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Oh, Snub! Microaggressions in the Classroom Committed by Everyday Educators

posted Aug 24, 2019, 7:56 AM by Ontario GRT - GTA   [ updated Aug 25, 2019, 2:28 PM ]

By: Sharla Serasanke Falodi and Farah Rahemtula

“Should I say something about what was just said/done?”

“Am I overreacting?”

“Did they seriously think that was okay to say?”

“Why do I feel unwelcome and incompetent?”

If any of these internal dialogues resonated with you, you might have experienced a microaggression, and, most likely your students have too! Yikes. That’s right- as well intentioned as we are as educators, we’ve ALL unknowingly (or ignorantly) committed microaggressions toward students. Often our own implicit biases are the culprit for this behaviour. 

So, what are microaggressions? Microaggressions are brief and regular verbal, non-verbal and/or environmental communications that underhandedly discriminate against marginalized people in society. These discriminatory communications are ongoing and cumulative over the span of an individual’s lifetime. The greater number of marginalized social identities one identifies with, the exponentially more microaggressions they will likely encounter in everyday life. (Pierce 1970, 1980; Oluo, 2018; Pérez Huber and Solorzano, 2015; Kohli and Solorzano, 2012; Sue, 2010).

But, wait. You might be thinking, “I don’t say or do microaggressive things ‘regularly’!” Or, “It just happens! My intentions are always good, and that’s what matters.”  It’s important to remember that the focus needs to be on the negatively impacted. It’s not about whether you committed the microaggression regularly or if your intentions were good. It’s important to consider the fact that specific marginalized identities are on the receiving end of these microaggressions on a constant basis.  Compounded over a lifetime, this can have a detrimental impact on the well-being and achievement of students from marginalized groups.


For example, think about the student who is regularly asked to pronounce words in an Anglicized way.  What internalized messages does this send to a child about their worth, intelligence, ethnicity, and sense of citizenship?  Accent policing promotes an assimilationist and xenophobic agenda. Or, beginning class each Monday morning with, “What did you do with your mom and dad this weekend?” For the child who comes from a family without one mom AND one dad, what internalized messages are they receiving about valued family structures? Furthermore, how might a child’s hesitancy or inability to answer this question (based on a lack of access into this learning activity), be perceived by educators? These are just two simple examples of ways we might commit microaggressions in the classroom. To view a more comprehensive list of examples, see the table below by Sharla Serasanke Falodi. 

So, what does this mean for us as educators?  How can we become more mindful of how we interact with students and adequately support those students who are being underserved.  First, the more we know about our students, who they are and their intersecting identities the more we’re able to be sensitive and responsive to their needs.  As educators, it’s vital to recognize that despite the differences in our social identities and lived experiences, we share something that is universal and it is our positional power over students. Our positional power as educators is the cornerstone for why all of us have committed microaggressions against students. Each microaggression committed against students in schools supports in maintaining the various institutional oppressions that exist in our school system. Having this positional power is why we must engage in continued interrogation of our practice and biases to ensure we are confronting barriers and not creating them- particularly for our most marginalized students and families.

Additional Resource

Microaggressions in K-12 Education:

Educator Self-Reflection Tool: Reduce Harm in Classrooms, Interrupt Microaggressions 

By Sharla Serasanke Falodi

If you’d like to continue your journey as a self-reflective practitioner by committing to anti-oppressive practices then consider referring to this Educator Self-Reflection Tool. This tool is not exhaustive and will evolve as we continue to learn and hear feedback from you. The microaggressions are categorized by mode of communication, but these are not rigid. Many microaggressions can be communicated in more than one way. 

What is important to note is that children are constantly listening, observing, challenging and learning in our classrooms. As educators we make hundreds of decisions a day and many of these need to be made quickly in snap judgements. Research shows that our implicit biases play out when we are multi-tasking and making decisions under a time crunch. Since microaggressions are our (act)ualized implicit biases, the classroom can be a really violent space if we aren’t aware.

