What happened in my classroom on Friday? I am still in awe, still processing, and I don’t know what to say. But I’ll try.
By the time sixth period rolled around, I had moved all the way from plan A to plan G. The copiers were down — no articles to read or review sheet competitions. Our class sizes were small — no new content to provide. My fall finals hadn’t been graded — no student-teacher conferences or grade discussion. Beyond that, it was Friday, and Fridays are always tricky to navigate. In most of my classes, I had opted to play a game to engage in a little bit of culture-building, but when seven students showed up to sixth period, even that felt like a stretch. My kids were antsy, ready to test my patience, and I decided to opt out. Rather than coercing them to engage in some type of activity, I pulled a Hail Mary and did the unthinkable — gave them free time.
As I walked from the front of the room to my desk, I offered a single question to the class, in hopes that it would lead to something semi-meaningful: “what are your plans for college?”
What happened next is where I stop understanding things. My sixth period — my notoriously rowdy and often inappropriate sixth period — began to have a conversation about motivation and education and race and class. They talked about their perceptions of racial discrimination. They questioned whether race or class has a greater effect on success. They talked about frustrations they had with their education — not just school policies, but with the system as a whole. They tapped into something real.
I was speechless.
Every day, I walk into a classroom full of students who are wise beyond their years — wiser than I am — about the world that they live in. They don’t always act like it, but it’s true. They are incredible. Where I am blind, they are perceptive and analytical and aware. I felt like John Smith after meeting Pocahontas – so many things I never knew I never knew.
In those moments, I listened to my students engage each other as mature adults. I witnessed them tackle issues bigger than any of us. I sat, often silent — in awe of the situation, and also unsure of what to say. I felt so proud of my students, and yet I felt so separate from them. For the first time, I was abundantly aware that I was the only white person in the room.
So, where do we go from here? How can this conversation, this elevation of the classroom, become a part of a meaningful vision for my students? I have no clue what to say or what to do about it — but I know something powerful happened in A209 on Friday. For me, at least. I can only hope they carried some piece of it with them, too.