Today I want to talk to you about something a little bit personal but something that still applies to us all as teachers. As many of you guys that follow me know, I have four kids. We adopted our youngest son from Uganda when he was 6 years old. He’s 10 now. As a transracial family we are working our way through this world one day at a time, and using the things that we hear, see, and feel as learning experiences to grow and become better world citizens. So something happened to my little Jonah a few months back and he just now found the courage to tell me about it. I’m sharing it with you today and being a little bit vulnerable because I feel strongly about what happened to Jonah and that we as teachers can put it to a stop if we have this very important conversation. It may be the most important conversation you have with your class all year but, before I share with you what that conversation is, let me tell you the story.
Through sobs and tears, Jonah began telling me that a few months back a boy, who is his friend, looked at him and said, “My friend told me that God made a mistake when He made black people.” When I heard this I was devastated, furious, and heartbroken all at the same time. How could someone say such a thing? How could a child in this day and age have this kind of mindset? I just knew I had to speak out and use my platform to put a stop to this nonsense. This is not okay, not at all. If we don’t stand up to teach our kids about racism, and that we are all created equal, you can count on the world teaching them ignorance. And as teachers, we have a duty to lay the foundation for equality in our classrooms. We must be proactive about this. Because you know what Jonah did after that conversation? Nothing. He did nothing. He didn’t tell the teacher, or a leader because he thought he might get himself in trouble. He had no clue just how wrong this was, and how to defend himself.
So on the first day of school or any day, sit your class down and establish an environment of equality right away. There may be kids like Jonah who hear these words and thinks he/she should just accept them. Or there may be kids like his friend, who hear ignorance, and thinks its okay to spread it. Put a stop to it before it happens. Here’s something that you can say to your class: “Boys and girls, we are a new community this year and we will be spending a ton of time together. I could not be more excited to learn alongside you this year. As a community of learners there is something we must be clear on, everyone in our community, everyone, is equal. Do you know what equal means?” Have the students respond to hear their thoughts, then reply with this: “Equal means that every student should be treated with the same amount of respect, kindness, and acceptance no matter what they believe, what their culture is, how they learn in different ways, or what their skin color is. In this community, everyone matters the same. No one is better because their skin is a certain color or their clothes are a certain brand. Let’s be clear, if we ever hear things about people saying mean things about someone’s culture, race, learning style, or anything, we will not be okay with that. If someone says something to you that is hurtful, whether it’s in our community, or anywhere else in life, I want you to know that I am a safe person you can talk to about that. And if you need help finding your voice, you can always come to me.”
This can be the start of your conversation with students. Allow them to ask questions and guide the conversation in a place where everyone understands how to treat others. Have this conversation throughout the year as many times as needed to ensure you are doing your very best to protect your students from the words Jonah heard and endured. This conversation will go such a long way with students who are minorities in your classroom. They will feel safe, empowered, and loved. I know this might not have been a very “fun” post to read, but I can only hope that Jonah’s story will be a tiny glimpse into why we need to take the initiative to build equality and acceptance for all children in our classrooms this year.
It has been my pleasure chatting with you today, know that I am the biggest fan of the work that you and your students are doing in the classroom every day and I believe that you and all your students will thrive in a safe, respectful, and loving community.
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