Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Baltimore, students, and making a difference

Yesterday, I wanted desperately to write about the Baltimore riots. The city that I called home for 6 years (I have lived in the Baltimore suburbs all of my life, but lived in the city for college and two years after) was experiencing turmoil and chaos after looting, property destruction, and fires were set in the wake of the Freddie Gray funeral. I decided to wait to write because it's easy to get caught up in emotions, and truly, my emotions were mixed. I put my two babies to bed with prayers for guidance and strength, but also with prayers of thanks that they are too young to understand any of what is going on. Most immediately, my thoughts turned to my students, some of whom have family members in friends who live, work, and go to school in the effected areas of the city. How would I face them with the assurance that they would need when I felt so unsure myself?

Those concerns were quickly put to rest as I listened to our students articulate their thoughts and emotions about what had happened in the city. Some felt angry and frustrated, but many felt sad and upset over the acts of violence that occurred. I was impressed by our students willingness to speak out for peace and justice in front of their peers, administrators, teachers, and community members. Our administration included community members, including parents, to the town hall held during period 1, so that they could express their thoughts, as well. I heard parents speak of how scared they are for their children. I watched small acts of bravery and courage as one-by-one students took the mic and talked. It felt safe. It felt open. It felt peaceful.

My third period class was light, only 6 students were there out of the 17 I normally teach. I didn't want to introduce Romanticism and Realism, so I decided to show them The Freedom Writer's Diary. It seemed timely as the story of Erin Gruwell and her students took place after the 1992 LA Riots. Toward the end of the section that we viewed, one of Gruwell's students reads an entry from his diary about the horrible summer that he had. He concludes the entry by saying that being welcomed back to school by his teachers and his classmates made him feel like he was home. One of my students came up to me, tears in her eyes, and said, "That part, it just reminded me of you and Mrs. Hohlfeld*. You guys make this feel like home for me, too." Well, if that doesn't just get a teacher to tear up, I am not sure what will.

My hope in all of this is that students do find sanctuary in their school. I want my students to feel included, needed, and, honestly, loved. I do value each of them for different reasons and in different ways. I hope my classroom can be that place where their voices can be heard and they can feel at home. In this time of change and turmoil, I believe that many students need this now more than ever. This is why I teach. It's why I love my job. I hope that, moving forward, Baltimore can rebuild itself and become a stronger city. I think with the voices of the kids that I witnessed it, it certainly can.

*Sarah Hohlfeld is my teaching neighbor, twin, and BFF. We have been told by multiple students that we should team teach because it would be the greatest class ever. We are certain it is really because of our awesome dancing skills.

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