As I sit here, I’m not quite sure where to begin writing. Reflecting on the week’s, month’s, year’s events, I am saddened by the state of our world and the society where our young people are expected to find their place. This past year I taught at an urban school. My students came from all backgrounds, races, countries, economic status, and family make up. My students had a variety of obstacles during the year. Many were miles below grade level while many were miles ahead. Many took care of siblings while parents worked while others worked themselves. I had students from single parent homes, students from broken homes, students from two parent homes. I had students who had experienced gang activity and the prison system while others imagined they were far, far away from that world. But no matter the class makeup, we all had educational goals to accomplish. These students were a family. They came to school everyday, despite their many differences, and succeeded.
As I sit here and reflect on the recent deaths – Philando Castile, Alton Sterling, and 5 Dallas police officers – I anticipate questions from this group of students. Why did this happen? Why were these men apprehended? Why were the police killed if they were helping the protest? When will this stop? At the beginning of the year, I was nervous to have these conversations with my 6th and 8th graders, believing that I was there to teach reading skills and grammar, and that these conversations should happen in Social Studies or at home. I was terrified to say the wrong thing, and so instead I said nothing.
Saying nothing is worse than saying the wrong thing, especially to a group of middle school students. They are receiving information from social media, their friends, the news, parents, but they do not know how to process it. As educators, we can and should have these tough conversations with our students. We should be willing and able to help our students navigate these situations by finding the facts, by finding the heroes, by finding support, and by finding an individual outlet. Many of my students merely wanted an outlet; with so many feelings, they needed a way to channel their emotion productively. Eventually we began writing about these feelings. My students wrote poetry, songs, stories, all from the heart. They wanted to share their thoughts and opinions. They had an outlet and someone to listen to them.
http://www.tolerance.org has wonderful resources to help teaching about any difference. They published a package of resources in August 2014 in response to the Michael Brown shooting. While several of these resources are specific to Ferguson and Michael Brown, many others are applicable to today’s events as well. Other resources and articles you may find helpful are: