hall, and the world around us.


Heather Harlen is in her 18th year of teaching and finds something to smile about each period. She has degrees in English, education, and creative writing.  Heather has taught in Russia, Northern Virginia, and currently teaches English in an urban high school in Eastern Pennsylvania.  She has served all types of communities of learners, from elementary school through college, to fellow teachers. She is proud to be a National Writing Project Fellow and is also a professional writer.














About Heather Harlen

Heather is the writer of the HOPE YOU GUESS MY NAME: A THRILLER (Book 1 of the Marina Konyeshna Thrillogy) and teacher who is trying to make every day count without burning out. Look for SHAME, SHAME, I KNOW YOUR NAME (BOOK 2 of the Marina Konyeshna Thrillogy) in early 2017 (Northampton House Press).

2 responses »

  1. you are right, black lives matter just like everyone else people should see how hard it is to be black and know that your not welcome in this world.

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