I have had to deal with a lot of ignorance since I've been a high school teacher. When I first started it was all about homophobia. My first few years were spent battling with students who wanted to continuously use the word "gay" in a derogatory way. I spent endless hours explaining to them that I wasn't the one turning it around to be bad...that the way they were using it was offensive.
And then it started getting better. I remember reflecting with another teacher this summer on how instead of hearing a student call something they didn't like "gay" 6 times a day, it might only happen 6 times a semester. I thought that a new generation of acceptance and love was moving into the picture - to fix the cracks and imperfections of my own generation.
Until this year.
For the first time in my career I have to deal with I never thought I would have to deal with - RACISM.
I teach at a mostly Caucasian school in what could be considered a suburban community. There is poverty at my school and there are different races - not many, but there are a few.
But I never thought I'd have to deal with racism in my classroom.
We're not talking the kind that is blatant and easy to discipline. We're talking the kind that paints Confederate flags on every piece of artwork. (Which, I acknowledge is NOT a racist act in and of itself). The kind that says nasty things under their breath as they walk past another student - something so bad that I can't even get the other student to repeat it. The kind that posts status updates on their Facebook page that rejoices that "it is the first day of Black History Month and there is a white-out". (This is total eavesdropping - I definitely did not see this person's status update on Facebook.) The kind that gets mad when there is a Malcolm X quote on the announcements because Malcolm X "was racist toward whites." The kind that you can't argue with, but the kind that is nearly impossible to protect your students from. The kind that are unapologetically respectful to everyone else - that falls within their "race". And the worst part? The kind that I genuinely get along with in my classroom.
Every teacher I talk to knows that this is going on. It doesn't seem like something that has any solution.
But you know what? I have invested interest. My heart is on the line. I don't have it in me to be a bystander....maybe before, but not now.
You see, I have two little boys that I want to grow up to love everyone. Even these guys that will inevitably say racist things to them - about them. I even want them to love them.
But not before I stop standing on the sidelines in shock - letting it happen in my presence. That is no longer an option.
I give my students a hard time when they use the word "hate" in my classroom. I always tell them that "hate fuels wars." I don't necessarily live by that philosophy....because I HATE racism.