“I don’t see color,” was a statement during my period 3 class that I said as we discussed the events that occurred on January 6, 2021. I’ve said this before but being an educator is hard and being an educator during a pandemic is even harder. But now being an educator during a national crisis, a pandemic, and teaching from home is not what was expected.
On the day of the protest on the U.S. Capitol, thousands of thoughts were going through my mind. I took to social media, which I knew I should not have, to work through what I was thinking and to understand what others were thinking. I could not understand how even more divided our country became in a few short months.
As a person who suffers from anxiety, it reignited to where I became non-existent. I’ve learned how to overcome anxiety issues, but it is not easy
I realized that my own self-peace will only happen if I can be true to who I am on the inside. With all that happened on January 6 and all that I have read and seen, I was not prepared for what or how to teach the next day. I wanted the students to feel comfortable in the class and be able to speak their minds. I wanted them to share how they were feeling not just from the previous day’s event but what had been taking place within the country in the last couple of years.
During my third-period class, one girl spoke up and began to express her feelings about the events on January 6 and her life as an African American girl. She stated that she felt that African Americans were misrepresented and are treated differently solely based on the color of their skin. The virtual classroom was silent with black screens and all I could see was their name across the screen. As my student spoke, there were a few emojis that came up in support of what she was saying. I really wanted to understand where she was coming from being a White teacher, I could not understand how she was feeling but understood how she could feel the way she does.
At this moment, I wish we were in school because what she said I know resonated with everyone in the virtual class, even me. But in-person teaching would have made this conversation go beyond the words. The confidence that she had and her willingness to share was beyond a sixteen-year-old level. I followed by saying, “I don’t see color,” and was respectfully interrupted by the same student saying, “If you don’t see color, you don’t see me”. BAM! I was hit by a brick wall. Those nine words made me think. So many times I have either heard someone say that or found myself saying: “I don’t see color.” For nearly two decades, I’ve taught students how word choice is important as the connotation can take on more than one meaning. Little did I know that it took a teenager to teach me that the connotation of those four words meant something different.
As we ended class, I reassured them that we would continue this conversation not only tomorrow but throughout the year. Later that day, I emailed the student who offered her views letting her know that I am proud of her willingness to share her feelings to help me understand. Every year I tell my students that I learn from them as much as they learn from me.
**Editorial Note: During the same class period, I did correct what I was saying to ensure that all my students felt safe in my classroom.**
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Kristen Koppers is a National Board Certified Teacher in English. She is a blogger, presenter, a self-published author, and a high school educator as well as an adjunct professor at a local junior college. She has been teaching for twenty years and is currently teaching high school English in Illinois holding a Master of Arts degree in English and a Master of Arts degree in Education Administration. Kristen is the author of Differentiated Instruction in the Teacher Profession (2019) and The Perfect Puppy (2020). She shares her ideas of how to use Differentiated Instruction inside the classroom. As an educator, it is important to find innovative ways to meet the needs of students. Kristen is often on Twitter (@Mrs_Koppers) participating in chats and collaborating with other educators. #DITeaching #ThePerfectPuppyEdu (https://kristenkoppers.wixsite.com/koppers)