Owning your mistakes

As a white teacher, what should you do when you realize that what you’ve said in a public space is racist? Two things: one, you must apologize. Two, as your phone blows up and notifications pile up in that public space, you must stop and reflect. Some comments you get will be helpful, as was @rlnave above.

They will open your eyes to what you sound like to other people, to the fact that you have more to learn. It’s important that you stop and think about what you said and why you said it. So let’s unpack a little why the NPR article When Calling the Po-Po is a No-No originally struck me as non-college worthy.

I have been in education for over twenty years now. I have a Masters in Instructional Technology and have taken over 25 hours in others masters level work, enough so that a local university certified me in their College Credit Plus program. For those outside of Ohio, this means that I can teach college classes to high school students. Why do I include all this information? To say that up until this point, I had a certain expectation of what a “college worthy” article sounded like.

Here’s one I shared with my students last year: “In Defense of a Loaded Word,” by 

I was wrong.

Thank you to all those who engaged with me yesterday on this topic. Every time a white person thinks they’ve finally uncovered and dealt with all their implicit biases, there will always be one more ugly spot. Racism is an institution in our country, and white people benefit from it. The only thing you can do is learn more. Start over. And know that a lifetime of white privilege won’t be fixed overnight. It takes work. Do it.

“Adel Abidin: I’m Sorry” by einer von denen is shared under a CC 2.0 license

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Talking Colorblindness with my 12 yr old

What do you say to your almost teenager when an author you both love experiences something neither you nor she will ever experience? That’s the time you open the box called “white privilege.” Today was that day.

To understand just why we had to have this discussion, reader, you need some context.

She wants her mostly white suburban middle school friends to read Children of Blood and Bone, by Tomi Adeyemi. She’s just as excited as I am that Jimmy Fallon chose it as his #TonightShowSummerReads. She declares that even though the book is YA and will be a part of our #ProjectLitBookClub at the high school, her middle school book club she started just this summer will read it too.

Yes, reader, she started a #ProjectLitBookClub. You see, I took her with me to #ProjectLitSUmmit18 in Nashville this June. At this event, we heard Kwame Alexander talk about the importance of great books for kids. We heard Nic Stone give tips on writing. In fact, we even had Mr. Alexander and Ms. Stone autograph books for us. Mr. Alexander spelled her name right on her autograph, asked her what grade she’ll be in next year, and told her “Eighth grade is cool.” Needless to say, we bought a huge pile of books to take home.

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She was so excited about the event, she decided then and there that she was going to start her own #ProjectLitBookClub this summer. She wasn’t going to wait till school started like I was. So we came home and settled in, and starting reading the books.

One book we bought was called I am Alfonso Jones, by Tony Medina. It’s a graphic novel that I picked up because it’s one of the @projectlitcommunity midlde grade books and because I thought her brother would like it. She read it first. We talked a little about it, mostly her telling me she thought her 9 year old brother might be a little too young to read it and that it was sad. After I read the book and realized that it dealt with police brutality and after I cried, I let her brother read it, too. It’s our world now. We have to learn to live in it.

She shared her experiences with her friends. The book club grew by one, and they got together to decide which to read first: Wishtree by Katherine Applegate or Rebound, by Kwame Alexander. Here they are, deciding.

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They decided on Wishtree. She made a blog. After a few weeks of futile texting, where no one showed up, she added one to her club.

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They were having a blast. Until today. When Ms. Adeyemi shared her story, and my kiddo overheard me talking about it with her dad. She wandered into our bedroom, where I sitting there rage crying, and asked me what happened. I read the tweet thread Adeyemi had shared. She started crying, too, and said, “But the police are supposed to be people who protect us. Why were they so mean? And what does colorblindness mean, anyway?”

So we started talking. I explained that, when people say they “don’t see color,” they are speaking from a point of privilege. That although on the surface it seems they are being fair, what they are really saying is, “Your story is not important. I don’t believe you.” I explained that although neither she nor anyone else in her family is ever likely to have police threaten us in our home, for people of color, every encounter with the police is one where they have to be afraid. And reader, I brought up Philando Castile.

She had never heard Mr. Castile’s story. She didn’t know that even when you do everything you’re supposed to, you can still die after an encounter with the police. And she got mad. She asked, “What can we do about this?” And we talked about the difference between empathy and sympathy.  That sympathy shuts doors between people, and empathy is making a connection, reaching out and saying, “Me, too.” That the only way we can feel empathy for others is by hearing their stories.

