— Inland Empire EdChat (@ieedchat) June 13, 2016
This has been a really tough prompt for me. I feel uncomfortable. There hasn’t been a lot of hate in my life, and tragedy doesn’t stick with me for as long as it seems to with others.
First, let me address the last statement. Tragedy exists, and our awareness of it is higher than it ever was, I think. But I feel uncomfortable because for me sometimes it almost feels like the media has done to tragedy what Facebook has done to friends. It saddens me to hear about unnecessary death and destruction in the world, but I also don’t often have a contextual relationship with the victims in these situations. That lack of relationship is actually what I think the problem is with hate in the first place.
When I think of the classroom, and unnecessary pain or victimization, I remember a very specific day, my third year of teaching. I’m walking by a girl and notice her whisper to another student. I’m still learning what to filter and what to take note of as a teacher. Some actions require guidance, and many do not. I don’t remember what was said in the whisper, but I remember writing it off as innocent and non-disruptive. Somehow another girl didn’t filter it the same way.
Amy: “What’d you call me b*tch?! You don’t have to whisper. Say it to my face. Let’s go.”
Brianna: “Who do you think you are, b*tch. I’m not afraid of you.”
Amy: “I ain’t afraid of you. Right now, let’s go”
That all happened in a maybe 2 seconds. Somehow I hit the right button in my response.
Me, sternly: “Amy, why are you yelling? I bet you don’t even know what Brianna said. You assumed something but you attacked without even knowing. And you, Brianna, I don’t get why you’re yelling either. Amy, ask Brianna what she said. No yelling.
Amy: “What’d you say about me?”
Brianna: “Nothing. Not about you. It’s other stuff.”
Brianna became a little embarrassed at this point as her whispers were now almost public knowledge.
Amy: “Then why’d you yell?!”
Me: “Amy, not like that.”
They softened their stature a little, shoulders dropped, and faces relaxed.
Brianna: “You yelled at me. I guessed you were coming at me.”
They both paused here. Didn’t say anything for what felt like a full minute but was probably more like 5 seconds.
Amy: “Mr. B, why don’t other teachers do that.”
Me: “Do what Amy?”
Amy: “Talk to us like people. Not like trash to throw out of class.”
This is the moment where my understanding of students as humans, and how often teachers, students, and many other groups forget that people are human and should be treated as such. The challenge I noticed in reaching an understanding of how to treat your peers, with kindness and with sympathy, is that it takes time, honesty, and human interaction to get there.
So what do I do in a classroom when tragedy takes place on the other side of the country/world? Sadly there’s not much conversation regarding that incident so far away. My discomfort with the topic is that I don’t know the people, and I struggle with talking about them with context, information, or getting to know the situation. But, it is always a good reminder that if we take a minute to get know each other, hate will often dissipate quickly as if it were never there. This isn’t to say that everyone will naturally get along, but it is to say that learning more about people and their background often makes it hard to hold them in contempt. Another imbalance I feel with this perspective is the presence of justice, and what does it mean to truly balance social justices. That’s also uncomfortable for me to write about, and probably the real reason it took me so long to write this.
Amy and Brianna got along for the rest of year, probably better than the average relationships of most of my students.