A student spoke out in class today and said, “I have always disliked my English courses because of the books we read.” I was not shocked. As we continued to listen, she shared her memory of Disney’s Princess Tiana. She remembered when the movie "The Princess and The Frog" came out and she remembered why this was important to her; she saw a Black girl who was a princess. She saw herself in a piece of literature. This was followed by a young man who also shared his excitement for Black super hero’s; particularly Black Panther.
This is a writing course, but we read pieces of texts and they respond to the text to improve their writing skills. We do this so that they learn the importance of speaking skills, and to have an opportunity to use their critical thinking skills. We discuss texts and it for them it is "different and engaging that we can relate to the text" that they read in my course. I am that educator who reads it all! I don't discriminate against books, but I do know educators who do. This fails our students and we fail to be "open-minded."
We started this course off with a Washington Post article from the 1990’s; Rosa Lee by Leon Dash (https://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-srv/local/longterm/library/rosalee/part1.htm)
One student shared, “I didn’t want to stop reading and before I knew it, I read all eight parts.” We supplemented the texts with a video clip of Leon Dash sharing his purpose and vision about this article which later was turned into a book (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1INX-6HjIfU). A student shared “this fascinated me in so many ways because my family is similar to Rosa Lee’s.” I'm certain that some educators who will glance at the above text will scream that such should never be taught in a classroom and should be on the "banned" list (you should check out ALA's newest magazine about banned material). And my comments are always, we read Shakespeare and then I smile.
The latter comment of my student made me think of a candid, but fairly inappropriate question that a former colleague asked me a couple of years ago; “How do you get those type of students to learn?” Hmmmmm, those, meaning? Black? Poor? Smart? Disenfranchised? What exactly do you mean? When they first looked me in the eyes and asked that question, I had so many inappropriate comments back, but I realize that they didn’t understand: 1. The importance of diverse literature and what can constitute as literature. 2. The importance of knowing your students. 3. Most importantly being open-minded!
As educators, we spend so much time trying to be "text-book experts" and use out-dated pedagogy along with pedagogy that does not work for all students, that we forgot what it was like for us as students. We also forget that we must be willing to teach all types of students! Our students must learn more then....that out dated stuff that will make some still feel inferior to the next.
If you are anything like me, you might have failed a class or might even been ill-prepared for a class for many reasons. Although this happened, you succeeded! I have been a teacher for many years and it was not my "fall-back" plan. I have terminal degrees that would allow me to step out of the classroom, but I love it so much because we have the opportunity to challenge the young minds and#MakeThemBelieve. It is not many teachers that look like me and that have the background that I have. This does become a problem when students do not have a person that they can identify with. So, just like that time you might have needed to study a bit harder in one core area (and that didn’t mean you needed an IEP or that your parent needed to be called) that just simply meant you might have needed that teacher to remind you to study that night. Do you do this? Or do you do it for certain students?
Number 3 is an important concept because open-mindedness means a lot. It means that you need to remember that some of our students have issues that you could never even fathom. Their issues do not mean that they do not want to grow or succeed, but it means that you should challenge yourself as the educator to find a way to help that student. Put yourself in their shoes. Step out of your life and understand that students are resilient enough to withstand what they are going through, but they need you there as the motivator; the one who is encouraging the practice of self-efficacy, not the one in the break room talking about how they look, smell, or even how poorly they did on the test. This constitutes as being open-minded!
We have students that are amazing beyond words and to assist them with growth, we must be open-minded, take out judgements that we have, and love them like we love our own. Sometimes that is the only love we get.
I once spoke to a teacher that I worked with and shared with her my observation of her. I did not just go up to her, she actually came to me because she was impressed with my classroom management; it typically is a chaotic mess, but it allows the students to be themselves. She couldn’t understand why her students didn’t want to read a book about the Holocaust. It was a class full of minority males. I shared with her to juxtapose the Holocaust to the prison industrial complex system. Many had family members in prison. She shared “I don’t know anything about that.” I shared with her, “that’s great because your students can teach you and you can teach them.” Her follow up disturbed me, but I also realize that this is why we have so many of our Black and brown students that feel as if they are not good enough in schools. This is why the achievement gap...is still there. She said, I'm not going to do that and throughout the year, she constantly had issues and wrote up discipline referrals for the kids. I continued to watch her. They would walk beside her; those Black males and she would move her arm because she didn't want them to touch her. She could not be "open-minded" enough to treat them like she would her son. She was not willing to learn with them.
In "The Outliers" by Malcolm Gladwell, he discusses something that we all should also take note of in our classrooms. The social class of students we serve follow their parents behaviors. So for example, those that fall into the lower socioeconomic communities often depict the behavior of their parents when it comes to the school house; they are scared and nervous to speak with the teachers. The educators make them feel inferior. I have watched it and it hurts my heart. They are unaware of how to advocate for themselves and their parents cannot advocate because they are unsure of how to do this. When they attempt to; they are deemed as trouble makers. They have educators who are not “open-minded” and will place them in a category (sending them to receive referrals, which then will lead them to suspension and missing classroom instructional time) versus taking a moment to drive in their neighborhoods or even go to a store that either they or their parents work just to get to know where they come from. Do you know that most educators are White males and White women? The lives they live are not the same that many of our "low-performing" (I write this with lots of sarcasm). I know... you teach all day, so why do you need to see them after hours? I really had a teacher say this and clearly this is something we forget is needed. One of my favorite movies is “White Mans Burden” and it sheds light on things that still occur in 2019 with our students. If you have never watched it, you should!
So, will you be open-minded today, tomorrow, this school year, moving forward?
Let me know your plans or just share your comments!
Be willing to be that "open-minded" educator!
Kiera Vargas; JD/MLIS/MS