Is this offensive: cover letter edition.
March 10, 2014 11:40 PM   Subscribe

I want to sell my experience as a teacher in urban, diverse, low-income communities, both in terms of commitment and know-how. Is there a better of way of saying that I have taught student populations in urban, diverse, low-income communities?

I feel like the way I am phrasing it sounds like some unfortunate conservative dog whistle, but I'm not sure how else to say it. Anybody have any suggestions? Thanks in advance.
posted by angrycat to Work & Money (22 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
In past cover letters, I've used the phrasing: "teaching diverse populations* of public school students" and "as the [job position] in a low-income [X size] [type of institution]."

I hope those aren't dog whistles, because I was describing places where I've worked but where, previous to that, I was a student or resident myself.

I think you're going to get some leeway in terms of your phrasing anyway, because it's probably going to be obvious, based on the jobs you're applying for, why you're highlighting what you're highlighting about your previous experience.

*Looking at it now, I'm wondering if it should be "a diverse population"? But that would sound like I'm only talking about one measure of diversity? Aw well, that's all a bit nit-picky maybe.
posted by rue72 at 12:04 AM on March 11, 2014

I cannot think of a less-offensive euphemism than what you gave.
posted by thelonius at 1:19 AM on March 11, 2014 [6 favorites]

My limited experience is that those are exactly the sorts of terms that managers and administrators use themselves, and the order you put them in sounds levelheaded.
posted by Kakkerlak at 2:29 AM on March 11, 2014 [2 favorites]

I feel like the way I am phrasing it sounds like some unfortunate conservative dog whistle

So? It's what you did. I mean, the phrase suggests that you taught a lot of poor black kids, but you don't want to say "I taught a lot of poor black kids." That does strike me as a tad offensive.

You're using the language that your profession uses to describe the students you have experience teaching. I see no problem with that.
posted by valkyryn at 2:32 AM on March 11, 2014 [5 favorites]

Those are the words I would use (and have used with colleagues). I was in social work and not education.
posted by emkelley at 4:30 AM on March 11, 2014

I think your phrasing is right on. It's EXACTLY what you've been doing. It's also pretty much what's on my resume (I say inner-city instead of urban.)
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 5:08 AM on March 11, 2014

I try to look at the job posting and the organization website to see what words they use and parrot that. I agree that its a little tricky- those seem like good and contemporary words words that I see often in progressive educational organizations.
posted by geegollygosh at 6:31 AM on March 11, 2014 [1 favorite]

Yep. This looks fine.

I've become pretty sensitive to dog-whistle phrases, and nothing about your phrasing seems even remotely problematic.

My only comment would be that you should be prepared to quantify or explain "diverse." A classroom full of low-income students of a single ethnicity is not diverse.
posted by schmod at 6:41 AM on March 11, 2014 [2 favorites]

I'd think that more specific is better. People sometimes say "diverse" when they actually mean majority-minority. A high school that is 99% black and 95% poor isn't diverse. If it was racially diverse, say that, and maybe even specifics ("a school with a mix of black, Hispanic, white, and Asian students.") It it was socioeconomically diverse, say that (and perhaps "taught in a classroom that included children of lawyers and children of high-school dropouts".) If it was a school with a high poverty rate, say that.
posted by Mr.Know-it-some at 6:42 AM on March 11, 2014 [3 favorites]

I'm not sure whether "urban" or "diverse" means black, but apparently it does to some folks? I personally would not use either word as a code for a specific race, for the same reason I wouldn't whisper "black" when talking and also because there are non-black people living urban lives. If you mean diverse then of course say that, but if you mean a single race then say that.

Instead of focusing on race, why not focus on commitment? You are committed to the children of (whatever) area? Write about whatever your motives and interests are, and what specific important skills you have to accompany that commitment and interest.
posted by Houstonian at 8:04 AM on March 11, 2014

You're fine. The problematic phrasing would be euphemisms like "inner-city" which conflate race, class, and location in an inaccurate and kind of icky (IMO) way. I am assuming that you are using "urban" to mean geography, and not as a euphemism for black/Latino.

