March 1, 2019
I wake up from a night of active dreaming. Knowing there is a 2-hour delay makes me restless, and when I receive the group text from my team about our snow day, I can’t get back to sleep.
My dreams were wild. In my first set of dreams, I’m accompanying my principal on a school & neighborhood tour for a family about to leave our district. In the second set, I’m teaching decolonized history as a reading teacher, made ever-self-conscious when a panel of evaluators shows up unannounced in the middle of one of my tirade/teaching points.
Reflecting over my cup of coffee (which was supposed to be sipped at school during our PTA’s Booktopia event), I realize I’m upset there’s no school today. After a whirlwind week of student-iPad-addiction issues, hunting down late work, and feverish grading, missing my students and our plans for the day was not something I expected to be feeling:
Beginning a Social Issues Book Club unit with my specific group of students has been borderline nightmarish. Instead of beginning as another class with a better class culture might, we had to begin by exploring empathy: what it is, and how to show it. I know I’m not going to sound like my millennial self when I say this, but I think unsupervised access to the internet 24/7 is ruining our children’s social awareness and stunting their social skill development. My students are prone to blurting the most attention-grabbing comments as loudly and immediately as they can, and that seems a symptom of internet (and perhaps our news cycle and political?) culture.
So we began with empathy: Empathy means slowing down what you say, and thinking first. Empathy means considering how others are feeling before reacting. Empathy is considering what others need to hear to feel supported, instead of focusing on what you want to say to make yourself feel better, or cooler. Empathy means vulnerability, and being vulnerable in middle school is hard, if not impossible. I get it. Middle school was my least favorite years as a student because of the social pressures. But I still show up every day ready to do that work with my students only to feel upset by the lack of effort by some loud attention-seekers. Class culture can change so quickly with a group of 3 or more loud folks trying to run their agenda. I try to remind myself of this when I’m feeling thwarted.
Confession: If I didn’t have an internet community that inspired me with the amazing deep reading, anti-racist, empathetic work they’re doing, I would have mentally given up on this profession long ago. But seeing what other educators are able to accomplish motivates me to go back into the classroom and try again tomorrow. And, their sharing their failures as well as successes keeps things in perspective. No teacher is going to have good days every day. It’s those little moments of success we strive for and bask in when they finally happen.
Yet I think my faith in humanity (read: my students and my job) was renewed by my small-group extension group yesterday: and this is the turning point in the story.
As a follower of the Project LIT community, I’ve been wanting to try out book clubs with some of their titles for a while. I finally got my chance this week, as my new extension YJP began. Eleven students form our group, and we spent two days searching up, discussing, watching book trailers for Project LIT titles. At the end of Day 2, the students gave me their top 3 titles, and I put in an order for the books they wanted to read. Since we had about 3 days before the books would arrive, I thought some lessons on Black Lives Matter would be in order, since each of those titles have something to do with the movement.
I spent an entire night reading articles, watching videos, trying to determine the correct order for broaching this topic with a group of diverse students as a white girl teacher. However, once I mentioned my hope of exploring this movement before getting into our books, the group was off. The conversation grew naturally, moving from Black Lives Matter to unjust imprisonment and biased trials to genocides. I was exited (and a little floored!) by how passionate and well-informed my students were about many of these issues.
Our conversation gave me hope: in this depressing news cycle and world of biased, ill-informed adults that we are constantly flooded by, these well-informed kids give me hope for our future. Someday they will be the judges, lawmakers, and activists we so desperately need. They were raised believing biased systems are wrong, raised with a fire in their belly to combat them. Our conversation brought back my passion for teaching, for interacting with young people. It reminded me of the great potential for a better future our children have. And it is our missed opportunity to continue that conversation that has me most upset about our snow day today.