Reader, I explained that as white people, we are like goldfish in a fishbowl. Ask goldfish how water feels, and they’ll never say wet, because they don’t know what water is. It’s just there, all around them, protecting them. Just like white privilege.

Reader, our family talks like this all the time. Behind closed doors, and, let’s be honest, behind the closed door of my classroom, I have these conversations with young people. But we are deep in Trump country. To have any chance of understanding the world outside our tiny town, our kiddos must know the stories of others.

So she says, “We are going to have to read I am Alfonso Jones next year. We need to have these conversations.” And I agree.

If you made it to the end of this post, and you want to help the high school students I’ll teach next year to have these hard conversations, consider donating a little to my donor’s choose project.

If you’re super poor like me and want some resources I’ve used with my students,

  1. https://www.tolerance.org/magazine/fall-2009/colorblindness-the-new-racism
  2. https://jarredamato.wordpress.com/2016/10/08/proud-to-announce-project-lit-community/
  3. A description of how I convinced my principal to let me start our HS book club
  4. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1Evwgu369Jw
  5. https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/post-nation/wp/2017/06/21/what-the-police-officer-who-shot-philando-castile-said-about-the-shooting/
  6. https://bookriot.com/2018/07/02/tonight-show-summer-read/
  7. http://theurbannews.com/lifestyles/2017/white-privilege-unpacking-the-invisible-knapsack/

 

Giving back: the case study

“I share because the learning I create and the experiences I have help others. I share to push my own thinking and to make an impact on learners, both young and old, all over the world.” from The Innovator’s Mindset: Empower Learning, Unleash Talent, and Lead a Culture of Creativity by George Couros

I confess. I struggle to see that my voice matters. All my life, I’ve been told that it’s better to be humble. Be quiet, because speaking up is arrogant, and arrogance is wrong. So every time I publish a post, every time I share an idea, I am pushing back against that narrative. Everybody’s voice matters. In the spirit of sharing, here goes:

Every year, I walk into my room and try something different. Often it is a result of something I’ve read, some experience I’ve had, from going to an EdCamp in West Virginia and seeing their flexible seating, to hearing a keynote at a district PD and seeking to read more about it. Last year, my catalyst was two-fold. First, I heard Dr. Corey Seemiller speak about Generation Z, and I checked out her book, Generation Z Goes to College.  Then I attend Inspire 2017, where I learned about LRNG. That’s when I knew that 2017-18 was going to be different.

Because I teach dual-enrollment courses, I knew I was working within the constraints of my approved college syllabus. That being said, I wanted to make the experience more meaningful to my Gen Z students. This first blog post will describe how I transformed their interview analysis paper into a meaningful case study of a professional. Subsequent posts will detail how I transformed their research papers, persuasive projects, and final exams.

As with every school year, step one required me to do some deep diving into who they were as people.

To get to know the students, and for them to get to know themselves, I asked students to take the Holland Code profile test. I grouped students together, based on their Holland code profile. The Holland code is one way to determine which profession is a best fit, and it is one way to explore life after high school.

In groups based on class period and interest, students determined which profession most interested them to interview. They completed this badge on interviewing professionals and went as a group to interview an expert. This interview became the primary source document for their case study paper. Although each group member had the same audio, the papers were very different, based on the student’s own context. This part was successful.

Here’s what went wrong: some students were badly placed with professionals. Others had trouble getting their professional to follow through.  Some found that they could not get detailed answers from their interviewee. Some found the whole experience not as meaningful as I would like. So here’s how it’s going to go differently, next year.

The first problem was the way students determined their future professional interests.  Instead of asking students to take the ONET Holland Code test, I might have students try the Ohio Means Jobs Career Cluster profile, so they could work towards the OhioMeansJobs-Readiness Seal. In this way, they are not only preparing for the future, they are hopefully getting a more accurate description of what they want to be when they leave high school.

The second problem was the meaningful connection to area professionals. Luckily, one of my colleagues is looking at having a Career Fair in the fall, and she wants students to be able to job shadow a professional for a day. If my students coupled job shadowing with interviews, then they would have much more meaningful case study papers.

If you would like copies of any of my materials, from the question template I provided to the reflection I had students write about the interview process, please contact me in the comments below.

“From the darkness comes a train, cutting through the myst” by Stefan Insam is shared under a CC by SA 2.0 license