Toronto

Teachers get new resource to address anti-Asian racism in Toronto public schools

Two organizations are launching an educational resource on Tuesday to help teachers to address anti-Asian racism in Toronto public schools during the pandemic.

Document will empower teachers to take action, TDSB and ETFO say

Joey Chu, 5, works on an assignment in Senior Kindergarten. (Submitted by Terri Chu)

Two organizations are launching an educational resource on Tuesday to equip teachers with tools to help them address anti-Asian racism in Toronto during the pandemic.

The Toronto District School Board (TDSB) and Elementary Teachers' Federation of Ontario (ETFO) produced the document, "Addressing Anti-Asian Racism: A Resource for Educators." It provides public school teachers with tips and suggestions on how to deal with the issue in virtual or physical classrooms.

More than 47 per cent of students identify as Asian in the TDSB.

Both the school board and the union said in a news release on Tuesday that there has been an increase in anti-Asian racism in Ontario, including violence, since the pandemic hit the province in last March after originating in China's Hubei province late in 2019.

"Acts of anti-Asian discrimination are unacceptable and cause harm to the health, well-being and safety of educators, students, families and communities," Karen Falconer, the TDSB director of education, said in the release.

"This much-needed resource offers new approaches to learning and innovative actions to identify, name and address anti-Asian racism in partnership with families and communities."

It is available on the TDSB website.

Jason To, the TDSB coordinator of secondary mathematics and academic pathways, said students need teachers to have this resource. To, a teacher, helped to write the document.

"This resource is to help educators, teachers and administrators, address anti-Asian racism in their spaces," he said.

"We know that there are students in our system all across the country who are feeling like they don't belong. We need to make sure that all students feel like they belong in a classroom."

Jason To, TDSB coordinator of secondary mathematics and academic pathways, says: 'We know that there are students in our system all across the country who are feeling like they don't belong. We need to make sure that all students feel like they belong in a classroom.' (Submitted by Jason To)

To said the document provides a history of anti-Asian racism in Canada from before Confederation until the present day and spells out myths, including the concept of Asian people as a "model minority" group.

In the stereotype of a model minority, Asian people are seen as a group that is politically neutral and doesn't cause trouble, and that perception is used to further anti-Black and anti-Indigenous racism by the white dominant culture, To said.

"If we have this idea that Asians need to be a certain way, otherwise they don't fit in, then we are asking Asian people to be something that may not be themselves," he said.

To said when Asian people are seen as a model minority, then Asian people are used as a weapon against other cultures.

"This is just part of an overall system of oppression that we are now starting to see throughout our society," he said. "Anti-Asian racism fits into the overall picture. It's not the same, of course, as anti-Black and anti-Indigenous racism but all oppression is connected. That's why it's really important for a resource like this to help inform the larger picture of oppression."

Terri Chu, right, is pictured here with her family. Her husband, Stephen Chen, left, holds Joey Chu, 5, left, while Chu holds Julius Chen, 3. (Harry Choi)

For Terri Chu, a PhD student at York University who is researching anti-Asian racism in Canada and a mother of two young children, Joey, 5 and Julius, 3, the resource is a welcome news.

"I've sat in on a few of my daughter's classes and she's only in senior kindergarten. And they went around the room. They talked about racism. They talked about what it means to feel certain emotions attributable to racism and how to be good allies. These conversations are uncomfortable, but they're very necessary," she said.

"I am very hopeful that a resource like that will give teachers better tools to do what they are already doing."

In the past year, Chu has been researching how racism has affected self-identified Chinese-Canadians in the Greater Toronto Area and has found that people don't always perceive racism for what it is because it has become so commonplace.

"What was really interesting to us is how micro-aggressions have been internalized so deeply that most people don't recognize it as something that is inappropriate or racist. They just think, 'That's part of life.'"

Micro-aggressions, she said, include a dirty look, a rude comment and inappropriate remarks. These days, Chu said, these types of encounters often happen in grocery stores, but researchers are seeing micro-aggressions in Zoom meetings and virtual classrooms as well.

Chu said she remembers being spat on in the school yard and having rocks thrown at her.

Educators of Asian descent created resource

According to the TDSB and ETFO, the document includes conceptual frameworks, knowledge and issues, a toolkit for school leaders and educators, community resources and relevant policies.

"This resource was created by a team of educators of Asian descent whose lived experiences, both personal and professional, and knowledge and passion for social justice are reflected in its pages," the two organizations said.

Both organizations said the COVID-19 pandemic, since March 2020, has led to racist attitudes and behaviours and has given rise to overt forms of discrimination against Asian people and people of Asian descent.

"Since then, both ETFO and TDSB have heard from educators, students and the community about their experiences confronting anti-Asian racism and its impact on the mental health, well-being and safety of educators, students, families and communities," the organizations said.

"Addressing Anti-Asian Racism: A Resource for Educators provides a foundation for reflection, discussion and social justice action, and centres Indigeneity and Black lives within the document. It also solidifies the work of anti-racism as a practice and approach through understanding, interconnecting and allying multiple identities and issues."

With files from Jessica Ng

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