When I opened this blog, I stated my intent to share my stories and the stories of others in an attempt to further the practice of instilling teacher identity into education. I posited that in doing so, our students would become more successful because of a more honest attempt at learning as opposed to just schooling. However, after the events of the last few days in Louisiana, Minnesota, and Texas, I am at a loss of how to do that. I believe that I made an honest mistake in my opening. I expressed the idea that I could help provide answers without leaving room to ask questions. And now, as I continue my soul searching to understand my identity and its effects on my classroom, I need help. I have questions I must ask. I am conflicted.
To start, I need to say that I can empathize with the peoples of color community. As a Jewish man with family who survived Russian persecution, I get it. As a member of a “free America,” I have faced antisemitism around me. I get it. Because of this, I feel the need to defend the defenseless. My sense of justice is overactive, but worthwhile. This is extremely visible in my classroom as I create my community. I don’t yell at students unless they step across my one line in the sand; they cannot be derogatory towards anyone for anything. Then I yell, and I yell hard. I won’t apologize for that. My understanding of life through my Jewish lens shows up in my class and this makes sense to me. I have no questions here. Here is the problem, however. I am, at the end of the day, white. When I need to blend in to be safe, I know how because of experience, because of know-how, and most importantly/unfortunately, because I am white.
Look at my family. If ever they came for us, we could “disappear.” We are as white as white can be.
And here is where my role as a global citizen meets with some dissonance in the classroom. Who am I to talk when it comes to the #blacklivesmatters movement? Sure, I consider myself an ally, though I certainly could and should be doing more. Sure, I say I would step up and defend someone of color if I saw wrongdoing, but I cannot say with certainty as I have never been in that situation. What credibility do I have? I am just another white guy hashtagging, or at least one of my students could say that. I am open to honest discourse, but how do I engage the issues while seeming genuine. After Michael Brown and Treyvon Martin, my students told me quite forcefully that I had no right to talk about the issue. While I disagreed with them, their pain was theirs and I gave them the space they clearly needed. I am a white guy who wants my students safe from cops, from each other, and from the terrible aspects of society. How do I express this care to them while not being discredited as being just another white guy shouting the latest victim’s name on Facebook from my couch ?
And how do I show them that cops lives’ DO matter as well as black lives? How do I show them my belief that to separate the issues into mutually exclusive concepts is actually counterproductive?
Which brings me to my last question. Where does my responsibility end in regards to my classroom environment? My wife brought a great point to me today. We walk into the classroom every day and are expected to give them social-emotional educations. Our schools are expected to feed the kids. We are social workers, advocates, and at times, more parental than the students’ parents. Yet, there are moments like this one where there is evidence of a teacher’s personal agenda goes too far. I am happy to share my beliefs. I am happy to guide students as they discover their own beliefs. Yet, how do I bring in my personal beliefs that are present through my own Judaism? How do I engage students in the hurtful, difficult discussions that they need to process the world around them? How do I do all of this while not “crossing the line?”
How do we as teachers and citizens engage in this conversation in a balanced, thoughtful, and open way while maintaining our own identities?