I didn’t see this statement coming.
“Ms. Reynolds, can I just be honest? When I received the letter in the mail stating that I would be in your class, I really didn't want you as my teacher!”
Ouch! That kind of hurt. But then I asked a few follow-up questions. I refused to be offended by my sweet, blonde hair, blue-eyed, always BLUNT fifth-grade student!
Student: “Because you are black, and I have never had a black teacher, so I didn’t know what to expect!”
Me: “Okay, Well, what do you think now?”
Student: “I can't even imagine not having you as my teacher!”
Me: “That’s what matters!”
When I share this story with others, I usually get a variety of responses from “I can’t believe she said that!” to “what did you say to her?” And then there are others who simply have no words, but instead feel sad that I had to hear such a statement with my own two ears.
The honesty of children is often a hard pill to swallow, but the fact that we had the type of relationship where she felt safe enough to share her thoughts with me actually made my heart glad. I also recognized that the opportunity I had to be her teacher may have shifted the way she would forever view people that looked like me!
My student’s lack of exposure to “black people'' aided in a slight fear or unnecessary reservation of me. How many of us can relate to this? The fear of the unknown.
We as adults may contemplate hundreds of questions when considering the impact an unfamiliar experience might potentially have on us. I often wondered if she had learned about any wonderful African Americans during social studies lessons. And had she, could that have made her excited, instead of apprehensive about having me as her teacher?
Thinking back on this conversation I had with my student makes me really appreciate the purpose of Black History Month.
Black History Month, which began as Black History week in 1926, was created to intentionally recognize the remarkable achievements of black people. Because Black History Month highlights the genius contributions, exceptional creativity, and the determination of black people to overcome unbelievable adversity, it is a wonderful time to learn about and celebrate black people who have done incredible things.
I believe that we should continually learn of the extraordinary accomplishments of Native Americans, Women, Hispanics, Asians, Jewish, and every group of people often overlooked or left out of American History books. It is unfortunate that we have to set aside certain days or months to reflect on and appreciate one another, but what I will admit is that doing so often forces us to take time to educate ourselves.