Behind every #USvsHate message is a teacher, a small group of teachers, or a school community that is encouraging dialogue against hate, bias and injustice and about inclusion. Some educators are using #USvsHate Lessons and resources offered by nearly 20 teacher support organizations. Others are building public anti-hate messaging into their existing curriculum.
We share Teacher Stories to show the teaching experiences behind specific lessons and student-made messages. No glossing over the realities of teaching! And these stories show the ideal outcome of #USvsHate: supporting an ongoing, long-term process of teaching, learning and action.
See Winning Messages for more teacher backstories on each message. Check out our #USvsHate blog for ongoing stories as student work comes in. Join the #Schooltalking Facebook community for ongoing support!
Many thanks to UC San Diego doctoral students Mariko Cavey, Dolores Lopez, Reed Kendall, Erika Reece, and Ben Kennedy, and videographers James Islas and Jonah Castiglione, who helped produce these!
Share your own Teacher Story when you submit!
#USvsHate School Story: Alabama
Educators and students from Florence, AL share their experience using #USvsHate in the classroom.
#USvsHate Teacher Story: Artemisa Perucho-Green and Marisa Plascencia-Contreras
Two elementary teachers from Poway, CA, share their excitement about doing #USvsHate with their students and each other–for several years in a row!
#USvsHate Teacher Story: Carmela Golden-Reyna
A science teacher from National City, CA shares her #USvsHate work and students’.
#USvsHate Teacher Story: Kalie Espinoza
A teacher from Chula Vista, CA describes her students’ enthusiasm with #USvsHate, and shares some of her successes and challenges.
#USvsHate Teacher Story: Carlos Castellanos
A teacher from Studio City, CA describes his students’ excitement about #USvsHate.
#USvsHate Teacher Story: Miriam Robinson
A teacher and student from Washington state made these videos about why #USvsHate matters to them.
#USvsHate Teacher Story: Charlsie Wigley
A teacher from Alabama told us why her students found #USvsHate inspiring.
#USvsHate Podcast: The Experience of an Anti-Hate Initiative in U.S. Education Today
Our #USvsHate research team has been gathering teacher stories from participating teachers. Check out this podcast for some early 2020 thoughts!
Interview with Kalie Espinoza, 10th Grade Teacher
(Her students made two of our Winter 2019 winners.)
The week after the shooting at the Tree of Life synagogue, I decided to do a brief study of antisemitism before conducting other curriculum in my English classes. I normally wait until the Spring to read and write about justice and silence, but in light of what happened, I thought it was important that we discuss what happened and contextualize it. A key question that came up right away was “why are the Jews a target?” I thought it was really important to unpack that because without understanding the Jewish people’s history, it would be really difficult to understand antisemitism. We started by watching “Why the Jews,” an interview from Sheryl Ochayon, Project Director at Yad Vashem, and Dr. Robert Rozett, a Holocaust expert, published by Echoes and Reflections. We then reviewed Anti-Defamation League’s “Pyramid of Hate” and then compared both texts to “Overcoming Hatred in Our Backyards” by Mica Pollock. The goal was to understand our current news cycle of antisemitism in the context of history, pervasive stereotypes, and the Holocaust.
In the middle of our discussion, a few students brought up some feelings about school curricula and representation – “why don’t we discuss Black lives that are taken?” I wanted to validate these feelings and spend time on the history of the Black Lives Matter movement, so we discussed its mission and purpose, and why it makes sense to study both antisemitism and racism. To provide an introduction to the movement, we read ADL’s Black Lives Matter: From Hashtag to Movement. (This lesson can be found here: http://usvshate.org/more-specific-anti-hate-lessons/)
V. is a 10th grader who created her winning poster ‘When you fight for equality, fight for everyone!’ because she was inspired by the lessons that we studied. She thought a clean, simple message with bright colors might be the most effective at convincing others to support the causes about which she cares. V. hopes that her poster serves as a reminder to students across the county that they should use their voice in a positive way to support people who suffer injustices daily in America.
G. created her poster with a similar message in mind. She focused on wanting to make a positive message. The sources that we looked at felt so bleak, she described, that she wanted to find a way to be encouraging of her peers to consider differences a good thing rather than something that separates us. G. described her piece as “peoples’ appreciation of differences dripping down a canvas to cover up the hatred.”
Interview with Kim Douillard,
3rd Grade Teacher
(Her student created this winning message.)
Which #USvsHate activity from the Resource List, did you try?
I looked through the community building lessons on the #USvsHate website for a lesson to do early in the school year. I came across a lesson that
Are there other materials you brought into the discussion about inclusion?
