In all honesty, I loved the honesty of this class. I am so grateful that I could learn how to truthfully recognize and acknowledge my weaknesses, shortcomings, blindsides, and prejudices. At the beginning of the class I felt nervous about having to deal with my privilege and the mindsets I have that are less than Christlike. I knew that I have much more than others due to the favorable circumstances in which I was born. I did not really realize what practical living can be like for the students I will teach and their families. Despite my initial hesitation, however, I was continually surprised by how good it felt, not to realize that I do have prejudices and I have been given more than I deserve, but to be honest with myself. Repentance is usually difficult and painful as it requires us to confront our “disturbances” with ourselves, but throughout the repentance process we can increase in light, love, and divine assistance. This describes some of how I feel about my experience this semester. I realize that in order to love others and to love God I must be painfully honest with myself. I am okay with recognizing the fact that I have weaknesses in how I view and treat others, but I am not okay with ignoring or denying their effect on my life, my relationships, and my perceptions. Especially as a future teacher, I now realize that it is my responsibility to own up to my privilege and to do what I can to spread opportunity to my students in less-privileged circumstances. I can only change by first recognizing the need to do so.
Therefore, I felt myself come closer to my Savior as I was reminded of how He gave up His “privilege” to succor me in my fallen and weak state. I feel closer to Him because I feel a greater depth of love for the many different kinds of people around me. I feel greater love because I have made an honest and deliberate effort to understand others as they truly are instead of just labeling them according to my “single-story” mindset. I feel free and (ironically) at greater peace being able to “live in doubt” about what I don’t understand about life, the gospel, and people. What I do know is that God loves us and it is my responsibility to love others, above all else. The greatest love I can show to another is to not view them as a deficit but to love and learn about their worldviews and their experience.
Few classes have caused me to think so deeply about truth and about the gospel. I feel that the light I have gained as I have pondered on the discussions, readings, and my experiences in this class have been inspired by the Spirit. Topics of discussion in the class have caused me to think about others so much more than I would have before. So many of the class discussions and lesson topics were immediately applicable and so practical to my life at this time. This class was much more of an emotional and spiritual journey than I anticipated it would be. However, I am incredibly grateful that I was able to engage in it this semester. In addition to a change in my worldview and view of God, my perspective changed in the following ways, as related to the following themes and portfolio assignments:
Imagined Classroom and Reimagined Classroom
Initially, this assignment made me realize how little I really knew about how my future classroom would work, what policies I would have in place, and how students would respond to my teaching. It honestly intimidated me. My original imagined classroom is a representation of my initial perspectives about teaching, classroom management, my students and history. It was very instructive to be able to reflect on this portfolio assignment periodically throughout the semester as I had new realizations and became more aware of my personal biases. The changes and contrasts between my original Imagined Classroom and my revised Reimagined Classroom demonstrate, along with this essay, many of my adjustments to my thinking, inspired by greater awareness and less ignorance. Even though I still have personal prejudices I have to deal with, I felt that by the second round of envisioning and designing my classroom I had a greater grasp on what my biases are and was more able to make room for discussions and accommodations for learning beyond myself. My second classroom was much less about how I wanted things to look and more about how I wanted my students to feel (acceptance, love, value, safety).
Creating this portfolio was illuminating for me. It made me feel guilty. As I gathered memes and other cultural artifacts pertaining to the Hispanic culture, I knew that I had often let myself be persuaded by racist humor and anti-immigrant politics that crowded out my view of people. I realized that joking about people is really not okay. That is hard to accept because I don’t like to take things too seriously and I have friends and family who make racist jokes. However, I needed to face to realization that this is not something that God condones, nor does it go without harming actual people. If I say these jokes are okay, then I am demeaning my ability to see Hispanic people in a way that is beyond this “single story.” Stereotypes may seem humorous, but they are damaging. This was a major realization for me as I did this assignment. Even though I would never admit to having the stereotypes described in the artifacts I found, I realized I definitely had a version of them that made it difficult for me to feel obligation and desire to really understand Hispanic people. I also realized how dehumanizing it can be to turn people into statistics. This often happens in politics and it is something that I have heard throughout my life. It is easy to get angry and to blame others when we remove their individual circumstances and just blame them for problems within and without their control. I resolved this day and in our related class discussions to promote a multifaceted perspective of people and cultures and to not propagate stereotypes through my classroom management or specific curriculum. The readings, like the story of Chimamanda demonstrated to me that “single stories” are unfair and also incredibly inaccurate. People are not as simplistic or as easy to understand at face-value as our single stories often make them seem.
