Over the Thanksgiving break, I was once again reminded of how blessed and privileged I am. I grew up in a two-parent household, where both parents are educated, employed, and involved in their children’s lives. All four of my grandparents are still living and are still together, and I have plenty of aunts, uncles, and cousins who are equally as involved as a family. I have two siblings who are healthy and happy, and I have great relationships with both of them. My family is financially secure enough to live comfortably and help send us through college. Whenever I think about how lucky I am to live the life I lead, I remember that we need to use our privilege to help those who may not have what I have. I think that’s a big reason why I am so passionate about education. If I can use my job to impact somebody’s life for the positive, then I believe that I am doing the what I am supposed to do.
This past week, I’ve been spending a lot of time organizing and manning donation drives for Kappa Delta Pi, an education honor’s society. We’ve been collecting school supplies, jackets, and monetary donations to benefit the local schools and students. I am blown away by the community’s generosity! We haven’t yet sorted through the donations, but we have received more than I had ever imagined we would. This experience makes me think about all of the kids who do not have the means to buy their own supplies. According to Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, students cannot learn unless they have everything they need to be safe and healthy. I know it is unrealistic to expect individual teachers to supply everything their students need, but I believe that it is our duty to try our best to help where we can. One way teachers could help is to try to implement donation stations in schools. These are places where donations of supplies, clothes, and sanitary items are stored so that students in need can discretely collect what they need. These stations would allow for students to worry less about being cold or unprepared, and focus more on school.
I grew up with a frequently mispronounced name. I never felt offended when someone butchered my name, my family even has a running competition on who can get the funnest attempt. However, I do understand the frustration of having a name that no one can pronounce. Even though I think it’s funny when strangers mispronounce it, I recently was told by a close friend that she didn’t know how to spell my name, and I was stunned. It made me realize that the offense comes from when someone does not make an effort to learn a name. Last week in class, Dr. Brocato spoke about the importance of learning your students names. Even just listening to the class discussion I fully agreed with the lesson, but the full impact did not hit me until the next day. I went to observe at Starkville High for my methods class, and I overheard a student conversation regarding another one of the student’s teachers. This student claimed that her teacher had nicknamed her “Rebe” because Rebecca was too much to say/write. I could tell that this really bothered her, and she was reaching the point in which it was impacting her view of the teacher. All in all, I realized that just making a visible effort to learn your students’ names is one of the easiest ways to positively impact your students’ lives.
Over the past few weeks, I’ve been thinking about stereotypes and their impact on an individual’s self-identity. If someone is being stereotyped, they can easily fall into a self-fulfilling prophecy and start acting the stereotype. This is called stereotype threat. It is a common problem among students, with some examples of it being that girls aren’t good at math, black people aren’t academic, and Asians are always good at math. In the case of most stereotypes, the stereotyped group either passively accepts the stereotype or goes against the stereotype. Fighting the stereotype is where stereotype threat comes in. In most cases, going against a stereotype leads in resistance from both the stereotyped group, and the stereotyped subject’s group. For example, if all girls are bad at math, when a girl expresses an interest in math, she can be ostracized or her thoughts on the subject can be dismissed. Stereotype threat comes in when the individual is consistently dismissed or ostracized for their interest, and so the individual re-identifies themselves so that the stereotyped subject is no longer a part of their identity. As teachers, we need to be aware of this threat and how to combat it in our classrooms. The biggest strategy is to just get to know your students as individuals. If they are reminded of their individuality every day, then they are less likely to fall prey to whatever stereotype is attacking them. Some other strategies are to highlight diverse role models, maintain high expectations for everyone, and encourage intrinsic motivation. If you can fight the stereotype threat in your students, then their motivation in the classroom will increase exponentially.
This semester, I’ve learned so much about social justice, both in and out of the classroom. Through classroom discussion and the two projects, I’ve learned more than I ever thought I could about social justice. I’m so glad that I chose the trade book that I did, because much of what I’ve learned this semester comes from what Jo Boaler wrote about in “What’s Math Got to do with it?” I’ve learned that textbooks and standardized testing are discriminatory towards minority and low-achieving students, that stereotypes, whether they’re perceived or real, can strongly impact a student’s performance, and that society is often confused about racism and discrimination as a whole. Overall, I’ve learned that you can never stop learning about social justice, both personally and professionally. It’s important to keep in mind that if you’re not careful it is very easy to hurt someone, so you need to make every effort to be conscious of the social justice in your life.
This week, a topic that stuck out to me was being aware of the things that you say and the way they affect others. A classmate brought up microaggressions during his presentation this week, and encouraged the class to examine their pasts to see if they could find any instance in which they had contributed to microaggressions. It made me realize that when I was in high school, I unknowingly may have caused some offense to some friends that were of different races. This is important to realize because it means that I can make a point to combat microaggressions in my classroom. Simply making an effort to watch what you say as a teacher is an essential first step, but making sure that the students in our classrooms also are aware of what they say and the impact their words can have is an extremely important goal to keep in mind throughout the year.
This week, I was able to attend the Divided State of America and volunteer at an after-school program in which we played trivia games. These experiences opened my eyes to the different ways people interact with the world. Both of these events were populated with middle and high school students, and many of them are of a minority. Being able to discuss sensitive and controversial topics with these students in a safe space made me realize that even though I consider myself to be an open minded person, I had never truly put myself in a situation where my comfort zone was challenged in the way it was this week. This week has reinforced my determination to create a safe space in my classroom, where my students feel that they can discuss anything without fear of rejection or ridicule. Without the ability to challenge one’s beliefs, no change can occur. It is my responsibility as a teacher to be a facilitator of change, so creating an environment where change can occur is a necessity.