I talk about that lesson as though that’s THE lesson because that preceded the lesson inviting the kids to create inclusive messaging. We were also in the process of reading Wish Tree by Katherine Applegate. It’s a novel for kids, probably aimed at 8-12 year olds, narrated by a 200-something year old oak tree. A key part of this book is there is a Muslim character in it, and somebody carves the word “leave” into the tree. It says in the book that she’s Muslim, and the kids in my class all react with, “What’s Muslim?” So since then, I now have a few picture books written about what it means to be Muslim. This year I read two different books. One is called “Four Feet, Two Sandals,” about refugees from Pakistan and Afghanistan who just happen to be Muslim, and I also have one about Ramadan, which is a much more middle class take. It talks about the gifts and traditions that are a part of Ramadan and helps my students get a bigger picture of what it means to be Muslim—that it is a religion that has holidays similar to holidays my kids celebrate. The refugee story was much more difficult for them to relate to. We also talked about mirrors and windows—which book is a mirror of your experience, and which is a window into someone else’s experience? And that difference doesn’t have to mean “bad.” It reminds me that we read a book early in the school year, when one of my students mentioned that a character in the book looked mean. When I asked why, the student said, “He has a tattoo.” So we ended up having a conversation about people with tattoos who weren’t mean or scary. Having that conversation about how somebody looks [at first] does not have to be a representation of who they are. So that went into our discussion of Muslims and how they fit into our understanding of the world. This idea of diverse literature in the classroom—which I think is important—some people can think is risky. If you talk about diversity you have to talk about why this student is wearing a scarf, or why is this student in a wheelchair, or why does this family look that way? And to me that’s part of the point. Looking at difference as usual and wonderful rather than odd or scary can make inclusion much easier.
How did you handle the message-making portion?
When I had kids make messaging, I was not specific with them . . . The San Diego Union Tribune had a whole page of all the ways to say “love” throughout the world, and it had a couple of photos on it—I showed the students the image and talked about the idea that these images and words could be representative of “Welcome.” If you can say “love” in lots of languages, that would be welcoming. That was the only thing I showed them and they knew they could use any program on their iPads: Notability, Docs, Book Creator, iMovie or plain old pencil and paper to create their messages.
How did you handle parent permissions for the #USvsHate contest submissions?
I sent emails to the parents to ask permission [for] an anti-hate contest I was submitting work to. I sent them their child’s work and asked them if they wanted the child to be identified by first name, first name and last name, or anonymous. It was pretty low key, and I used the same language on all of them (see below). They sent me the email back, so I have it on record. The parents were excited about it, one of the kids came in at recess after I had submitted and asked, “When do we hear about the contest?”
Here is the email I used to gain parent permission for entries in my classroom (I took out the names—I use a version of this same email for all my classroom submissions):
I have the opportunity to submit a few pieces of student work to a contest that features anti-hate messages by students. I’d love to submit the attached poster created by XXXX and would love your permission. I can submit with his full name, with his first name only, or without his name. Do you have a preference? My inclination would be to submit with first name only.
I’ve attached a photo so you can see his creation. I’ll use this email thread as permission to submit if you agree.
Thanks so much!
Interview with Jerry, 10th Grade Chemistry and 7th Grade Advisory Teacher
+ Vanessa, 6th Grade Social Studies and 7th Grade Advisory Teacher
Jerry and Vanessa facilitated the #USvsHate lesson and activity in 7th Grade Advisory classes.
A student in Vanessa’s class created this winning message.
Which #USvsHate activity from the Resource List, did you try?
Jerry: The “Bullying and Bystander Effect.” The students had an anti-bullying presentation from our vice principal the week before, which is why we chose that topic to go into.
Please give an example of a difficult or successful moment in this activity.
Jerry: I . . . had kids who didn’t know what “ally” was, but I thought that might happen, so I explained it to start, and we re-discussed it at the end.. . .
It led to good conversations too though, because some kids would say, “I don’t want to do anything because I don’t want it to get turned around on me, and I don’t want to start getting bullied,” or they would say, “It’s none of my business,” or “I don’t really care that much,” but that led to good conversations.
Vanessa: I would have liked more preparation in how to respond to the people who chose to be bystanders, and how to respond to their reasoning behind it . . . I had the same group of boys choose the “bystander” corner almost every single time, and I would press them on their reasoning, but I don’t know if I had the right tools to respond to that.
Jerry: With this age group, buy-in is everything . . . So I’ve noticed with activities like that, if I want to get to a heavy subject like bullying, I start with something like superheroes or favorite ice cream or something. So instead of topic-specific cue cards we had on bullying, you could first do the activity by saying like, “Do you like holidays?” That way they get more used to the activity, and what they’re supposed to do, and it’s more of a fun thing to say, “I hate dogs.” Then you get into the bullying conversation. You say, “We’re going to continue the same thing, and be honest.” Then they’ve already done it a couple of times and know what’s up.
Vanessa: I really feel like maybe we could have taken one of those statements and made it into a socratic seminar afterwards, and just had a follow up discussion. That might have been a nice closure to it.
How did you feel about the message creation? Did you use a revision process?
Vanessa: They’ve created products before, but the freedom was different for them. I told them they could do a video, create something visual, a poem, and that was overwhelming for kids. They just wanted to be told what to do. The second thing was I had to pull aside like five different kids who started their product, and it was so interesting because they wanted to show LGBT rights, but then they kept using language that was like “us versus them” language, like, “they are normal,” and “gay people are humans too.” So I was like, “Someone reading this is going to feel like this is a separate entity, like we are not one. Let’s tweak the language.” That took a minute.
