In September, you would notice that my lunch tags are all organized by gender. They are coral or mint, with hearts decorating the girls’ and arrows decorating the boys’. You would notice that the names on our desks are similarly colored, doodles of hearts and arrows still trailing around the plastic table lining. You would hear me ask the kids to line up, girls first because they were sitting so quietly, and boys next, to see if they could do just as good of a job. You would hear me comment on how pretty a girl’s hair is, and engage in a quiet conversation about how mommy did a great job on her braid that morning. You would notice that at the end of every themed unit, we celebrate by making paper hats. The girls get one kind, and the boys get another.
In May, I am rethinking things. And if you read my last post, you know that I have a student this year who is challenging my current practice. She is the kindest, most forgiving, and bravest kid I have ever met, so I don’t mind. I feel guilty that I’m content to polarize the tiny world behind my closed classroom door. If this student was happy to let me decide her identity for her, it would be different– maybe I would not feel as motivated as I do to make necessary changes. But she demands change! She demands to be seen as she is. This kid has made me wake UP. She is her own kind of beautiful.
Here are some ways she has changed my classroom for the better this year:
- She has made me admit “oops” in front of 23 five-year-olds.
In an effort to be progressive, I accidentally told my students that anyone could be beautiful and anyone could be handsome. “You can call both boys and girls that,” I told them. So when one well-intentioned child called her female friend handsome, I had a few tears. “She told me I’m handsome like a boy!!!!! I’m a girl!”
“Ms. Escalera says anyone can be handsome!”
“Well…sometimes it hurts other people’s feelings…if they feel like they’re beautiful…when you call them handsome,” I awkwardly tried to explain. My first attempt to sneak it into regular conversation was a catastrophe, and I feared the complaints parents would have if they heard what I’d (incorrectly) said. After recess, I had to come clean. “Ms. Escalera was wrong to say anyone can be called beautiful and anyone can be called handsome. Some people have a preference. Is there anyone in here who likes to be called beautiful?” Several hands went up, including a couple boys. “Is there anyone who likes to be called handsome?” A few other hands went up. “Is there anyone who likes them both?” Many more hands went up for a double vote. “What are some other kind words we can call friends if we don’t want to use beautiful or handsome?”
- We still do celebratory hats, but now I plan better. I ask each student which hat they will prefer for the party before I prep them. I ask them during lunch, when they are chatting and unfocused on any task besides socializing. Most kids choose what I expect, and the few who surprise me are no problem to accommodate for. I’ve learned that I often have boys who prefer flowery hats, and girls who prefer darker colors, much to my own surprise. It’s taught me that I have been imposing so much of my own lens on my students for six years! I definitely incorporate more student choice in my activities since this discovery.
- We’ve updated our class motto. In my first post for this blog, I wrote about having a class chant to kick off our day at carpet. I’ve changed it to reflect what I want to teach this particular group. This year, we’ve taken on goal-setting, grit, stamina, and inclusivity. Our new class motto sounds like this:
- I’m teaching about the fluidity of identity much more explicitly. I bought a new collection of books to explore our own identities, particularly gender stereotypes. I hate breaking from themed units, so I’ve found time to address these lessons as we start our day. My favorites have been:
Ballerino Nate by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley
Tough Boris by Mem Fox
The Princess Knight by Cornelia Funke
During the week, I give ClassDojo points out for practicing the social skills we’ve discussed in the book that week. I an hyper-vigilant about the conversations happening between students, and I try to call attention to students who are being kind and who demonstrate empathy.The journey towards equity is not always linear. I think I assumed that because inclusion is not a subject, it wouldn’t require planning! I assumed that inclusion would naturally exude out of me, and my students would all just know how I felt about them all. I was wrong. Inclusion requires thoughtful evenings, intentional planning, reflection with team mates, tons of reading, and a lot of re-evaluation. It has been a year-long goal to improve for this student, and will continue to change my practice going forward.
My dog also has an Instagram, and it's better than anyone's. @mrdarcy_theiggy