Friday, March 18, 2011

March 18th, 2011 - Don't Be a Hater!

Happy Weekend everyone! It’s around 6:30 and I just got up for a nap that I took to prepare myself for going out later. It’s been a long week, as always, and I’m definitely looking forward to dancing tonight! The weather has been holding up and it feels like we’re almost to the point of summer already. It’s still March and I think we’d all better be wary that it could still turn cold. It’s nice anyway and it’s supposed to stay that way through the weekend so I’m going to enjoy it while it lasts, though it’s giving the kids some serious spring fever and making my life difficult in the process.


Something happened towards the end of the day at school today that really got to me. You see, I have a break during 9th period, the last of the day and I normally take a walk outside my room either to grab a cup of coffee or get some adult interaction after five straight periods of being with kids. It was at that time today that I ventured outside of my classroom when I immediately ran into a substitute teacher that I know pretty well.

She told me something that had happened in her previous class that disturbed her, and it disturbed me after I heard it. Two of my students, Jonathan and Jose, were in their math class and a couple of kids were apparently saying things to them about being Hispanic, and they were not very nice things. The teacher looked up to see Jonathan with his face buried in his folded hands on his desk. He was crying. That’s what told me this was serious.

I’ve had Jonathan in my ESL class since he was in 3rd grade. Now he’s in 9th. Jonathan’s always been a little tough guy. I remember when he was 8 years old he was bullying some kids in the playground and I had to get a local Puerto Rican woman to come help me explain to him in Spanish the do’s and don’ts of playground etiquette. As he got older and learned to speak English, Jonathan kept on being brazen, never afraid to stand up to someone bigger or older than himself.

This is all not to say that Jonathan is a bad kid. Quite the contrary, even though he’s 15 years of age now, he’s still got a babyish side to him and he can be very sweet at times. But in 8 years of teaching him I’ve never seen him cry.

I found out what class Jonathan was in and I went to fetch him to find out what happened. As soon as he saw my face in the window he got up to come meet me. He knew why I was there. We took a walk down to my classroom and he had his head down the whole time. He told me what had happened in class and that what really made him cry was the fact that the boy was teasing Jose and Jose didn’t even know it because of his lack of English.

“Is this the first time?,” I asked him.

“No, it happens every day, all the time. They’re always calling us ‘Mexicans.’” Apparently, ‘Mexican’ is the newest derogatory word for Hispanics.

As we got to my room, he kept going, detailing all of the things he hears on a daily basis. He was crying and after a little while he even made me start to tear up. (He even grabbed me a tissue when he noticed.) I made sure that he knew to come to me when stuff like this happens so I can do something about it. He said he would, but our relationship is like that of a father and son and we all know that kids don’t always like to share things like this with their parents.

I was fuming. I could never understand hatred of any kind, especially because someone’s skin is a different color than one’s own. I work in a school district that’s 95% mid to upper class white, and I’ve had to deal with this sort of thing before. For the first two years I worked there, there were a lot of people who wouldn’t give me the time of day. They’d turn their heads away from me as I walked past them in the hallways or ignore me completely when I had something to say. I was once told that this was because I taught the “dark children.”

I’m now almost at the end of my 8th year there and before today I thought I’d changed things a lot around there. I’ve published a yearly ESL Magazine that always elicits empathy from readers for my students and things have gotten so much better over the years because of it. I wrote an article about the publication, which you can read here:

Breaking Down Barriers in Prejudice

Hearing what I heard today was upsetting, to say the least. What makes matters even worse is that I know where these kids get it from…their parents. One of my favorite sayings is “don’t be a hater.” I could never understand what makes people hate so much, especially for such innocuous stuff like this. What makes me sad is that I don’t see how things are ever going to change if it’s the children that are perpetrating the hate, whether they can realize it or not. So please, if you have any influence over any child, do your part to see that hate words hurt and there should be no place for them in anyone’s language.

Can you guess which two of these students get picked on for being different? I bet you can!

Stay tuned for more…

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