PCTELA was awarded the Fund Teachers for the Dream grant this year. NCTE was extremely generous in awarding this grant. They’ve given us the opportunity to mentor three fabulous pre-service teachers from Pennsylvania. In this series you’ll hear directly from them about their experiences this school year with engaging students in discussions about diversity and self identity. They each used grant funding to develop and facilitate programs in their selected schools. One pre-service teacher chose to establish a book club with fifth grade students reading The Skin I’m In by Sharon G. Flake. Another chose to read, discuss, and create dynamic texts meant to guide students through tough discussions and self discovery. The third pre-service teacher offered movie nights to her high school students and used movies like Crash and Schindler’s List as spring boards for discussion. One of our mentors also wrote a blog post about her perspective, and that will be part of this series, too. Join us at our Annual Conference this October 20-21 in Greentree, PA to hear these three pre-service teachers give a panel presentation about their projects and what they’ve learned.
Written by: Samantha Corza
Role: Grant Recipient
I watched Kayla* shut down as Jamie* raised his voice and dismissed her commentary about her experience as a young female of color in a largely caucasian town. “That doesn’t happen here,” Jamie said loudly. Her body tensed up and I saw her pull away as she became visibly frustrated. She placed her All American Boys book on the floor and did not offer to speak again for the rest of the discussion.
Saddened and concerned by this interaction, I thought back to my conversation with Kayla before class. Kayla had seemed unsure about our whole-class discussion surrounding diversity, white privilege and the Black Lives Matter movement. She verbalized her discomfort in participating, “I just don’t want to feel like I have to talk because I’m the only Black person in this class.” I assured her that she didn’t need to participate if she didn’t feel comfortable but reminded her of the power of her first-hand experiences. How would the other students ever come to know, understand or empathize with her experiences and perspective if she didn’t have the courage to share?
It was after this incident that I noticed Kayla become more reserved in our class. She no longer participated in whole-class discussions and generally only interacted with one or two other students. It was evident that Kayla felt that she did not have a voice and was unsure of whom she could trust in our classroom. The judgment and combativeness that she met when trying to express her perspective on the issue of racial bias was enough to make her shut down entirely.
Upon winning the Fund Teachers for the Dream Grant, I was inspired to implement an after school film club with my students where my mentor teacher and I used visual media to focus on the exploration of cultural differences and bias through popular films such as Crash or Remember the Titans. Our goal was to provide a space for our students where they could learn to have constructive conversations about cultural and personal values, beliefs, and biases. With funds from the grant, we were able to provide refreshments and snacks for students to enjoy as we watched the films and engaged in meaningful discourse.
After our first meeting, I encouraged Kayla to join us and she began to attend our smaller discussions. I could see her opening up and gaining confidence within these smaller sessions and felt her gratitude for the outlet we provided for her. She began bringing her friends from other English classes and through our use of film and inclusivity, began advocating for her own truth in our English classroom.
The film club supported students in various ways. Its afterschool setting allowed students to feel more at ease and allowed them to begin speaking up and sharing their opinions about their own biases and beliefs. It also encouraged students who previously would have avoided a negative or unfamiliar experience, to respond with, “I’m sorry that happened to you,” or “I never thought about that before.” The emergence of empathy from these film events extended into our whole-class discussions where my students were able to transform their thinking about groups of stereotyped people to realize these groups were made up of individuals with beliefs, values, and relationships that are similar to their own.
*student names have been changed