Friday, July 21, 2017

The Workshop: Part 1 - The Lunch Break

“I’m not here to make friends,” I thought to myself like a good contestant on Survivor as I sat in a desk in the far back corner. The other thirty-some educators in the room were walking around introducing themselves to each other. I opened up my laptop and tried to look busy as I browsed through my social media accounts.

As the class began, I scanned the room. I was getting a sense of the gender ratio, the age breakdown and the racial make-up of the classroom. Why? Thinking about these categories and representation is one of the things that you do when you are a minority, racial or otherwise. When there are three women in a room, they often notice this while the men often do not take note of this. People who aren’t minorities don’t take notice of this, because it doesn’t affect them as often.

When I’m uncomfortable in a room, and I identify that I’m the only minority in the room, it helps me realize process my feelings. These questions and this information are critical to social interactions and understanding experiences as a minority. There’s nothing racist about realizing that you are the only person of color in the room. Not noticing this, ignoring the race of people around you, making that facet of their identity invisible to your eyes propagates a damaging ignorance. As long as your observations lead to more questions, and openness to understand, noticing diversity creates a more equitable environment for all.

She stuck out. She may have been the one of the few or the only person who identified as African-American in the class. She was younger than a fair amount of them and she had awesomely colored hair. More than appearance, there was something in the way that she responded and took notes that showed me that there was was something interesting and significant going on in her head.

I pushed these thoughts aside and for the rest of the morning focused on the discussions and the music that was being taught.

We broke for lunch and many of the people in the class formed groups. I got out of the room, avoiding conversation and started heading to where I thought there was some food.  And then here she was walking in the same direction. I asked her where she was heading, she sounded like she had an idea of where she was going, so I asked if I could join her. With a nod and a “let’s go,” we were off.

As we walked we did the normal get to know you verbal dance. As we revealed things about our school and our values as teachers, I decided to take a chance. I began dropping thoughts and anti-racist education in my teaching practice. She confirmed over and over that she agreed with me, I got a little braver and a little deeper. Before I knew it we were going full in talking about issues of diversity, equity and inclusion and our experiences as teachers of color.

We didn’t make the most direct route to the restaurant and we got a little bit lost on the way back to class. We also barely made it to class on time and had to eat during class when we got back. (Bear in mind we had a solid hour for the lunch break). But it was a blast and really cool to connect with a really cool teacher.

No, I didn’t come to make friends or meet new colleagues, but something felt different and necessary with this other teacher. When you are a teacher of color, you are likely in a minority in your school as you are in society.  Being with another who shares your values and your experiences gives the strength and hope to work through the moments when you feel most lonely.

Taking a chance to make these connections was worth getting out of my shell, for myself and later, I would find out for her as well.

That lunch break was an important reminder that while I wasn’t at this class to make friends, that didn’t mean that I couldn’t or I shouldn’t.

It didn’t end with just her, as I find out later from the Asian-American teacher, who reminded me a little bit too much of myself. . .

No comments:

Post a Comment