A place for educators to find thought-provoking news, conversation and support for those who care about diversity, equal opportunity and respect for differences in schools
As my 10th-grade students came back from lunch, it was clear that a few of my more squirrely young men needed time to readjust to the ways of a classroom after being away all summer.
“It’s just a joke between us, Mr. Greenslate,” said Aaron. “We all know Jason from outside of school, and so that’s just how we mess around. Once you know us better you’ll understand.”
They blaze into Room 309 at 8:16, sporting new t-shirts and vintage ones, silver watches and Silly Bandz, first-day-of-school garb.
I hand them a yellow index card. "Write for me," I say, "Begin with, 'I am...' or 'I am not..."'
Off they go, scribbling first words with their newly sharpened pencils.
They despise school. They adore school. They'd like school, if only, if only, if only...
Their summer? They've gone swimming with sea turtles in Hawaii. Their parents have divorced. They've been diagnosed. Or, trapped in summer school. Their beloved grandmother has died.
They are 13 years old.
Last week, Teaching Tolerance ran a post from an assistant principal in Illinois. Lamenting the recent spate of anti-Islamic incidents and the rising anti-Muslim rhetoric, she wrote:
I immediately wondered how to tackle this head-on as an educator. What would I say to my teachers about how to approach the subject in our history classes? How could I be a participant in a difficult conversation in which some of our Muslim students are directly affected?
For the last few days, an “educational analyst” for Focus on the Family has been getting a lot of press. She’s been suggesting that anti-bullying efforts that draw attention to the harassment of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) students are part of a “gay agenda” to “sneak homosexuality lessons into classrooms.”
When I entered the classroom to interpret for the middle school parent and teacher conference, the student shouted that I wasn’t necessary. The teacher had called for my services because for two semesters she had been telling the mother that her son was flunking. And for two semesters, the mother had grinned ecstatically and said, “Thank you”—her only English words. The son had “interpreted” to his mother that he was on the honor roll.
In recent weeks, our country has been treated to an ugly reflection of itself. The controversy over the Islamic community center in New York City has been followed by a spate of anti-Muslim acts. They include the stabbing of a Muslim cabbie, attempted arson at a mosque in Tennessee and teens harassing Muslims at worship in upstate New York.
Every school year, my incoming students receive a welcome letter. Included in their packet is something a little different: a snack-sized baggie of sand. One student may receive some black volcanic sand from Japan; another gets green sand from Hawaii; still another receives the silky sand from Florida’s west coast; while another may get the pink sand found on Bermuda’s pristine beaches.
I used to be a bad girl. I was self-destructive, angry and fearless. These traits, coupled with a decent amount of intelligence, took me to all the places bad girls go. For many years, I bounced from bad decisions to bad jobs to bad relationships. My life was a mess for a long time, and all I knew how to do was make it worse. I couldn’t talk to my mother, my father wasn’t around, and my friends were either victims of their own circumstances or they were busy creating better lives for themselves. I was alone for a long time, and it felt like I would drown forever.