This self-reflection tool might support in refining your intentionality when co-constructing your classroom climate with students. You’ll notice how many of these microaggressions against students are only possible because of our positional power as educators. This same positional power can be used to interrupt microaggressions you see committed by your colleagues or by other students. We are in such a privileged position as educators (pun intended)!

“I tell my students... When you get these jobs that you have been so brilliantly trained for, just remember that your real job is that if you are free, you need to free somebody else. If you have some power, then your job is to empower somebody else.” - Toni Morrison

*Printable version of self-reflection tool: *
 Modes of Communication         Microaggression Examples

Non-Verbal Microaggressions

Discrimination against a marginalized group of students or student communicated through body language, facial expressions, eye contact, gestures, silence, avoidance- anything non-verbal.


Eye Contact

  1. Too much can be considered over-surveillance of particular students- participating in the criminalization of marginalized children 

  2. Too little can be considered as invisibilizing particular students

Proximity Cues

Frequently standing/sitting close to specific students can put a target on their backs and have profound impacts on their self-esteem, sense of belonging, and treatment by other students. 

Wait Time

When working on tasks, varying wait times based on preconceived notions about a student’s capability. More wait time for productive struggle and cognitive dissonance is afforded to students who are viewed as more capable. Less wait time is given to those viewed as less capable, thereby widening the gap in their academic achievement and self-confidence as scholars.

Verbal Microaggressions

Discrimination communicated through direct or indirect comments said at, around, or about a marginalized group of students or student. Tone of voice is also considered under this category.


Following up a student’s point/idea by paraphrasing or repeating what was said with additional information, communicating that the student’s voice and contribution does not hold merit independently. Validate their thoughts by repeating exactly what was shared and confirm with them that it was heard/interpreted correctly.


Suggesting an idea that was already made by a student without giving them credit, or, giving credit to another student with more privilege and not the original source. One can ensure all voices are valued by documenting and displaying (on chart paper, projector etc.) contributions with the student’s name beside it.


Providing unsolicited and involved support in the Thinking, Application, and Communication components of the Ontario Ministry of Education’s Achievement Chart on the basis that the student might have special education exceptionalities and/or perceived as less capable. As a result, they remain boxed within Knowledge & Understanding skill development.

Accent Policing

Asking students to pronounce words in an Anglicized way, thereby demeaning their identities and promoting an assimilationist and xenophobic agenda. Understand that phonological literacy varies with languages where emphasis and pronunciation of letters and sounds will differ. 

Tone Policing

Suggesting that particular emotions a student is experiencing must be controlled before they will be taken seriously and heard. Variance in tone and expression of emotions can be a result of cultural differences.


Considering how this is done is key. Is it patronizing? Having the class clap for a student who remembered to write their name on a piece of work is not the same as highlighting the thinking of a student during a consolidation in math. This depends on the relationships and community in the classroom. Feelings of favouritism in the classroom can result from praise as well, so be intentional and strategic about who receives this and how.


Speaking louder and/or slower with students who are learning to speak English and/ or with disabilities. Unless this is a real accommodation that they need, this is dehumanizing.


Continuing to address and refer to a student by the wrong gender implies that they are not the gender(s) they self-identify with. If a student requests school staff to stop using female pronouns because they use they and them, and a staff member refuses, this is considered gender based violence and Trans* phobia. Gender identity doesn't need to be formally endorsed by parents/guardians or changed on student records for school staff to use a name and/or pronouns that a student requests. It is their human right.

Class Discussions

Selecting the same few students to share their thoughts during class discussions because they are believed to be “articulate”. This can silence students and really hinder fruitful learning for the entire class.


Continued mispronunciation of names, Anglicizing names, shortening student names without permission, and replacing names with pet names like “sweetie” and “darling” can be slights to a student’s identity. Modification of a student’s name should be initiated by the student.


When addressing a minor disruption between students during class, consider who is given more opportunities to explain, who is asked to move, and who is believed. Notice these patterns and disrupt them by ensuring all students are given the same opportunity to be heard. If time is a factor then randomize the selection of who needs to move. Students can mimic an educator’s response patterns toward marginalized students and support in perpetuating harm.

