5 Symptoms of a Culturally Unconscious Educator

Wake up & Resist the Temptation to Go Back to Sleep!


Dr. Kimberly McLeod


Wendy Mackey, Nova Scotia, Canada

Co-authored by Wendy Mackey of Nova Scotia, Canada

Culturally unconscious teachers don’t know that they are in a state of cultural comatose. They are completely unaware that any deficits or biases exist in their world, including their teaching world. They are sweet, well-intentioned people that cause academic harm because they are completely unaware that their very own unconscious behaviors may be a contributing factor to teaching and learning achievement gaps. 5 symptoms of the culturally unconscious:

  1. You blame the victim. Sign number one that you are culturally unconscious. My student outcomes are not my fault. It’s the parent’s fault, it’s the administrator’s fault, it’s the fault of a weak system, it’s the student’s fault. It’s everyone else’s fault – but mine. Or “Sure, I’ll take responsibility for 10% of the outcomes, but 90% is out of my control.” Culturally unconscious teachers are experts in the blame shifting game. Experts.
  2. A belief that a sparkle of glitter means you’ve hit student relationship gold. Just because students are in the same space with you, doesn’t mean they are sharing their space with you. All glitter isn’t gold – keep digging. Culturally unconscious teachers reveal their unconsciousness when they assume that by being the teacher, they have the respect of the students and a relationship. Culturally conscious teachers are aware that student relationships don’t come prepackaged; you have to build them. Relationships once built, must also be sustained.
  3. All children can learn. Yet in the classroom of the culturally unconscious, all children are not learning. There exists a gap between good intentions and execution. This is very common with culturally unconscious instruction. Culturally unconscious teachers say they believe all children can learn, but the result of their teaching practices produces inequities – all children are not learning. Usually the reason they give for all children not learning… – see #1 of this list.
  4. We have rules for a reason. If they do not follow our rules, and do as we expect, when we expect, as we expect; then something must be wrong with them. Culturally unconscious teaching practices expect students to assimilate into traditional, systemic, expected norms. Rather then creating a culture in which both the student and teacher are able to coexist and experience success together; unconscious teachers operate under the belief that if students don’t fit into the teaching norm, then they don’t fit at all.
  5. Low Expectations. If you have said or heard any of these phrases you or someone in your circle may likely be culturally unconscious and not know it.

• “These poor children.” Accompanied by a headshake of pity, “You can’t expect much from them.”

• “The apple doesn’t fall from the tree.”

• “These children are just not ready.”

• “What did you expect, their parents don’t value education.”

• “These children don’t have the tools they need to be successful in school. They were born at a disadvantage.”

• “They are already so far behind.”

• “If they just knew how to behave, then we could teach them.”

• “They can handle the assignment, just make it easier.”

Translation: Why try? Or try as you will, it won’t make a difference anyway. Followed by the headshake of pity and shame or a shrugging of the shoulders that says, “Oh well. Whatever. Whatever.”

What does culturally consciousness feel like?

Culturally conscious teachers are those educators that believe in their student’s ability to learn regardless of race, culture, or socio-economic backgrounds. Culturally conscious teachers know that to understand their students, they must first know their students. They intentionally build relationships with students instead of hoping they will happen. They take students everyday life experiences, and interests and use it as a catalyst to spark curricular engagement. In doing so they are being responsive to the students cultural learning styles. The classroom of a culturally conscious teacher becomes a shared learning space where every student feels valued and knows they’re intellectually capable and will succeed. In a culturally conscious classroom the teacher understands it is the moral imperative to ensure that every student in his/her charge not only meets the academic benchmark but is also able to translate those benchmarks into positive real-life outcomes.

Dr. McLeod is a professor at Texas Southern University and is the president-elect of the Texas Alliance of Black School Educators she has presented as a keynote, and an invited speaker for teachers, administrators, school board trustees and students in a number of districts, national and international conferences. She is an expert consultant in the field of cultural responsiveness.

Reach Dr. McLeod at:

Twitter: mcleodkr

Facebook: Dr. McLeod

Linkedin: Dr. Kimberly McLeod

Email: DrKMcLeod@gmail.com

Wendy Mackey is a School Administration Supervisor for the Halifax Regional School Board and adjunct faculty member for St. Francis Xavier University. She is an expert in culturally responsive pedagogy and frequently conducts trainings and workshops for the HRSB. She is an international contributor from Nova Scotia, Canada.

Reach Wendy Mackey at:

Twitter: Wendy Mackey

Facebook: Wendy Mackey

Linkedin: Wendy Mackey

Email: mackeyw@eastlink.ca

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