Thursday, May 5, 2011

Teachable moments...diversity.

Hello friends, family, and followers! 
Something happened in my classroom earlier this week that I thought was worthy of sharing.

Let me start off by telling you about an article I read over the weekend…

Sunday afternoon, I was sitting by the pool with my fabulous friend and co-worker, Mr. Burbank. 

We were thumbing through California Educator and landed on an article about the use of some homophobic slurs in school.  After reading the article and having a discussion, I felt fairly confident that my students were sensitive enough to each other and their differences that they would never say some of the hurtful things mentioned in the article.  I was feeling pretty happy and confident that I had taught my students well.


One of my students is crying and another one is about to hit him.  They are both yelling about how the other one called them “gay” and said other mean things.  Immediately I was brought to reality.  I had thought that my class was sensitive to diversity and open-minded to people who are different from them…and they weren’t.  At this point, I had all my students put all their materials away and told them that we were going to have a very serious discussion.  I talked to them about the implications of hurtful comments and how a few years back, there was a 5th grade boy who took his own life due to all the mean things that his classmates were saying.  I asked them to imagine what it would be like if the entire class was always saying mean things to them or about them.  After about 10 minutes of me talking one of my students raised her hand.  She said, “I once said something mean to someone on purpose.  I feel really badly about what I said.  I apologized but I feel sorry about it every day.”  She was in tears and feeling very sad about what she had done.  I praised her for her honesty and told her that the best she can do is make better choices from this point forward and to try and make her wrongs right.  Next, another young lady raised her hand and when I called on her she just stood up.  She turned herself around and faced a boy in the class.  She proceeded to say, “________ I have said many hurtful things to you.  I have made fun of you about your height and the fact that you’re bigger than everybody.  I have laughed along with others when they say mean things.  I feel really badly about what I said.  I hope that you will forgive me and accept my apology.  I am really sorry.  I hope you forgive me.  I will never do that again.”  And she sat down.  At this point, I was crying because it was one of the bravest and kindest things I have witnessed as a teacher.  Then, one by one the students started raising their hands and told about mean things they had done or said to this young man and sincerely asking for his forgiveness.  One girl even got up and gave him a tissue and rubbed his back until he was not crying anymore.  It was a truly beautiful event and something I will always remember.  After many hugs and apologies it was time for lunch. 

I couldn’t help but thinking about what had happened and I wanted to extend the lesson into something even more meaningful.  And so, we did the following activity.

I asked all of the kids to write down some of the mean things they had said, heard, or thought about someone.  They were allowed to write down ANYTHING even if it was really mean and nasty or had a bad word.  I really wanted them to get these ugly thoughts out on paper.  They were busily writing for about 10 minutes and I did the same.  When time was up, I asked them to reread their list and circle the one that they found was the most hurtful.  I circled “I hate you.”  A few students shared theirs as well.  Then I said, “Now, when I say begin, I’d like each of you to hold up your paper and rip it into tiny little pieces.  This is our way of tearing those words up and throwing them away.  And when we do that we are deciding to never say these hurtful things again.”  They joyfully tore up their papers and threw their mean comments in the trash.

To close the activity, I passed out one piece of construction paper for each child and wrote his/her name on the top.  We passed these around the room and wrote one nice thing about the student whose name was at the top of the page.  When we finished, each student read what their classmates had to say about them and shared their favorite with the class. 
Here are some of the wonderful things they had to say about each other:

The best artist I know.
A good friend.
Hard working.
The nicest person I know.

A few of my students have said that they put their paper up in their rooms and read it when they are feeling sad.  It is my hope that they will remember this lesson and grow into empathetic and caring young men and women. 

Now playing Greatest Love of All by Whitney Houston.


  1. A beautiful lesson, Ms. G. Your students are so lucky to have you as a teacher!

  2. I love you.. you are an amazing teacher, friend, role model and mentor. This seriously has me in tears. I try if I have the time to have my kids sit in a circle at the end of the day and "pass on a kind" word to their neighbor, however I don't usually do this when I sub the "older kids" I don't know why except I thought they might laugh and giggle and not take it seriously but this just makes me realize that all students of all ages need to be encouraged by kind words from their classmates. Thanks for the constant inspiration Ms. Graham.

  3. I'm a crying mess right now!! This is soooo HONEST! an heartfelt

  4. This is so sweet, I am crying too! Congratulations on a beautiful lesson that I am sure your kids will remember. Very inspiring story, thank you for sharing it.

  5. Thank you all for reading. I am happy that this post was received so well. I will try and keep the teaching stories comin.

  6. SO love this! My heart is soaring. Thank you, thank you, thank you.
    You are making a difference. Yeah!

  7. Andddddd, I'm crying at my desk reading this. I heart you, Ms. Graham.

  8. you are the most amazing teacher!!! and an amazing person! love you! xoxox