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Black History Month: Teachers should look more like students sitting in front of them

Crystal Graham
black student with headphones
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A Virginia Tech professor appreciates how Black History Month celebrates Black culture but thinks that it’s something that should be discussed throughout the year in the classroom.

“I feel like it’s something that should be celebrated year round, and I think when we get into the habit of only celebrating something during a specific month, we’re in danger of not giving that culture the respect and the honor that it needs,” said Catheryn “Cat” Foster, an assistant professor of practice of music education in the School of Education at Virginia Tech.

Before her time at Virginia Tech, Foster, a White woman, was a faculty member and lecturer at an historically Black college.

“I was able to build deep, meaningful relationships with my students even though there were many barriers that separated us,” Foster said. “There were things that my students shared with me that I, as a white person with white privilege, I cannot relate to.”

Foster’s research includes learning about how to recruit more diverse teachers.

“If you look at the stats, we’re overwhelmingly white and female … What can we do to expand our recruiting efforts and really train more teachers who look like the students who will be sitting in front of them?”

Foster works with graduate students at VT in a curriculum and instruction program. Last fall, Foster started a Culturally Responsive Teaching class which focuses on respecting the culture of everyone in the classroom.

“I encourage people to find resources and not just hope that it lands in your lap or that someone hands it to you,” Foster said. “If this is something that you’re really curious about or you want to make sure that there’s representation in your classroom, you’re going to have to do the legwork and you’re going to have to go find the resources and find the information.”

Foster thinks that music teachers should find ways to expand on what they teach in the classroom.

For example, she said, Jose Mauricio Nunes Garcia was an Afro-Brazilian composer at the same time as Beethoven, and while he didn’t know anything about Beethoven, their music was “crazy similar.”

“We don’t have to just talk about jazz. We can talk about jazz, and we can talk about jazz musicians who are Black, but we can also talk about rappers, and it’s OK,” Foster said, “It’s OK to talk about hip-hop, and it’s OK to talk about the roots of rock ‘n’ roll and the Black artists who really paved the way in some of these genres that we love so much.”

Alexandra Krens contributed to this story for Virginia Tech.

Crystal Graham

Crystal Graham

Crystal Abbe Graham is the regional editor of Augusta Free Press. A 1999 graduate of Virginia Tech, she has worked for nearly 25 years as a reporter and editor for several Virginia publications, written a book, and garnered more than a dozen Virginia Press Association awards for writing and graphic design. She was the co-host of "Viewpoints," a weekly TV news show, and co-host of Virginia Tonight, a nightly TV news show. Her work on "Virginia Tonight" earned her a national Telly award for excellence in television.