I have thought considerably about the “costs and benefits” of culture and how it inhibits or enhances our worldview. I have also considered the pros and cons of viewing people and cultures in a “single story.” For example, I realized that many of the ways in which I thought about people and groups of people yielded bad fruit/resentment and scapegoating instead of love and a desire to serve. For example, in thinking about the poor as abusers of the system, I did not feel an increase of the spirit. Therefore, as I began to think more of the hardships of the state which many find themselves in and what I could do to help relieve suffering, I felt an increase of the spirit. I have definitely begun to “weigh out” more of the pros and cons of the mindsets that I previously took for granted.
Some of the most shocking readings for me were the stories of the children who were culturally misrepresented because of others’ erroneous assumptions. For example, I remember the story of the Native American girl who was taken by her foster parents to what they thought was an authentic tribal museum. Because of their ignorance, they assumed that this girl’s native culture was the same. It was not, however. Most shocking and saddening to me was the realization that no one listened to this girl, let alone asked her what her culture was like. I realized that when working with students and their families, I need to be humble enough to not make blanket judgements and that it is more fair to ask students directly about their culture and preferences. No one knows better than the student and his or her family what will be the most beneficial to their learning.
I realize that before this class I was ignorant about many of these topics because, to an extent, I just didn’t want to know how hard things really were. It has been at times, heartbreaking to face the difficulty reality and to realize how much more of a reality these issues will be when I love and work with students who face personal and family issues that are complex and deeply-rooted. One of these heartbreaking realizations came from learning about poverty and viewing the videos of children talking about their experiences with poverty. As I came to understand this issue more, I increasingly grew in love for these people. I didn’t see them as deficits and I didn’t believe that their circumstances were their own fault or responsibility; all that became irrelevant. All I saw were children and families who were suffering and trapped and I wanted them to feel understood. I am so grateful for the awareness I gained because I know it will help me to be a better human and teacher as I proceed forward.
Completing this assignment, I felt so much more love for the people with whom I was interacting. This surprised me because I thought that my primary emotion would be discomfort and fear. I went to a Catholic Church, and although I felt alone and isolated, I realized how a situation of isolation can be a peak opportunity to show love. I felt so loved in the place I was in because specific people came to help me and didn’t leave me alone. I felt connected to others by realizing that we are all, in one circumstance or another, the “other”. Isolation and social discomfort are real inhibitors to learning and adolescent development. I made it a goal to facilitate an environment of love and acceptance in my classroom and in my school. This includes being aware of ways in which my students may feel isolation within the specific school system, whether because of race, culture, gender, ability, language, or any other identifier, all students benefit from recognizing their own “otherness” and also seeking to bridge divides between themselves and the “others” in any situation.
Personal Cultural Artifacts
I never realized how specific my culture really is. I often tend to have a subconscious ego-centric view and I somehow believe that all cultures are very similar to my own. By evaluating aspects of my culture in this assignment that I otherwise don’t notice or take for granted, I realized just how unique my white, middle-class, Mormon culture truly is. I realized, essentially, that others do not view me the way that I view myself. Likewise, I often hold people against the standards and expectations of my own culture, which is unfair and inhibiting. My culture is no more superior than any other culture, and trying to convince myself that it is is unnecessary and damaging because it prohibits growth and exploration into other cultures. By recognizing what my own culture is, I was more able to identify what it is not. As discussed above, this assignment reaffirmed to me the importance of identifying personal biases in order to teach to a wider range of individuals and not just the students who fit easily within the context of the teacher’s own culture. Some of the artifacts of my culture seemed just plain silly and not necessarily good or important for students of different cultural heritages.
