Teaching During Protests and a Pandemic

Posted by Guest Blogger on June 25, 2020

 

“This is bigger than COVID, Ms. B.”

 

That’s what the 9th graders I teach told me when the protests after George Floyd’s murder began in LA -- and that some would be joining them. Kids who, only days before, had been so anxious about this pandemic that they had been disinfecting their family members’ shoes after any trip into the outside world.

 

Teaching during a pandemic was already challenging. I missed my students, my kids. And after George Floyd was murdered and the protests began, being away from them became even harder. I regularly talk with my students about race, bias, and stereotypes; during the Spring semester, we had studied a Doonesbury cartoon about just that. The students realized that everyone, including them, had biases, and that unfortunately this meant the world saw them as someone they did not recognize. My Black and Latinx students shared how they feel when they walk through the world -- how they often feel seen as “thugs,” not regular kids who love things like Fruit Loops and soccer. But nothing prepared them for the stereotypes they would soon see highlighted in the newspapers as they saw their city, where they live, work, and study, under siege. No child should have to feel this way.

 

As the semester came to a close and Santa Monica was left destroyed after the looting and the fires, I tried my best to comfort my students, to help them process the historic moment they were living. We had been trying to cope as best as we could through Distance Learning. I had altered their Civic Action Project to focus on helping their family and their immediate community close to home. But nothing prepared me for the day after the looting. My students, well versed in our Facing History curriculum, saw their role as “upstanders.” They knew this moment was calling on them to help their community. Many faced that challenge by waking up early on June 1st and going to the many stores that had been looted, armed with their face masks, their gloves, and brooms, to clean up. No one needed to ask my kids to lend a hand. They arrived and cleaned, some even painted beautiful murals of unity on the boarded up windows. Others organized a GoFundMe to collect funds for copies of the book Just Mercy, so that all our students could have a relevant and profound book to read for the summer. This is the transformative power of the Facing History and Ourselves curriculum.

SMHS students Claire F. and Alana I. in front of a mural they created

SMHS students Claire F. and Alana I. in front of a mural they created.

 

CB1

Claire F. in her cap and gown in front of another beautiful mural!

 

On our final class meeting, I sent my students prompts from Facing History’s Teaching Idea published after George Floyd’s murder. I knew it would be a different class that day because it would be our last time together and our community had been completely transformed by the demonstrations, looting, and curfews. I wanted to provide my students a safe space to process the events--and to come ready to discuss if they wanted. All of my kids shared and reflected  how they had improved their community through their Civic Action Project. We then turned to the protests, and had an intense discussion about different ways of standing up for justice. Some of my students had not attended the demonstrations for fear of contracting COVID-19. Others had attended only the clean-ups. What was clear in their final reflections was that they had the vocabulary and the tools to process what just had happened. They understood the racism that had started it all, and they knew that it was the beginning of a long process to disrupt a systemic problem. They also saw the role they could play in improving their community.CB2

Claire F. and Alana I. in front of another mural!

 

I left that class in tears, yet hopeful. As a teacher, I need to know how to do this right -- right now and in the Fall. I’ll be doing as many Facing History training seminars as I can this summer, because this work takes planning and skill. I am so thankful for the amazing support I receive from Facing History because I am well aware that regardless of what the world throws at us next, Facing History will be there to help provide the best experience for our students. I know your support makes all of this possible, and I hope you know how much that means to teachers like me.

CB

 

 

 

Claudia Bautista-Nicholas is a National Board Certified teacher at Santa Monica High School.

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