This week Terence Crutcher and Keith Lamont Scott were shot and killed by cops. I read about Keith’s death in bed and was upset – I couldn’t sleep. I realized I could stay silent, or I could tell my students, who are almost all Hispanic or Black, how upset I was. I decided I could no longer be silent. I remembered Jose Luis Vilson’s saying that he told his students he loved and cared for them the first day of school and realized it was the least I could do. So that’s what I did.
With my juniors and seniors we started off class as normal with 5 ACT questions. After checking our answers, I had them direct their attention to these graphs – looking at ACT performance, broken down by race/ethnicity from the 2015 ACT Report (PDF).
I asked “What do you notice? What do you Wonder?” After a minute of think time we shared out. A couple of things that stood out:
– Students noticed how well Asians performed in comparison to others
– Students noticed that Hispanics and African Americans underperformed nationally
– One student pointed out systematic racism and wondered what the impact that has on their performance.
– “What resources do they have that we don’t? How can we get them?” was the most disheartening wonder…because sometimes it feels that we have so little and I can’t get them everything they deserve.
Here my classes diverged. With my precalculus class, I talked about why we work hard (to combat systematic racism, to make gains and improve our community). I told them I cared for and loved them. But, I didn’t have the guts to tell them why I told them today.
Calculus started the same way – then I asked”Why do you think we are looking at this today?” Students said things like “To motivate us” “To show us where people like us score.” While I validated them, I then told them the real reason.
I’m tired of black men being shot at rates that exceed that of whites.
I told my students that it feels like there is so little I can do so far away, especially as a white male. I told them how we, right now, might not be able to make the change we need, but we can make an impact on these ACT statistics by working hard. Then they, as well rounded, educated people from the community can make an impact and make much more significant change within their community than I can.
Then I said: “In case you haven’t heard recently, you should know that I love you, I appreciate you” Then I started crying so no one could understand me. I tried again:”I love you, I appreciate you. Even if no one else says it at school, we all care about you. We wouldn’t be here if we didn’t.”
I tried not to make too much eye contact cause I was crying, many of them were too.
I didn’t make too much of my conversation, since after we went back to finding implicit derivatives. I didn’t know if it made a difference to them, but it made a difference to me.
After school, I checked in with our secretary and two of my students were chatting with her. She said that students had already told her what happened in class that morning. One of the students said “I’ve never made a teacher cry” I said with a smile “Not until today” As I left, the secretary said “But that was a good cry.” She was right.
Then, two days later at our whole staff meeting another teacher well respected by students mentioned that Juniors and Seniors were touched and moved by our discussion of both data and Black Lives Matter. Once again, I was and am surprised that our ten minute divergence from math was that impactful enough to share with another person my students respect.
Was our conversation perfect? No. Has it made a bigger impact than I could possibly imagine? Yes.