I wanted to write a post about what was going on my classes. I wanted to share some of the work of my students, talk about progress I’ve made in creating a classroom culture of cooperation and inquiry, self-sufficiency and collaboration. There have been a lot of tough days, but also moments every day of accomplishment, humor (“Don’t sniff the glue stick, Louis”), and connection. There are students for whom following directions is a major hurdle, and others who produce beautiful work which reflects our learning objectives. And then there are the true rewards of teaching – being able to write glowing recommendations of students who have grown up in front of you, or receiving some excellent work from a student who just 2 years ago spoke no English, and had spent little time being formally educated in her native country.
I wanted to write a post to document some of the things that have been going on during this tumultuous year – the progress of the Geometry course I am writing, the challenges of teaching in a completely group-oriented environment, the hopefully productive struggle I am engaged in while taking Calculus III on line. Last night my daughter, who knows me so well and is sometimes so wise for her 23 years, told me to write a blog post, because they always make me feel better. Knowing she was right, I began to mentally plan it today.
And then the news that there would be no indictment in the Eric Garner chokehold case was released, and in my disbelief and outrage, I knew that I couldn’t spend the evening celebrating my accomplishments in the classroom. I don’t even have words to describe my horror at being part of a racist system in which this is not an uncommon occurrence. And while I was wondering how I can address this sensitively, honestly, somewhat productively in my classroom, my principal sent a message to the entire staff suggesting that we AVOID discussing this in class, that the issue is too emotionally charged, and that this is perhaps not the best teachable moment.
Not the best teachable moment? I think this is the ULTIMATE teachable moment, albeit one that I have no idea how to teach. My classroom is richly diverse – ethnically, linguistically, culturally – and students have been known to use inappropriate and offensive vocabulary (in a variety of languages) as part of casual conversation. I am afraid that a conversation about this decision could become explosive, and that I lack the skills to keep things productive and safe for everyone. While I don’t walk in the same shoes as all of my students, it is important (I think) that they know I am an ally rather than a censor, or perhaps worse, that I am indifferent, because I am neither.
I welcome your thoughts.
ADDENDUM: I hope this post does not convey the impression that I will be silent, for that is completely not the case. I know what the right thing to do is; I’m just a little anxious about it. Seems like the right feeling.