One of my intentions for the New Year is to post at least every other week to casually share something that went well or a reflection on my classes.
Well, then 2021 hit us in full force with the attack on the Capitol on January 6. So, maybe the words “casual share” are no longer fitting, but I would still like to share how I addressed this event in my classes on January 7th.
My context: I teach high school in Western North Carolina. The amount of Trump flags I see on an average trip out of my house are innumerable. The men we saw on TV storming the Capitol are the guys I see in my local grocery store. Despite that, I also teach a truly diverse group of students coming from a variety of backgrounds that have a multitude of views and understandings. The semester just started on 1/5 but fortunately, with the exception of 2 students, they have all had me as a teacher in previous semesters. Right now I’m teaching Spanish 2, 3, and Heritage Spanish 2 to mostly juniors and seniors, and a special class that is similar to what I imagine some schools might call “Advisory” and has students in grades 9-11. We are also fully virtual right now and will probably go back to hybrid instruction on 1/19.
So, here’s how it went:
We started class as usual: ¿Cómo estás? My students were mostly feeling “feliz” (happy), but some said “frustrado” (frustrated) and one felt “enojada” (angry).
Then I brought up the previous day’s events. I told them the attack weighed on me and that I was still processing, and understand if they are also processing. I told them that I remember as a kid, none of my teachers said anything on 9/12/2001 about what had transpired the day before. My teachers were scared, they were sad, and they probably feared they wouldn’t have the answers to the questions we may ask. So, I told my students that I don’t want to be a teacher that ignores what’s happening outside of the classroom, and I want them to speak freely about current events and topics, even though I don’t have all the answers. Then I said we would be doing a quick write to be completed in the language of their choice, and I posed: What do you know? What do you think you know? What do you want to know?
They spent 5 minutes individually writing. They could share with me, or not. When time was up, they had the option to share with peers. The response was different for each class, but overall they shared for a few minutes and then they chose for us to move on to the previously planned curriculum.
So, is that it? Nope. I accomplished what I wanted today – they had the space and time to process and reflect, and then we returned to a “normal routine” because that’s what they needed in that moment. I didn’t try to do a lesson or full on discussion about the attack in Spanish because I don’t think myself or students were prepared for that, right now. The work isn’t over though – understanding the evils of white supremacy, the importance of a democratic society, and engaging in social justice will continue to be topics in my class because I’ve been working for years now on making social justice themes a core part of my curricula. I’m sure this will come up again and I hope that I’ve set a stage for students to come from a place of safety and empathy when they engage in my classes. If you felt compelled to do something in class about the events of January 6, my biggest recommendation is to be critical and thoughtful not just about what you’re doing in the days after — but what is your class doing each and every day in a way that honors and respects all students and stands up against white supremacy?
We read the article posted on Newsela and I followed the lesson plan that came with it. I didn’t ask or get to all of the discussion questions, but overall it went really well! The conversation got a bit heated at the very end and then I had a hard time getting students to mute their mics when asked so that I could remind everyone of the established norms and wrap up class. I had to send some kids to the waiting room. After that, I was able to redirect and refocus on the norms and end things in a positive way, and follow up with those that had been sent to the waiting room. Overall the kids did great with the discussion which required them to use evidence to support all of their statements. There was some controversy, some stress, and it was not an easy discussion – but we must engage in the tough topics and participate in civil discourse in schools.
What did you do on 1/7/2021? What will you do moving forward?