As most of you know, I teach 9th grade English at a public high school in a middle-upper class suburb of Houston, Texas. My school particularly is different than many other public high schools because we currently have the most diverse student body in the state of Texas. In the majority of my classes white is the minority. And that is rare.
Diversity is important. Especially when you’re 14-15 years old because you are just starting to figure out how the world works and how harsh and unforgiving it can be. But also how beautiful and bright and full of hope it can be at times. As a teacher, I see my students sharing their opinions and views on different things and a lot of the time I am proud. Sometimes I am not. Sometimes I have to remind myself that they are 15 and what that entails.
My kiddos are all in the process of reading To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee right now. It is one of my favorite novels of all time and one of my favorite novels to teach because of its relevancy to our current lives. I read it three years ago with a group of 10th graders in Costa Rica during my student teaching, and even then the students grasped onto it and were able to see themselves in the characters. They were able to make links from the text (published in the 1960s, set in the 1930s) to their current lives.
For those of you who haven’t read it, DO IT. You will not regret it. But it deals with otherness and racism and growing up and why things happen the way they do and justice. Two weeks ago, my Pre-AP classes finished the book and the majority of them were so enthralled in it. They were so upset when the verdict to the trial was revealed because they are young and they still had the tiniest bit of hope that good things happen to good people, and they were outraged. As a teacher, I didn’t even have to teach them to feel that. They felt it on their own.
They had a self led group discussion (Socratic seminar, for those of you who are familiar), and they spoke so candidly about their own experiences with racism and otherness. They spoke of Trayvon Martin, Eric Garner, Tamir Rice, Michael Brown, and Sandra Bland. They spoke on Black Lives Matter and Police Brutality. The spoke on cases of people being accused of crimes they did not commit. Students from various backgrounds and walks of life were able to come together and speak about these topics all because of a novel written by a white woman in the 1960s. Pretty incredible. No one argued or debated. They just shared and it was beautiful.
There are many times as a teacher where I feel like I can’t relate to my students at all. Like we are from two different worlds. That they don’t understand what is going on around us, and some of them don’t. Some of them refuse to see it. But it is moments like this where I feel such immense pride and faith in the future of our world. Our lives might be a shit storm right now because of all the terrible things going on around the world, all the suffering that is happening, but there are 15 year olds who are awake. They know what is going on and they see themselves in it.
Of course not every teenager is like this, but they all have the potential to be. It is these little glimmers of hope that propel us forward. I have all the faith in the world in the future of our country, even in these dark times. Mostly because of the students I have sitting in my classroom every day. Sometimes they are absolute assholes and I want to strangle them, but they have so much potential within them. They are the most tangible representation of hope that we have.