The events that took place last week at our nation’s Capitol continue to disturb us. We continue to ask ourselves and each other, “How could this happen? Who does something like this?”
For me, as a first grade teacher for the year, I also wonder, “What can I do right now so that these beautiful, kind, and caring first graders who sit in front of me on Zoom each day don’t become the kind of people who would participate in this kind of violence and hatred?”
I don’t have the answers, but I do believe it starts with conversation. Recently I was listening in while the children took their snack break. I ask them to turn their cameras and microphones off for 5 minutes to get away from the screen, but then invite them to come back and have a social snack time with their classroom peers. I am muted and my video is off, but I learn so much by listening in. They sometimes read aloud to each other, or share their favorite doll collections, or just chat about “stuff” they did over the weekend. They ask each other questions and often invite in the quieter voices. Usually it’s quite heartwarming, but the other day before the cameras went off, I overheard one of the girls (definitely a leader and usually so kind and caring) say to two other students, “When we come back, I want to talk to you two!” I wondered how other children were feeling. Then on another day, I heard her say, “Who is your best friend in the class?” I unmuted and turned on my camera. I know this is normal first grade conversation, but it was starting to feel exclusive. When we are on Zoom, everyone here’s what is being said. I had to believe that other children were feeling left out.
I decided to start up a conversation about inclusion. I don’t believe in lecturing, so I tried to have a conversation about inviting people in (not closing people out). I tried to take a wondering stance, to ask questions, to promote some dialogue. I tried to make sure that no one was feeling blamed, but that we were all learning how to be better people together. After all, isn’t that really my job? To work together with my young students to help us all see through various lenses, to explore books and ideas that act as mirrors, windows, and doors, to invite people in, and to learn the art of civil discourse?
Yesterday during snack time I heard one of the quieter students say, “Should we all try to play a game together?” It’s a small step, but I’m feeling hopeful.