As teachers we know it is part of our job to help shape students into the best people they can possibly be. But sometimes they tune us out–maybe more than just “sometimes.” I find that the students I work with are usually very vocal about their feelings and thoughts, and because they feel “safe” expressing themselves, they sometimes push their words too far.
I have a student this year who is struggling with his beliefs about other cultures. Alright, he tends to be outright prejudice, even racist. I’ve worked with our school’s diversity and equity office to get resources to help shape lessons and the other teachers at the school are all helping with this shaping as well. I almost think it’s reached the point where he just tunes out the adults because we’ve been working on this for so long now. Our goal is to educate him to help sway his beliefs (which, obviously, are based on ignorance and misunderstanding). I feel like we’re not getting anywhere.
Yesterday, to my surprise (and joy), this matter came to a crisis point. The student said something prejudiced in class, and just as I was about to give feedback to the student, another student piped in, angrily, and said, “I’m so sick of your racist views; no one wants to hear that anymore. Just shut up. No one smart thinks those things about anyone.” Everyone in the classroom was hushed for a moment as the power of peer feedback sank in to our brains. I was so proud of this kid; it was exactly what I was thinking–but couldn’t say.
The student who has been struggling with his views this school year stormed out of the room, clearly angry–but probably embarrassed, maybe even stunned. When I went to talk to him a few minutes later, I asked him what he thought happened there. He said, “I hate that kid.” I asked him to talk more about that and it came out that no one had ever said anything like that to him before and walked away unscathed. He said he didn’t really think he was bothering anyone when he talked about his neighborhood. I told him, “It does bother people.” He finally agreed to go back to class and said that he wouldn’t talk like that in school anymore. For me, it’s one more step forward with this student. It was one of those moments that makes me proud to be a teacher.