Micro-Aggressions in the Classroom

For my PID, I was reading “The Skillful Teacher: On Technique, Trust and Responsiveness in the Classroom.” In Chapter 9, I hit one of those “touchy” chapters. You know, one of those chapters that have a tough topic that people tend to debate over. It was about racism in the classroom. I’m not here to start a debate today, but I want to share some information that I found interesting and extremely applicable to my role as a teacher in a multicultural classroom.

Stephen Brooksfield said, “Popularized by Derald Wing Sue (2010), micro-aggressions are the small acts of exclusion and marginalization committed by a dominant group toward a minority.” When I think of micro-aggressions, my mind automatically floats over to a show I used to watch called “Lie to Me”. In this show, there was a detective-type person (I can’t remember his exact job title) who used to interview people and observe their micro-expressions. According to the Science of People, “A micro-expression is a brief, involuntary facial expression that is shown on the face of human according to the emotions that are being experienced.” Micro-expressions could be anything from disgust, anger, fear and sadness to happiness and surprise. They happen quickly, usually as fast of 1/15 to 1/25 of a second. Our emotions show up on our face (very, very quickly), without even trying! Yikes! Unfortunately, my wife is especially good at reading these.

Now I know this is different from micro-aggressions, but they can be equally problematic because they can happen so subtly but can have catastrophic results. Stephen Brooksfield went on the say, “Two constituent defining elements of a micro-aggression underscore this subtlety. First, they are so small that recipients are usually left wondering “did that really happen?” and asking themselves “should I be offended by that? or “did he/she mean to be insulting? Second, when the proponents of micro-aggressions are confronted with their actions they typically, and in a sense quite honestly, deny that there was any aggressive intent.” Brooksfield gave an example where he asked a question of his class and he thought he heard from everyone but he accidentally missed one student – a girl of colour. It wasn’t intentional, just temporary forgetfulness. He quickly addressed it with the class and the girl said that this has happened to her repeatedly in classes she had taken at the University. It was undoubtedly an accident, but unaddressed it could have felt like an intentional exclusion. The realty is that these micro-aggressions can happen so quickly. If you are lucky enough to catch them, they need to be diffused equally quickly.

16.10.25-Microaggressions-1m67pmdImage from the Center for Innovative Teaching and Learning @IUB

I don’t have any examples I can provide from my class at this time (I hope that’s a good thing…hopefully I haven’t missed one), but it made me think long and hard about my students and my interactions with them. I teach a very culturally diverse class and I consider everyone an equal, but I wonder if I have ever unintentionally portrayed some micro-aggressions that went unaddressed. I sure hope not. Reading this chapter has been a good reminder to be self-aware at all times. Have you ever experienced, or accidentally portrayed, micro-aggressions in your class? If so, what did you do to resolve the issue?


Brookfield, Stephen D.  The Skillful Teacher: On Technique, Trust, and Responsiveness in the Classroom, 2015, 118. Jossey-Bass. Kindle Edition.

Van Edwards, Vanessa. Science of People:  Guide to Reading Microexpressions. 2013. Article can be retrieved here: http://www.scienceofpeople.com/2013/09/guide-reading-microexpressions/



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