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
Each year, as the anniversary of 9/11 approaches, I feel a twinge of trepidation. My students don’t remember that horrible day. It’s not on their radar. I struggle with balancing wanting to honor those who lost their lives and the heroes of that day with the need to respect the innocence and hope of my students. Reconciling these conflicting emotions is always tricky.
As the country approaches the 10th anniversary of 9/11, Teaching Tolerance bloggers have written about their insights and experiences in the classroom as a result of the attacks. We offer these for your reflection and adoption.
It was a brisk New England day as I walked out of the community center with a group of Somali Muslim women from my adult English as a Second Language class. My students were laughing and joking, their hijabs blowing in the breeze. We had finished our unit on the New World, drawing connections between Europeans immigrating to America and Somalis immigrating to Lewiston and southern Maine. Suddenly, a local woman shouted, "Terrorists!"
"She's just trying to act white." I remember those piercing but confusing words cutting me like a knife. I clinched my Super Reader certificate. My puzzled expression was taken as bravado by the African-American girls, who responded with a threatening question, "Do you want us to fix your face?"
Junior high school students and members of their school's student civil rights team felt that no one was taking them seriously in their efforts to improve the school's climate. Recently they'd visited classrooms and offered presentations on Maine's civil rights laws and the harmful impact of bias-based derogatory language. They did not get a warm reception from their peers.
The year I taught art in the dysfunctional chaos of an overcrowded urban middle school with weak administrators, practically everyone in the school—both students and teachers—needed a "safe place."
A couple of months ago, a student pulled me aside to ask for help with a job application. As a teacher working with adult immigrants and refugees, I hear this request fairly often. After class, we discussed the job she wanted –housekeeping for one of the large hotel chains in the area. Paper applications were no longer accepted.
As I head back to the classroom, I think about the last school year. In the second-to-last week of school, my fifth-grade classroom was 90 degrees, with no air conditioning. My students were sitting together, helping each other, laughing, struggling and having fun. At the beginning of the year, they were unsure of each other. They smiled politely but kept to themselves or the friends they knew and never asked for help. So what had changed?