Environmental Microaggressions

Discrimination against a marginalized group of students or student communicated through the materials, policies, physical organization, decor, processes and structures in place.



Consider how students are addressed when they arrive late or have been absent. Who is asked to owe time and who are we more gracious with? Who do we offer missed work and catch-up instruction to? Who do we acknowledge compassionately with “You were missed” and who do we address with “You missed a lot”, or maybe, no acknowledgement. Are we pushing students out or serving them equitably through our responses to lates/absences? While it might be frustrating to address interruptions in our program, passive-aggressive communication and selective support is never okay.


All students deserve to be working on something within their zone of proximal development, but sometimes, students viewed as capable are given engaging and intellectually rigorous work, while students viewed as less capable are given mundane and rote tasks.

Clocked Instructional Time

Who gets uninterrupted learning time? Who is regularly asked to run errands to be kept “busy”? Who gets the pass to “help the kindies” and who is asked to stay in class to tutor their peers?

Seating Plans

Consider who is facing the wall, not seated in groups, seated closest to the teacher, seated in the office, or seated in the hallway regularly. Who gets to learn collaboratively and who is forced to learn in isolation?

Behaviour Management/Self-Regulation Programs

Inflexible expectations that breed compliance and consistently highlight and shame students who the program is built to fail, criminalize, dehumanize, and invisibilize. 

Learning Materials

Regularly using resources that promote dominant narratives and representation of dominant groups without critical discussions. Consider who is in your classroom and what you know about them and their lives. Think about windows, mirrors, and sliding glass doors for content selection. For example, using food as a learning material (i.e. mining chocolate chips out of a cookie) can be extremely uncomfortable for students experiencing food insecurity. 


Assuming students have the background knowledge about a topic or assuming that they do not. Schema will directly impact how connected a student feels to their learning and can impact their ability to demonstrate skills. Offering choice when possible allows students to gravitate toward what is relevant to them. If introducing a topic, assume all students could benefit from a quick orienting text. For example, a quick 101 video, an image prompt with discussion, or story- something that is accessible and stimulating to all.

Static Ability Grouping

Assigning students to fixed groups based on results from pre-assessments and diagnostic tools without the opportunity to move unless formally assessed again. This communicates beliefs about intelligence thereby creating status differentials in the classroom and hindering the growth of all students. Assess by triangulating observations, conversations, and student work products to provide a wholesome understanding of a student’s learning. Allow for flexible groupings and seating, where appropriate, to challenge the categorization of students. Avoid naming groups with labels that reinforce stereotypes and hierarchies as well.

Student Voice

Consider who regularly occupies formal or informal leadership positions in the classroom. Which students are afforded decision-making power and why? Who is given a platform to express their opinions? These decisions will directly impact how students label, govern and interact with one another.


Kohli, R. & Solórzano, Daniel G. (2012) Teachers, please learn our names!: racial microaggressions and the K-12 classroom, Race                                Ethnicity and Education, 15(4), 441-462

Kohli, R., Pizarro, M., & Nevárez, A. (2017). The “New racism” of K–12 schools: Centering critical research on racism. Review of                                       Research in Education, 41(1), 182-202.

Oluo, I. (2018). So you want to talk about race.

Pérez Huber, L., & Solorzano, D. G. (2015). Racial microaggressions as a tool for critical race research. Race Ethnicity and Education,                      18(3), 297-320.

Pierce, C. (1970) “Offensive Mechanisms.” In The Black Seventies, edited by F. Barbour, 265–282. Boston, MA: Porter Sargent.

Pierce, C. (1980) “Social Trace Contaminants: Subtle Indicators of Racism in TV." In Television and Social Behavior: Beyond Violence                          and Children, edited by S. Withey and R. Abeles, 249–257. Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.

Suárez-Orozco, C., Casanova, S., Martin, M., Katsiaficas, D., Cuellar, V., Smith, N., & Dias, S. (2015). Toxic rain in class: Classroom                           interpersonal microaggressions. Educational Researcher, 44(3), 151-160.

Sue, D. W. (2010). Microaggressions in everyday life: Race, gender, and sexual orientation. John Wiley & Sons.