Caroline in the Delta

Closing the Teach For America Blogging Gap
Mar 03 2012

Enforcing LGBT respect in a sixth grade Delta classroom. Speaks for itself.

Tuesday I wrote in my paper journal, before school:

Regardless, it’s time to go to school. New day, supreme happiness will sneak in! Something glorious will happen! I can’t wait to find out what it is! Talent show auditions and happy students and fantastic things I am so excited for! Happy Tuesday, self-proclaimed best day of the week! Here we go here we go. Once these teeth are brushed, the excellence will surely begin!

I write ridiculous affirmations like this on paper constantly, especially before 7am, usually to calm anxious nerves. That day I was just particularly tired and not interested in going to school. But it was a self-proclaimed prophesy.

Second period, the same class that had the huge crying-fest, talk-about-death-and-bullying conversation, decided to yell, collectively, “STOP BEING GAY” repeatedly outside my door before entering my room.

I was slightly upset already because first period was a little messy (my fault), so I stepped outside and immediately sent two students (with a history of raised voices and standard attitude problems) directly to the office. I then turned on stern voice, telling students we would not say a word entering the room. I paged the office to send the girls back once they were calm and without attitudes (no write up, no consequence aside from that), and immediately after they sat down, I began a conversation about LGBT social justice and awareness.

Students took turns explaining their few experiences with LGBT issues. The biggest heartache was when I said, “Raise your hand if you know someone gay,” and about 80% of student hands went up. I optimistically followed up with, “Keep your hand up if you care about that person.”

I did not expect all but two hands to fall, but they did. This incensed me more.

“You don’t understand,” I said. “The Delta is behind. We are behind. Up north, and on most college campuses and big cities, a gay person is just like any other person. To say ‘that’s gay’ and mean it’s stupid is to directly insult me, because I have so many family members and best friends that are gay.”

My favorite was talking to Kedrian (who, when another student informed us he knew someone “Who is trying to be straight” responded with “Oh, that’s good”). I said, “Would it make sense for me to go up to something I don’t like and say, ‘Ew, that’s so black.’” He shook his head and said no. “Well saying, ‘Ew, that’s so gay‘ is the exact same thing.”

The conversation did not win over hearts, did not flash lightbulbs over heads, did not enlighten 24 little brains. But it did create a forum where students could honestly ask and talk about what they have seen. Boys making out in cars; a lesbian couple’s baby dedicated in a local church (!!); a dad who said that “Gay people are going to hell.” I was so uncomfortable at first, worried I’d misrepresent the LGBT community or present things in a bad way. Then I stopped to think about it. To think that literally my two best friends since seventh grade are gay, that multiple family members are gay, that I’ve attended countless LGBT events and panels and diversity trainings, that I’ve helped co-workers get dressed in drag and cheered them on as they performed… if anyone is well-versed in LGBT issues that these students trust, it’s going to be me. I can’t worry about accidentally misrepresenting; I should worry more about not representing at all.

 

HIGHLIGHTS

All week my students have been reading this article about Melba Pattillo and the Little Rock Nine for homework. Today they brought in two paragraphs explaining what they would do if they were in Melba’s shoes. Would they go? Would they be able to handle constant harrassment all the time because of the color of their skin? Students had fantastic answers… and it was a homework assignment!

My lowest class average for homework this week was 75%. Getting there.

Sarah got a trunk of artifacts from Central High in Little Rock, and today I borrowed it to use with my kids. I am trying to live the whole student-centered thing, trying to relax, give them the reigns, see how they work when I’m not micro-managing.

This was extremely difficult today, but accomplished, I’d say. Students were divided into groups. Each group had directions, an artifact, and a short passage about the artifact. They discovered what it was, learned about it, then explained how the artifact related to the Little Rock Nine (ex. with a record, “Melba probably listened to music on records with her friends. They’re kind of like CDs”)

I told my students in advance that today was Central High day, to close out Black History Month. As a result, from the reading and this expectation, I had two girls do things that made me feel like a real teacher.

  1. Ria told me her mom read the Melba Pattillo story I sent home, and now they both really wants to read Warriors Don’t Cry, Melba’s autobiography. I brought in a copy today for her to look at and her eyes were so round my teacher heart melted.
  2. Kathy came in with a manila folder today, which she handed to me. Students have been working on a black history report for social studies, which I assumed the folder was. Wrong. When I looked through I found about 10 photos of Central High and various history events surrounding the Little Rock Nine integration events. Next to most pictures were one to five complete sentences describing the photos. She printed them out last night, took the time to caption them, and brought them in specifically for me to look at and to share with the class. WHAT?! This is not your standard over-achiever, she might have a B in my class, but she was invested in the information and so excited to share that she had actually been to the school. The amazing-factor of this event took a few hours to sink in, but sink in it did.

THE CULMINATION

After these events, at midnight on Wednesday night, I had a revelation: my students will write a collaborative research paper on social justice.

I’m going to show Horton Hears a Who, and base everything on the Dr. Seuss (happy birthday!) quote, “A person’s a person, no matter how small.” We’ll talk about different groups that have fought for equality, where they’ve failed, where they’ve succeeded, and where those issues are now. Students will break into groups, and each group will study a separate issue (gender equality, racial equality, LGBT equality, etc.) The end of their reports will be a call to action for themselves and their community, and I CANNOT WAIT TO GET THIS INTO A POST-BENCHMARK UNIT PLAN.  Any ideas to supplement, encourage, or help me get started (never planned a research paper before, but I have ideas) are more than welcome.

Happy ProSat, Delta.

3 Responses

  1. Kate

    LOVE! Let’s talk about planning for the research paper!

  2. jersey

    This is absolutely amazing to hear! I’ll be teaching in ENC next year, and one of the things I’m worried about is making sure if situations like the one you describe arise, I handle them properly. Please keep us updated on how this research paper goes!

  3. Across Campus

    Bravo, Caroline.

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