I grew up in districts that were incredibly whitewashed. And even when I entered college, the English department of which I was a part was remarkably devoid of diversity. Then I came to Silsbee as a teacher, which is not exactly a melting pot, but is still much more colorful than anything I’ve experienced before.
Tolerance. Acceptance. A celebration of individuality. I’ve tried to celebrate each of these during this, my first year of teaching. I strive to create a classroom culture where everyone is welcome. I preach open-mindedness and do my best to love my students as they are. For the most part, I feel I’ve succeeded. But there have still been those moments when students accuse me of singling them out because of the color of their skin, and it makes me doubt whether I’m really upholding my philosophy. It’s easy to be tolerant in a world that looks like exactly like you do.
Diversity. Student Voice. Student Choice. Tolerance. All big buzzwords in education right now. And TCTELA was not immune. Which is why I loved it so much. I had a chance to hear from Chad Everett, who pointed out that we couldn’t praise ourselves for being tolerant when the only diversity in our lives takes place on our bookshelves. Jason Reynolds spoke to us about how his books reach so many kids because he has lived their lives in a way that many of us in that room never could. And Jimmy Santiago Baca spun a story of a life that would have defeated many, but which turned him into an artist. Each of these men spoke words that affected me in a different way, even though they were all preaching the same thing: accepting that there are those who will have lived lives I cannot comprehend, and that all some of those people need is for someone to show them kindness. I also had the chance to sit at round tables led by fantastic teams of women. Women who were not only passionate about education, but who were well-educated themselves. Having the space to converse with people who love learning as much as I do was one of the reasons I entered this profession, and it was refreshing to be a part of that.
Thanks to TCTELA, I learned that I need to be more aware of the message I’m preaching–it’s one thing to say something and another to do it. I learned that diversity is infinitely complex, and that the stories of those to whom I cannot relate (because our lives are so incredibly different) are the stories I need to be reading. And I learned that it’s never too late to redirect, and to show your students that you care.