Yeah, it's been a minute.
I wasn't even sure that I was going to publish this, but I really don't want to forget it. Also, I think it's important. So, here we go:
Today, the first day of the 2017-18 school year, I had my students do something out of the ordinary for first days of school, at least in my experience. We did the typical, silly, little inventory while I made the temporary roll, but then we watched the first six and a half minutes of this TED talk:
I really recommend you take the time to watch all 19 minutes, though we only watched the first bit.
Here are some of my most favorite parts. These pieces come after the 6.5 minute mark:
In light of all the things that have happened recently, and the fact that I teach 13- and 14-year-olds, who are certainly sentient enough to have their own views of the world and the things happening around them, I felt differently about the start of school this year, their introduction to 8th grade English, and the ways we think about your typical first-week-of-school procedure rundown which usually starts on the first day in all their classes.
I'm not saying starting straight into expectations isn't a good idea--I have no idea if what we ended up doing is the "right" thing in terms of teaching those expectations--but, I do know it was necessary for us.
Before we watched the clip, each kid got a post-it, and we asked them to write down experiences they'd had or examples of presumptions that other people have/might make about them as people before they get to know them, or that might, in some cases, keep someone from getting to know them.
Y'all. Here are just a few of the things my 8th graders wrote:
- she doesn't have much
- being bad. being gay.
- i'm poor because my family lives in arnett
- being mexican, what neighborhood i live in
- people assume i'm not a good person or will never become something in life.
- vulnerable. can't talk. can't walk.
- people think bad about my skin color when i go out with my family.
- don't care about nothing
- probably think i'm a ghetto black girl
- no entiendo nada
- i'm bad because i'm mexican
Okay. So. That's a lot. I got to have a few brief conversations where I asked some questions and I'll add this caveat: as a friendly reminder, most of my friends are 13. I don't know if you're aware, but they can be a pretttttttyyyyy dramatic group. Brain-wise, they are definitely, positively, absolutely sure that everyone is staring at their every move anyway.
But can I say something else? Just because their age group is often (accurately) described among the more dramatic, it doesn't mean their experiences aren't real. They have absolutely ZERO reason to be vulnerable in this way on the first day of school. Most of them don't know me at. all. Their honesty here is a gift, and I think we are taking the easy way out by assuming that the fears/very real experiences described above are somehow less trustworthy because the people experiencing them are young.
But I digress.
After students wrote their thoughts, we watched the first 6 and a half minutes of Chimamanda Adichie's talk, with the goal of listening for one thing she said that we could relate to.
We talked after watching about what a "single story" is, and why they think it's so dangerous.
We talked about what it has felt like to be on the receiving end of that one, singular story: either as people of color, as students (from teachers, what a stinkin' bummer), based on the neighborhood/side of town they live in, economic status, and on and on. We talked, also, about times that we've bought into a "single story" about another group of people.
For most classes, we ran out of time after watching and talking for a bit, and we'll finish our discussion tomorrow. But, one of our classes got to the last part of the whole deal which was this: on the back of their post-it, they were to write down ways they (specifically in their own lives--at school and also while out living) can avoid painting any person or group with such a broad brush, without buying into "a single story" about them.
- ask questions & learn
- talk to them
- show them respect by getting to know them
- don't judge a book by it's cover
- make an effort before you judge (even if it's weird)
- get to know them before I think something bad of them
- change my attitude
- conocerlos mejor
- find something in common, even if it takes work
I mean. You guys--I know I say this too much but: I literally cannot. Again, these responses are from humans who are 13.
What a stinking privilege this job is. I know (because sometimes these things are v v obvious on the first day of school) that with some of my friends, the struggle is going to be so real. But also? They deserve more from me and the rest of us grown-ups than to be confined to a single "hot-mess" story. Or a "bad kid" story. Or whatever other story is much easier to lean into than doing the often hard work of "asking questions and learning" which we can/should all do a little more of.
I'm excited. I'm hopeful.
And I'm making a greater effort to make time to write about the things I think are worthy of writing about.
Thanks for reading. Onward to day two!