Closing the Teach For America Blogging Gap
Feb 09 2010

I wish I taught social studies

ughhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh district standardized testing yesterday and today. Nothing stresses me out more. Don’t make me think about it.

In between testing sessions, we were supposed to do census lessons (see I’m really glad we were given time to do that – it’s impossible to teach kids math while they’ve been testing all day, and the kids definitely need the civic education. It’s especially urgent because I work in a population that is historically underrepresented in the census, and the idea is to get the kids to convince their parents to participate.

Somehow that conversation yesterday turned into an amazing conversation about immigration. One girl started it with a comment about how immigrants take all the jobs, and my 94% Mexican classroom erupted. It turned into me trying desperately to moderate a stunningly passionate debate. It was most of the class against one or two kids, and all the classic pro and con immigration arguments came out in full force. There were more and less offensive moments of the conversation, but I checked with the kids over and over to make sure they were all comfortable, and we closed it with a discussion of trusting eachother’s intentions and the importance of understanding the other side.

Today the kids BEGGED me to continue the conversation. I was thrilled to have them so interested in something, but this time I insisted on guiding it more. First I pushed them to think beyond the Mexican-US border, which was quickly turning into attacking the one anti-immigration kid and calling him racist against Mexicans. We talked about the civil war in the Sudan (aHEM it’s not all about Mexicans) and whether or not it’s ever okay for a country to not let in needy outsiders. I brought up the economics issue, and explained to the kids that if we let in everyone from other countries, that’s less money available for their school lunches, our classroom supplies, local community centers, etc. They’d clearly never thought about this perspective, but that also didn’t stop them. Most kids claimed to be willing to give up more of their own things if it would help someone else, because most of them have close experience with someone needing to get to the US.

Then a girl who hadn’t spoken up stole the show. She raised her hand to tell us that the sneakers she was wearing were the same sneakers she’s had since 6th grade. (Note: think about how fast kids GROW at this age!) Her dad is working hard in hopes of one day being able to buy her new shoes, but he isn’t there yet. Her voice broke like she was going to cry, and I had to stop my instinct to hide her from the rest of the classroom. But she kept talking, because she wanted us to understand that she would happily give up those new sneakers – and whatever little else she has – if it meant better opportunities for someone who needed it. Her dad was given an opportunity and is fighting his hardest for her, and she wants others to be able to do the same.

When she stopped talking, I was terrified of the middle school response. Instead, one boy called out kindly, “I think she needs a hug!”  The class then broke into APPLAUSE. I love my kids. They love each other… and I’m so proud of how big their hearts were. Moments that make me want to cry: that one.

One Response

  1. This entire post just gave me a mental breakdown and made me cry. Immigration is a topic close to my heart as well and to hear from kids going through it first hand probably would’ve pushed me over the edge.

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