I have been a math teacher for 22 years. And during that time, far too many times, I haven’t paused our regularly scheduled pacing guide to have deep conversations with my students about the world they are living in. Today I made sure to carve out that space.
Actually, I made the decision to carve out space on September 30. It started with Jess Lifshitz’s Tweet. Thank you Jess, for sharing such powerful books and pushing me to constantly think about humanizing my teaching.
Though I teach 8th grade and Jess teaches elementary school, I have purchased so many books that Jess has recommended from her classroom as kids are never too old to be reading and discussing themes from children’s’ books. When my copy arrived, I eagerly read and discussed it with my two (white) sons and was fascinated how it resonated with both my 6 and 11 year olds. I already felt so much uncertainty and fear around the election and knew that whoever won, a whole lot of uncertainty and fear would remain in my students’ lives. I decided then to read it the day after the election. I’ve been holding onto it for today.
In my class we have been talking for weeks about the importance of getting everyone they know to vote. How it doesn’t matter who you vote for, but we all deserve to be heard and all our voices matter. We did math earlier this week to understand the power of the electoral college system and why swing states ultimately decide the election. And we looked at various data visualizations to build understanding of the US population and how it impacts how states vote:
But today we needed no numbers, just our humanity.
Let me take a quick thematic detour here to say that this is the first read-aloud I have done this year. OMG, the neck craning one has to do on Zoom to be able to read a book aloud while holding it close enough to the camera for students’ to see the pictures is NO JOKE. K-5 Teachers doing 100% distance learning, my heart goes out to you. It is TOTALLY not as easy as these authors make it seem.
As I introduced the book I said that I had been saving it all year to read today, the day after the election. Long before we’d know who would win (and ironically even now we don’t know), I knew that the election season would bring up a lot of hatred and fear and that all of us would feel some anxiety about what comes next, especially as we’re living through this pandemic. I shared that a huge reason why I teach is because youth give me so much hope and I love that year after year I can build a trusting, caring space that doesn’t only revolve around doing mathematics together, knowing that when the year ends each and every student will go into the world shining bright. I shared that I hoped that through talking about our uncertainty from the election we’d all feel a bit closer to one another and I was confident that this closeness would also allow us to better support one another when doing math.
After reading the story aloud, I explained that we’d spend the next 10 minutes doing 3 things:
- Everyone would write in the chat what this story makes you think about.
- Everyone would spend time quietly reading other students’ comments in the chat, scrolling back to read at whatever pace they wanted.
- Everyone would respond to at least 2 other students’ comments using the @ symbol and addressing them by name.
What they wrote was endless, powerful, brilliant, and wise. Their words, their humanity and their care for one another is so apparent. I’m only sharing bits and pieces, a mash-up of all my classes, to protect all my students’ privacy.
- I’m not a threat, I’m a child with a life.
- Yeah, me too, it’s like when I go to synagogue and there’s security guards with guns.
- I am so sorry! That is awful.
- I think about that all the time, that if EVERYONE did little things to make the world a better place there could be so much change
- I want to know more things I can do so that everyone feels safe wherever they go.
- Climate Change is really scary for me and I don’t feel that enough adults are doing anything about it.
- I hate being scared of existing in society. I’m upset that I have to be afraid.
- I’m thinking a lot about racism.
- Yes! You are entirely right. It is super messed up that people are killed and treated unfairly for who they are.
- I’m glad my whole family voted.
- I hate being scared of going out in public because I’m Black.
We will know the results of the election in the coming day or two. No matter who wins, our students are desperate for these conversations. May we always work to create the space and truly listen.