Saturday, September 3, 2016

Coloring, Racism, Teaching, Friday

It was an incredibly hard week. I had a hard time adjusting to the knee stuff and I was worried about Niles' ankle and then I started physical therapy, which I love but is making my hips sore (I have weak hips, I've learned). I didn't sleep well at all, all week long, and found myself feeling my age a bit and worrying about the future.

So on Friday, my math students weren't scheduled for a test (we stop and take a test every other Friday, but the Fridays in between I use as a catch-up day or as a project day), and I decided, you know what, we're coloring.

I started with my 6th graders. Had them grab their art supplies and passed out squares of cardboard. We turned them into tessellation pieces and traced them on white paper. Let them color them however they pleased--markers, colored pencils, crayons, I don't care. Trace in black marker or don't. Fill with solid colors or designs. Just enjoy the geometry and take a little break.

"This is the best math class we've ever had," one of my girls blurted out. She didn't mean that day. She meant 6th grade as opposed to previous classes. I sat at my desk coloring and listened to them talk to each other about past experiences in math.

I'm glad I'm their teacher.

Seventh grade came in and started circular designs, using circumference and division to create even sections of concentric circles that could then be connected to form intricate patterns. We didn't get to the coloring but that was ok--there was the promise of future coloring, which is good too.

Algebra was supposed to do a thinking problem that I like, cutting cubes into different smaller cubes and analyzing patterns. But it turned out I'd given them this problem last year in pre-algebra. So I took a deep breath...and got out the compasses and had them do the circle pattern as well. Instead of a group project they got an art project. They were ecstatic.

My 8th grade regular math class after lunch came in and I knew the circles would be frustrating for several of them, just knowing them from previous years. So we did a simple Op-Art design and sat together coloring.

Talk in that class turned to the recent football player who didn't stand for the national anthem. And I knew they weren't really holding their own opinions yet, at least not informed ones, and so I let them talk for a few minutes together. But then I had to cut in.

"You know, if you take the experience in America of African-Americans, if you take the history as well as the current state of affairs, I think instead of thinking he's a bad person for not standing during a song, you should consider the reasons why he doesn't feel comfortable standing."

"Yeah, I know," one boy said, "but I just don't get why he decided to mix sports and politics."

"Well," I continued, still coloring, "he got your attention, didn't he?"

"I just don't think he should have done that kind of thing," another boy said."

I stole directly from some meme I'd seen. "When Ferguson happened," I reminded them of a couple years back in our own community. "People complained that Black people were angrily protesting and setting fires and being loud and angry. They thought they should protest quietly--"

"And that's what he did," yet another boy blurted out, taking my conclusion away.

"Exactly," I nodded. "And now people are mad about that. So maybe the question should be, why are WE mad? What is it about us and about racism in our country that makes us mad when people point out that things aren't perfect?"

The blurter continued: "Shelby doesn't think racism is real."

I glanced at Shelby in the front row right next to the table where I was sitting. "That's because Shelby is a blond white girl and has never directly experienced racism."

I watched as Shelby turned bright red and laughed nervously. Some of the boys yelled stuff like "Aw snap!" from the back row. I looked up at Shelby and smiled at her.

"Once you see it, you can't unsee it."

"Mrs. Bridge!" the boys continued. "Burn!"

"Hey, I got a box of 64 here, I can do this all day."

It was a good end to a hard week. Because even a year ago, I would have been uncomfortable with the conversation but wouldn't have been able to articulate it. But maybe I was just tired enough. Of everything. And I was coloring and relaxed and ready for a three day weekend.

I ended the day in the computer lab with my 6th grade religion class writing about the wonder of Creation. And I stared out the window at the bright sun in our little Mary Garden and I was glad.