Echoing Mr.Know-it-some and schmod's comments, my only concern is that "diverse" without more specific qualification likely undersells your experience -- dealing with socioeconomic diversity and racial/ethnic perhaps diverse levels of ESOL proficiency and prior educational access (e.g., literacy in native language.)
posted by desuetude at 8:35 AM on March 11, 2014 [1 favorite]

cool guys, tx.
it is actually diverse in terms of it being a mix of mostly African immigrants and natives. So, there you go. Thanks again -- my fingers tend to freeze up on cover letters.
posted by angrycat at 8:39 AM on March 11, 2014

urban, diverse, low-income communities,

This is the phrasing of the professional environment you'll be in. I agree with those saying "inner-city" might be problematic, but urban seems fine.
posted by corb at 10:05 AM on March 11, 2014 [1 favorite]

I talk about differentiating my classes for students of all backgrounds, skill-levels and personalities, and how that is predicated on understanding my students, their academic needs, and their diverse backgrounds.

Framing it as helping individuals rather than the collective "group of poor black kids" is preferable, for sure. It's like any other grouping based on a single characteristic - an overgeneralised stereotype. Hope that's helpful.
posted by guster4lovers at 11:26 AM on March 11, 2014 [1 favorite]

Diverse populations, diverse socioeconomic backgrounds, culturally sensitive and appropriate, etc. these are the current accepted and appropriate terms of art in the nonprofit world anyway.
posted by stenseng at 2:49 PM on March 11, 2014

Why do you say "urban"? Could you give a clear answer? If not, delete this word. Unless you honestly think that without it, people will be confused about whether the areas were urban, suburban, or rural. And I kind of doubt that's the real issue.
posted by John Cohen at 4:32 PM on March 11, 2014

Racially diverse, socioeconomically diverse, non-native speakers of English, African immigrant population -- all terms that seem more precise and would be fine to use.
posted by bluedaisy at 8:25 PM on March 11, 2014

urban, in this neck of the woods, means predominately low-income (I've taught kids from the wealthy suburbs, and the experience can be quite different). I'd mention it to demonstrate that I have the tool kit to work with this other, similar population as well as to show that I have the commitment to work with some of the challenges that sometimes accompany this demographic. Anyhoo, thanks again.
posted by angrycat at 6:14 AM on March 12, 2014

angrycat: "urban, in this neck of the woods, means predominately low-income"

No, no, no. If you mean "predominately low-income," say that. Directly. No weasel words.

"Urban" refers to a combination of geography, built environment, population, and population density.

"Urban" should only be used to describe the fact that you taught in a city. Do not use it as a substitute for "poor" or "black," because it then picks up all of the bad connotations of "inner-city."

If you teach in DC, Detroit, or some other place with a well-known troubled public school system, it may be easiest to just call that out directly. "A low-income neighborhood of Washington, DC" says all that you really need to here. The person reading your application will know what you're talking about.
posted by schmod at 8:54 AM on March 12, 2014 [2 favorites]

schmod: "No, no, no. If you mean "predominately low-income," say that. Directly. No weasel words. "

Emphatically agreed. Urban isn't necessarily poor, and in fact that's kind of a ridiculous thing, isn't it? We have entire urban neighborhoods full of wealthy people and upper-middle-class households in the city.

I get that it's your audience who uses this euphemism, but please don't parrot it back at them and help reinforce/continue to normalize a bunch of classist notions.
posted by desuetude at 9:09 AM on March 12, 2014 [2 favorites]

I get your point. I don't think I used urban to indicate race, but in future cover letters I might avoid it.
posted by angrycat at 12:13 PM on March 12, 2014

I think this is a great description because you're saying exactly what you mean--urban and low-income is very different than rural and low-income, and low-income is a whole different ballgame (in terms of school resources as well as population) than moderate or high-income. The only thing that might be worth changing is "diverse" because that's not specific. I see that you said it's a mix of African immigrants and (US?) natives, so maybe "ethnically diverse" or "large ESL population"? The more you concentrate on actually describing the community so that the person reading the cover letter will understand it, the less you need to worry about giving offense.
posted by epj at 9:34 AM on March 13, 2014

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