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
Throughout the summer months, Teaching Tolerance will present a series of lessons using photographs to teach about social justice. Each lesson will focus on a contemporary social justice issue. The lessons are multidisciplinary and geared toward middle and high school students. A new lesson will be posted online each week from June 6 through Aug. 22.
Billy was 7 years old when he walked through the door of my second- grade classroom. The cowlick in his hair wouldn't stay down. His shirt and shorts didn't match. He wore dark socks with his sneakers. He was clumsy, stumbling daily over table legs and chairs. Each time he spoke, his voice started softly and gradually got louder and louder until it ended in a yell.
Today’s conventional wisdom is that English language learners (ELLs) need to master English as quickly as possible. Everything else is secondary. If these students remain fluent in their primary languages, good for them. If not, no big deal.
Every marking period I contact the parents of my most remarkable students to tell them how great their kids are. I do this for a few reasons. Too often, my attention is consumed with kids who need refocusing, redirecting and all the other IEP-mandated practices teachers do anyway. But mostly I contact the remarkable students because I’ve noticed that the kids who do good work often go unacknowledged.
As a young white woman from the suburbs, I knew I was going to experience some culture shock as I began my teaching career in one of the more violent low-income areas of Oakland. The town I grew up in was different from where I went to college, but they had important qualities in common. Both were strongly middle class, had a clear agricultural focus, a vast white majority and a significant but well-hidden Spanish-speaking minority. I hadn’t realized how comfortable I was in those environments until I was faced with the reality of inner-city Oakland.
So I had a lot to learn.
“Ms. Craven, we can put ‘nigga?’”
I pause. Images of earnest sitting-in-a-circle chats in college flash through my brain:
- A classmate from Kentucky explaining how she will never say that word, even in academic circles, because, being white, she will never be able to fully grasp its implications;
- Another black classmate asserting that the word has been reclaimed, and that when black people use it, the poison of the original use gets diluted.
In January 2010, two Somali men and one Oromo man were killed in a market in Minneapolis’ Seward neighborhood. Their shooters were two Somali-born teenagers, trying to commit an unsuccessful robbery at the corner store.
The news hit my school hard. Somali women cried, both for the victims and for the young perpetrators who had so clearly gone astray. An Oromo man pulled me aside and said, “I do not feel safe in this school. Some Somali guy shoots an Oromo guy, and I have to sit here? No.”