A digression from the usual whimsy
In my classroom I have a sign that I lettered that says simply: All are Welcome HERE. It’s in my art classroom. It’s not big, created on a ruined canvas that I painted over in white. A blank surface to write something inspiring.
My classroom is not just a classroom. And okay, yes, I have two classrooms, but they both are more than that. I create my space to be welcome to all.
When I got to work much earlier (pre-30-minute commute), I would find a few individuals that just came in to sit, or to talk with friends. Let me tell you this, they aren’t the “popular” kids. My room was a haven for those that didn’t fit in. That maybe didn’t feel safe in the hallways. That were ridiculed for how they looked or, heaven forbid, something they did in the past that they are still being relentlessly teased.
In my classroom, there is really one rule. My students know this. They’ve repeated it back to me. Many of them follow it. Want to know my secret rule that isn’t very secret?
Here it is:
What does that mean? I teach English and art. I completely understand that I am educating students of every ability. Of many, many backgrounds (not very diverse in our rural town, but they aren’t cookie cutter kids, either). I can teach everyone something. The only thing I ask is to respect all. Respect me, and trust that I’m here to get them from point A to point B. If I’ve ever lost my mind in my class, it’s probably from blatant, continuous disrespect. Oh, how I loathe it. It’s so hard to keep your cool when someone treats you like you don’t matter. But I try.
I also want my students to respect each other. This is hard. Emotions rise up (hello, hormonal teenagers), and in more ways than one, I’ve had students refuse to sit near so-and-so. Sometimes I listen to them (“I can’t sit next to him, Ms. D. I know I’ll be too tempted to talk the whole hour!”), and sometimes I ask them to try. Try to learn to respect someone you may not like. I hope they try.
I also ask my students to respect themselves. This is sad to admit, but I feel most young people have so little respect for themselves. There is so much self-loathing out there. Some have been told terrible lies from family, friends, community, and the public at large. It’s also difficult to discern this lack of respect. Sometimes I may be a cheerleader to deaf ears. But I try.
I tell my students that I’m teaching them life lessons hidden in English and art. My goal as an educator is to send out respectful and hardworking young citizens into the world. It’s a daunting task. I know I’ve failed. But I have hope that every day I try to send them into the world as better versions of themselves, the world is made a better place. I try.
My dear friends, I try.
I’m also afraid that it is not enough. I’m afraid that no matter how hard I try to encourage others to just be respectful, I am failing.
Then I watch a few blips in the news lately and I feel we are all failing as a human race.
Hate rhetoric hurts my heart and that is all I seem to hear. I hear it on the news, yes. But I’ve heard it amongst family, friends, and in my own back yard. Labeling someone based on what God gave them and having that define them is just plain ugly.
Treating someone in a hurtful, spiteful way for those damn labels?
That’s not just ugly, that’s evil.
It’s hard sitting here in my privileged little house, behind a computer, typing words that probably won’t make a bit of difference. The writer in me hurts to say it, but I’ll say it:
WORDS DON’T MATTER.
I need to be out there. I need to freaking smile at people (I know, complete Midwest thing, but you know what? People smile back. I feel good. I think they do, too. It’s a simple truth of a smile.) and wearing a mask doesn’t show that. I need to treat people with kindness, especially, this is harder yet, to those who are acting in a way that doesn’t easily incite kindness. I need to tell people (respectfully, of course) if I think their language is cruel and hateful. The hardest people to say this to? Those I deeply love.
But I don’t like what I see in humanity–the only species that doesn’t act this way is, ironically, human–and I want to state a few things here.
I don’t care your race. If you are respectful, you are welcome here.
I don’t care your sexual identity. If you are respectful, you are welcome here.
I don’t care your religious or spiritual beliefs. If you are respectful, you are welcome here.
I don’t care your size or shape. If you are respectful, you are welcome here.
I don’t care your abilities. If you are respectful, you are welcome here.
I don’t care your socioeconomic status. If you are respectful, you are welcome here.
All are welcome HERE.