Speaking of Walls.

Blogger’s Note:  I know that I’ve drifted from posts about teaching and technology in the last few weeks (see here and here) on the Radical.  I also know that might bug some of all y’all.  Maybe they make you uncomfortable.  Maybe they seem like a waste of time.  Maybe they feel too personal or maybe they feel too slanted in one direction or another. 

If that’s what you are thinking, many apologies. 

It’s just that this space is mine.  It’s where I sometimes think about the things sitting deep in my mind — and how those things effect who I am as a person and as a teacher.  Sometimes, those things drift away from how to best structure professional learning communities or how to best incorporate student self-assessment into middle school lessons.

Hope you find value in those thoughts, too.  

Speaking of Walls.

I’m struggling today, y’all.

I’m thinking a TON about a girl that I had in my class a few years back who was in the country “illegally”.   Her family had come here from Central America to escape complete turmoil in her home country.  She was a happy kid who contributed in our classroom day after day and who was learning a ton along the way.

In fact, I had no idea that her family had crossed the border illegally until she came to me one day and said, “I’m really scared, Mr. Ferriter.”  

When I asked her why, she told me that the word was out in her neighborhood that ICE was going to come door-to-door looking for “illegals.”

It was big news at the time — partly because the order had been given by the Obama administration and partly because Donald Trump was running for President and insinuating that anyone with brown skin from south of the border was a gang member, a rapist or a general criminal that needed to be deported.

But it was her next words that still sit in the back of my mind and break my heart.  

She said, “My mom won’t even leave the house.  And she didn’t want me to come to school because she was afraid she’d get arrested while I was here and then I wouldn’t know what to do.  But I wanted to be here because I feel safe here.”

Can you see all that is worth seeing in that statement?  

Perhaps most importantly, it’s worth remembering that some of the kids in our classrooms are wrestling with challenges that are a helluva’ lot more important that the homework we are assigning.  Dig a little deeper when an unprepared student riles you up.  You might just find out that schoolwork is the last thing on their minds.

But it’s just as important to note that my student felt safe at school — and safe enough about the space that I’ve created that she could come and tell me something that was weighing on her.

That’s what we should be shooting for, y’all. 

Until ALL of our students — including those from family structures or countries or cultures that are maligned by “the majority” — feel welcomed and appreciated and safe and valued and seen in our classrooms, we have work to do.

And in a divided world where animosity pointed at entire groups of people seems to be everywhere — in every headline, on every newscast, all over our social spaces — our role in creating safe and open spaces for students from groups that have been marginalized is even more important.

Sure — my primary job is to teach academic content to kids.  But it’s just as important that I model acceptance of everyone — especially when the broader world doesn’t.  Academic content means nothing to kids who don’t feel like they belong.

Figured that was worth mentioning, given that our country is about to be consumed (again) by arguments over border walls and illegal immigration this week.  



Related Radical Reads:

Are YOU Standing Up for Tolerance?


Are Our Schools Safe Places for Kids who are Different?


Implicit Bias is Real (and Sneaky). Here’s Proof.


3 thoughts on “Speaking of Walls.

  1. Derrick

    I agree that it is important that students feel safe while in our classrooms. And there are many family situations that kids are in through no fault of their own. Whether it be divorce, drugs/alcohol or being in the country illegally, the parents are the ones who often bring about issues we have no control over.

  2. leadershipsoup

    Bill, it says a lot that this student felt safe at school, and safe enough with you to let you know what was going on in her family. I can’t imagine living in that type of fear and anguish. The fact that she wanted to be at school demonstrates her courage.

    I appreciate you bringing this topic up. It’s timely and important. And you’re right – the sense of belonging our students feel is fundamental to all learning. Thanks again for sharing this story and your insights.

    1. Bill Ferriter Post author

      No sweat, Soup.

      One of the things that I’m trying to do here on the Radical from time to time is help teachers realize that when we are silent in the face of inequity because we fear the potential consequences of talking about them publicly, we reinforce those same injustices in the minds of our kids. Teachers — of all people — should be willing to speak about the injustice that we see in the world around us. We give voice to marginalized students that way — and they deserve to see a person in a position of authority speaking out on their behalf.

      Anyway…thanks for stopping by.

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