Community Experience: Correctional Facility
This was an experience that really forced me to confront discomfortable knowledge. The correctional facility was disturbing because it was so blatantly different from my perception of what it would be. I know people in similar facilities and it was saddening to realize how uncomfortable the circumstances seem. It was probably the most emotional experience of this semester. It was literally heartbreaking. However, I also realized how empowered I am as a teacher. Teachers have incredible influence over adolescent students and most of the people in the facility had been in a pattern of drug-related crime that began in youth. I never understood so much about the nature of the prison culture and it made me realize that every effort to help teenage students can help to alleviate this problem.
Book Club: Oddly Normal
I loved this book. I chose it because it is an issue quite relevant to my life; my soon-to-be brother-in-law who is also one of my closest friends came out as gay about six months ago and has been dealing with his identity. This has, of course, affected my fiance and his family, and I read this book with a hope of better understanding my brother Christopher and what he might deal with. It was likewise eye-opening to read about how many religious families reject their LGBTQ youth, who end up homeless and endangered. I realized that I needed to help and support my brother and others because unfortunately, our society is not always accepting or safe those who are not heterosexual. I was grateful for the insights which I gained. I realized how much a school system might potentially harm or help an LGBTQ student (and also influence the other students who attend the school).
Learning about the realities of discrimination and abuse that occur for minorities has helped me realize the necessity of being active. When I read the statistical report on the bullying and mistreatment of middle and high school gender-nonconforming students, I was amazed and heartbroken. I can’t even fathom condoning that when I have power to make a difference against it. I want to at least be a friend/ally, as we talked about in class, if not an advocate. I realized that not acting against misbehavior and treatment of others is, in fact, sending the message of condoning the action. There is no neutral ground and I want to be firmly understood as a teacher and an individual who will advocate for my students. I am thankful that I have realized some specific ways in which I can do that in my classroom and school, such as putting up “safe space” stickers to signify to students that they will be protected.
Instead of claiming to be “color blind”, I will actively seek to fight against prejudice and segregation. In my classroom and home, I will do all I can to be inviting to those of different backgrounds, races, and beliefs. I will create seating arrangements in my classroom that promote unity and will advocate for change against racial and other prejudice-based policies in my school. I will actively look for ways to change and improve the environment to make it more welcome for all. I will also ask my students for feedback and I will talk to them about their experiences, their goals, and their opinions. I will do my best to create individual relationships with students in which I can foster self-worth and success in the individual. I will work with families and will not use race, socioeconomic status, ability, or other identifiers as grounds for judgement. I will seek to teach for social justice by providing and promoting opportunities for those who are historically and presently disadvantaged. I will discuss difficult issues and will have zero-tolerance for bullying or demeaning and offensive language towards other students. I will consider ways to make my classroom universally accessible. With my own children I will set an example of loving and interacting with all kinds of people, and will encourage them to do the same.
As a result of these in-class and out-of-class experiences, I am now much more honest with myself. I realize that it is truly unacceptable for me to foster prejudices, but it is also irresponsible to live in denial about personal biases. I think it is okay to discuss difficult things, even without having many (or any) answers. We receive truth a little at a time. I think it is important to have the difficult conversations with students. Before this class, I would have probably wanted to gloss over or avoid topics that are controversial or potentially dangerous. However, that is no longer the case. This class has helped me to develop humility which I trust will help me as I seek to work with families and children with different experiences and perspectives than my own. I hope I can gradually “work” on dispelling my prejudices by seeing others as people and not as problems. I feel blessed and excited to have a career-field that promotes so much positive social change and I believe that what I do will make a difference for children and families.