We have all been there - those moments when our students take our well planned discussion or question and we are suddenly faced with how we handle situations where students are seeking to better understand difficult subjects. These conversations can degrade into chaos quickly, but student teacher Ms. McEwen found a way to forge ahead and both she and her students learned a lot rather than ending up in a heated argument or avoiding the topic all together. Often we are the ones students seek out when trying to understand difference and diversity. If we can keep our wits about us and find ways to have these tricky conversations, our students will leave our classroom all the wiser for it and maybe, just maybe, it will spread to their peers too. Thank you Ms. McEwen for not only your insight, but for sharing a glimpse into your classroom.
How do we prepare ourselves for the close-mindedness and lack of acceptance that our students bring to the classroom?
As I taught my first solo lesson this semester I felt the confidence and excitement that fills me up every time I stand in front of a group of students. My excitement swayed for a moment as we began our class discussion over the pros and cons of book banning in schools and whether or not they thought that banning books was needed.
"I wouldn't want to read a book about gays and I wouldn't want my son someday to read about gays either." Stated student A. I told him that while I valued his opinion, he needed to be respectful to others in voicing his concerns, but I barely finished responding to his comment when student B piped up in agreement.
"I don't want to become gay, so I wouldn't want to read about gays." I tilted my head in confusion as I stared at the room filled with diversity.
"You guys don't feel that books depicting gay and lesbian couples should be allowed at school because you are afraid they will somehow turn you gay?" I asked with what I'm sure was a humorous look of astonishment upon my face.
"Reading books about gays makes it seem like its ok and its not ok in Gods eyes." Student A asserted. I slowly nodded my head as I gathered up my thoughts, contemplating whether or not to continue on with the topic as it was starting to get some of the students wound up. I know what I would say had this conversation taken place in one of my College classes, but this was a completely different group that I was addressing and I needed to continue in a delicate, but firm way.
"Gay couples are around us every day, we see gay couples everywhere, they're apart of life." Student C chimed in. I looked up at her as if God himself had sent her down to rescue me. I smiled and politely encouraged her to continue. "Just because you see a gay couple on the street doesn't mean that you are somehow going to become gay, if you don't like it look away, but it's part of life." She finished. I had an overly excited moment and applauded Student C before I continued.
"I want you all to think of things you see and hear about on social media, in the news, in movies, radio, television and music." I began. "Now think of all the diversity that is attributed with these things, people of different religious backgrounds, racial backgrounds, social status, gender, age, and yes even sexual preference. Would these shows and movies and social media and music be as exciting to watch or listen to if it was all the same?" There was a quite murmur of no throughout the classroom. "Would you guys want to read a book about a character that you could relate to specifically?" I asked directing my attention to Students A and B. Student B nodded, but Student A pondered my question for a moment.
"What kind of character?" He asked.
"A young black boy, a student in high school." I offered.
"Yeah." He agreed reluctantly. I smiled.
"Well, don't you think that every student has the right to open up a book that may relate to them and things that they may be going through?" There was some productive discussion from a few of the students in response to this question. "Everyone has the right to feel accepted, to feel like they belong no matter what their differences are, we all just have to be open-minded and willing to accept those we may not understand." There was more productive conversation in which I called on a few more students to speak out.
"My thing is..." Student A interjected. "Is that most characters like me written in these books are not like me. I'm a good student and most black boys aren't good students in these books. We placed in a box." I nodded my head in understanding as this was something that I could relate to personally, black stereotypes.
"Have any of you ever read a book called All American Boys?" I asked with a small smile. None of them had. "All American Boys is a book geared towards young adults such as yourselves in which a young black man, such as yourself (I directed towards Student A), is attacked by a police officer after being wrongfully accused of stealing in a convenience store."
"That boy aint like me though, I'm a good student, I don't do all that stuff." Student A cut in.
"Well, this boy is a good student too, he gets good grades, plays on the basketball team, listens to his parents, he simply has brown skin."
"What color is the police officer?" Student B asked. I told him that he is white. "I wouldn't want to read that 'cos that would make me mad at the police. They always messing with a black person." Student B added. We got a little off topic at this point before I called attention.
"This is what I was talking about when I said we all need to be open-minded. Not all police officers are bad, not all black people are bad, there is good and bad everywhere, but we can't censor life. We cant ban an event or a person just because they are different." I pointed to the PowerPoint behind me and looked at the books that were listed by people who have requested that they be banned which consisted of Harry Potter, 13 Reasons Why and Captain Underpants. "You all are aware of the things that are in these books at this age, foul language, blood, alcohol, magic and hopefully underpants." (A few laughs). "Bottom line is, it's up to you whether or not you want to educate yourselves or not, but what does banning these books do for you all as the students?"
"Keeps us ignorant." Student D offered.
"It hides the reality of the world from you all." I nodded in agreement.
Now, what was my question?? Oh yes, there is no way to be completely prepared for how your students are going to respond to a certain topic, not every student is the same which is what makes teaching so exciting and difficult. Warren states that "When hot moments occur because of inter-student dynamics, in ways not related to the subject matter, it can still be important to address the issue and to ignore certain remarks has its own consequences."
This was a very necessary lesson for me to experience. When I am asked why I want to go into education, my answer is always the same. I want to help shape and encourage our youth to become intelligent, confident and respectful adults and although I may forget sometimes, if we're lucky we come across a group of students who help shape and encourage us to be the understanding, respectful and patient teachers that they deserve!
Warren, Lee. Managing Hot Moments In The Classroom. Derek Bok Center. 12 November2007. http://www.cmu.edu/teaching/resources/Teaching/CourseDesign/InstructionalStrategies/HotMomentsClassroom.pdf
Reblogged from: http://mcewenseducationalthoughts.blogspot.com/