I have had the opportunity to go into elementary classrooms lately. As you know my goal is to become a middle school teacher. My interest in middle school stems from a lot of reasons:
- I have realized from being a coach that I have difficulty being “huggy” or “touchy-feely” or overall sympathetic to war wounds. Being in mainly elementary schools I have concluded that there is no good way for me to deal with, “I want a bandaid ‘cuz I scratched my finger on an eraser.”
- To add to point #1 I can deal with the emotional aspect of being a pre-teen. Many of the reasons are equally as stupid but the heart hurting versus the body hurting is something I can handle.
- I get it. Kids have stuff going on at that age and I feel the last thing they need is a teacher who can’t reach them through compelling lessons and stories that captivate them.
My list could go on an on but being in elementary school lately I discovered something that I didn’t know happened before. The discussion surrounding race.
Growing up I do not remember ever being talked to about race or ethnicity. The odd time our teachers would discuss our backgrounds and where we came from but it was often in passing. I grew up in a really diverse city and my school itself was insanely diverse. A few weeks ago I was talking to a substitute teacher in the staffroom one day and was told that, “Oh, they will definitely accept you as a teacher. Not to be blunt but they really look for teachers of colour and a different ethnicity.” It took me by surprise because up until that point I was pretty sure I was even in the race just like everybody else. However that moment made me more aware that, not everybody grows up with peers named Amin or Evgueni. A completely different time, different school, a teacher comes in and is marvelled at her craft project which she has completed with her students. She is teaching them about friendship and instructs them to draw a portrait of their friends. They can’t just draw a picture though, she wants them to be specific but she gives no more details. The kids rather than reaching for peach coloured crayons or brown crayons start mixing their colours, changing the pressure of the crayon, making actual skin tones that are not just “white or brown”. She explains to them that we as people are not defined by the colours of our skin or the places where we come from. It plays just a small role in who we really are. We are what we see ourselves as and by extension by what our friends see us as. She says, “You chose to be specific about their skin tone, not just categorizing them as white or black or brown. You have recognized that even lightly toned people have different tones from other lightly toned friends or people with dark skin have many different tones of dark.” She was excited to tell us this because she said she was sick and tired of hearing examples of just caucasian people and non-caucasian people. She wanted them to see that diversity exists within races themselves, including caucasian people. Brilliant.
Her message was inspiring especially since she managed to get this through to a bunch of Grade 2s. It reminded me of that staffroom encounter where I was told I would most likely be picked because they need “more people of your background”. In life, and in any position I get, I want to be chosen because I am exceptional at what I do. If I am not right for a position, do not give it to me. I want to be chosen because I am good enough not because I am a woman or of some ethnic background other than North American. The difference that I could make would be displayed by the materials and lessons I teach, not by the colourization of my skin. We need to teach about diversity that accepts it but not as prerequisites to what makes a person capable of completing a job. That teacher closed the portrait project by getting students to write character qualities of their friends on the backs of the pictures. There is only one side of that project that matters when it comes to friendship.