Friday, May 26, 2017

Year 7: Week 35 – Holding All The Different Feelings

In the documentary, Hamilton’s America, Christopher Jackson talks about struggling with how we think about George Washington. He explains how we have to be able to admire him for his great work for the country, and at the same time, acknowledge the fact that he owned slaves.

This past week, there has been moments with my students with my students when I am holding different feeling and thoughts about my students at the same time. During a 3rd grade class, a student joked that I had an Afro hairstyle. I was annoyed at this interruption and that fact the students were inappropriately laughing at his comment and at me. However, as I began explaining the history of the Afro and the meaning of hairstyles in different cultures, I began to feel pride. The way the student listened and were receptive to my lesson, showed that they more than interested in why the Afro joke was not appropriate. At a certain moment there interest turned into a genuine interest and fascination with what hair means to culture and people’s identity.

My 6th graders have been making great progress. However, they are struggling to maintaining attention to the lesson after we are done playing. It was actually really effective when I told them that I had two conflicting thoughts in my head. I was proud of them musically and at the same time I was frustrated that we weren’t able to properly frame the music in silence.

Both of these examples are when you holding two thoughts in your head have a tension between something that is good and something that is bad. What happened with my 8th graders today was a different kind of collection of thoughts.

What my 8th graders shared with me today was amazing. They were speaking to me about a shared experience they had together as a full grade (almost 70 students crammed in a band room, that comfortably holds half that many students).

After I expressed my feelings about the topic, I gave the floor to them. What followed was everything I love about teaching middle school. The students’ comments were honest and real. Some had unintentionally comical comments while other share mature thoughts far beyond their years. Students made sure that I called on people who had been patiently waiting to be called on, while others helped each other stay quiet and pay attention.

One of the most powerful comments was when a student talked about how the experience led to other students making undesired comments. This girl was opening up in front of her whole class, which possibly could lead to the kinds of comments she was talking about.  However, there was something else more powerful at play here. I could see in her eyes a desire to make herself understood to me. I could see that she was taking a moment to be brave because it was more important that I knew how she felt than anything else in the world at that very moment.

The quiet in the room, the space that the students gave her was a powerful validation of her feelings and experience, more powerful than any words I could have spoken. It’s one thing to say that you validate a person’s feelings it’s a whole different thing to actually validate their feelings by creating the space and the feeling of safety so that a person can express themselves.

This discussion made me feel so proud. I felt inspired by these kids, and more than anything else, I felt admiration for them.  Feeling all of that at the same time for a group of kids is something I'll never forget.

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