Foster Parenting

Sunday, November 25, 2018

Wondering While I Meander Through Inquiry

It's been awhile since I've posted.  Mainly because I've been trying to figure out where I fit into this blogging world.  I've been wrestling with ideas, trying my best to articulate my journey and wondering who I am writing for.  I'm a full time classroom teacher who is working on her PhD.  I vacillate between being a practitioner and an academic.  I certainly don't feel like a scholar and yet, I want to be scholarly and reflective as I deconstruct my teaching and work to be better at what I do.  And, so, I need to write for myself.  I need to question myself - my beliefs and my practice in order to better understand.  And if I have any readers, I hope you will join the conversation to push my thinking and learn alongside me.

Some Background on One Line of Inquiry

I am a middle class White woman who grew up in rural northwestern Ohio.  I went to a Catholic school where most of the students were White.  The only students of color were the children of migrant workers who attended our school during the harvest season.  They were there in the fall and left before Christmas, only to return again in the spring.  My family did not have open conversations about race when I was growing up.  We didn't have to.  It was part of our white privilege.  Implicit bias surrounded me.  We locked our car doors when we drove through "dangerous neighborhoods."  Adults told racist jokes that we all laughed at, even while I cringed inside.  It wasn't until a Black man was introduced into our family that I began to stand up to the outward and implicit racism around me.

I would have been the first one to say that I was not racist.  I threw around phrases like, "It doesn't matter what color a person is, we are all the same inside." When I saw a Black Lives Matter sign in someone's yard, I would think, "Well, really, all lives matter."  I was color blind and didn't know any better.  I even remember thinking when I was a younger teacher that I didn't need to worry about diversity and equity issues in my teaching because I only taught White kids.  My eyes were opened when I read Waking Up White by Debbie Irving.  I was astonished at what I learned and at the same time, ashamed to admit my own contributions to  racist beliefs and practices.  I wanted to be and do better.  From that point, I set on a mission to educate myself.  I began following people on Twitter who were talking about these issues, found blogs and podcasts, and read and read and read. I will share those resources at another time.

I also had an experience last year when some fifth grade boys questioned the book Ghost by Jason Reynolds. There is a scene early in the book where a character is describing the facial features of another character and the White boys reading the book thought it was racist.  They couldn't believe their teacher chose that book (little did they know that I had ordered that book for our book room) and were sure their parents wouldn't want them reading it.  One even said, "My mom says we aren't supposed to talk about these things."  At first I was confused, but then realized that they equated talking about race with being racist.


Lucky for me, I am taking a children's literature class with Dr. Mollie Blackburn. Our assignment is to complete an inquiry project that incorporates children's literature in some way.  I knew right away what I wanted to explore:  "How do I as a White teacher support my White students in reading and talking about race?"  I teach in a school where 87% of our student population is White and where 99% of our staff is White.

I went to Rudine Sims Bishop's foundational text, Mirrors, Windows, and Sliding Glass Doors and I got started.

First thing on my list: update my classroom library.  I needed more books by authors of color and with characters of color, and not just characters who achieved something great, but characters of color whose stories are about the ordinary things that kids and families do.  I read a lot over the summer and I purchased and borrowed books to bring into my classroom.  (More on this later)

We did some identity work (thanks to Sara Ahmed's Being the Change), which laid the groundwork for our next steps...

We will begin to read books as mirrors this week.  I am wondering what books and characters my students will see themselves reflected in. How will they identify with these books and characters?  How will this reading change them?  Will this reading set the groundwork for building empathy in my students and will this work transfer into their own personal lives?  Can I do this work?  Do I know enough?

These are only some of the questions I grapple with.  As it always is with me, these questions will lead to more questions.  It's a journey and I know that as I walk this path, I will make mistakes. But I am also certain that I will grow and learn and become a better teacher because of this experience.

Please share your own experiences or thoughts in the comments.  I would love to further this conversation.