Jerry: You get little things like that you have to correct. You know the little red circle with the line through it? Well instead of putting “bullying” in there, a kid put “anti-bullying,” so kids were like, “Oh, you support bullying? You’re anti, anti-bullying?” We had another one, and this one is more crude, so I apologize, but it’s things you need to catch. He made a little comic strip, and on it there were kids picking on one kid, saying, “You’re gay,” and the other kid says, “Gay? I’m more straight than the pole your mom was dancing on last night,” and they were going to put that on this national competition poster! And it is funny, but those are the things you need to pay attention for, so it was good we took a few days on the projects.
Vanessa: They are so used to copying and pasting pictures from the internet. It’s just part of their DNA. So when they are doing something on the computer, I had to tell every single person at least two times, “You have to do your own thing. This needs to be original.” That needed a lot of bold letters.
You did the general lesson on bullying. Were you able to get into talking about different hate forms?
Jerry: They are seventh graders, and there are lots of high school students who don’t learn about equity-minded training until college, or even never. So for my students, the samples of bullying were, “You’re gay,” “You suck,” or, “You have a big forehead,” but nothing deeper came up. There was one about race, but I didn’t get any about religion, I didn’t get any about sexual preference. I think part of the lesson could also be about addressing the vocabulary, and the deeper background knowledge that a lot of these kids don’t have yet, or even some teachers don’t have. When I was in college I did all the Resident Advisor training stuff, and went through a bunch of equity-minded training. I learned equity minded terms and language, like saying, “you all” versus “you guys.” That can be basic, but a lot of adults or students don’t know it yet.
Vanessa: I went through similar trainings as a college Orientation Leader, and something simple that impacted me a lot was an activity about privilege. We all started at the same line, and you had to throw a ball into a basket, and for every privilege you had, you would take a step forward, so you had a better chance to get it into the basket. It was so simple. I was like, “‘Duh!” But I still remember that, and I feel like teachers need that, but also students.
How do you think this fit into Advisory class, specifically?
Jerry: Four of us were working together on this, which made it helpful. So keeping in mind that teachers have a lot that they are already doing, and this is not something necessarily required, but supplemental. In that sense, it’s nice if you can do it . . . where you have the team that can prepare and work on it together.
Vanessa: If I’m doing Social Studies, what is going to help the future more? Students knowing about pharaohs, or knowing how to treat each other well? I mean, these ancient civilizations didn’t last for a reason, so maybe we need to take some heed as to why they didn’t. So I’m willing to set aside time in my Social Studies class rather than Advisory to really do this. It’s so frustrating because last week was awful (referencing a hate crime against Jewish people), and it makes people who defend social justice feel like, “What is the point, when everything is still going so terribly?” But we are teachers for a reason, because we believe in incrementalism. It’s the little things that add up. (big sigh) So I think everybody should have to do it. I think it should be part of the standards, you know?
Interview with Ted Kim, 8th Grade Science and 7th Grade Advisory teacher
Facilitated the #USvsHate lesson and activity in 7th Grade Advisory class.
Which #USvsHate activity from the Resource List, did you try?
The “Bullying and Bystander Effect.” The introductory conversation went really well. There wasn’t as much buy-in with the “four corners” activity as there was with the conversations we were having. The kids enjoyed talking about how bullying was perceived at the school and they enjoyed defending their opinions, defining terms, and using examples of how they can respond and what their role would be in certain scenarios. . . when it came to taking all of their words and all of their ideas and putting it on paper, a lot of them were like “Whoa, this is a lot. How do I take all the rich conversations we’ve had, and how do I display it all on a piece of paper?” I think that was a little tricky for some of the kids, especially for the ones who had a lot to say
What is your take right now on the value of the messaging piece?
Every morning I always open my door, the kids line up, and I greet them as they come in. But recently, since putting up some sample #UsvsHate work, I have had a lot of kids that were not in my class say, “Oh I like your poster on the door,” and, “I like the message,” or, “That’s a cool poster,” meaning that kids are looking at it and noticing it. Something about the message of #USvsHate, and being able to relate to something that’s hand-created, draws them in. I think there were more conversations than I expected. At first I put up the poster thinking, “I’m going to put the poster here because I like the poster, and it’s something I think should be represented in our school community,” but being able to have other students who are not in my class see it and comment was a positive thing . . . In the classroom, I feel like a lot of times I have 80% engagement, and 20% of students who need more time or a different approach to be engaged. There was much more student participation than me having to lead things, which was really nice to see. After watching the video and having a few scenarios to go through, the kids started talking about things they had seen on campus and how it had affected them . . . I think the overall feel of the class, the mood of the class, was very positive still. I didn’t feel at any time that kids were feeling uncomfortable or hurt. And usually I feel like at the middle school level, a lot of times kids will say things that make other kids uncomfortable and you can kind of see that and feel it. I didn’t feel like they were in any way feeling negative . . . I think it was a good starting point for a topic, because it’s something that definitely happens at our school and is definitely relevant to them, and all at the same time not being too invasive about people’s beliefs and experiences. People felt more free to talk about it, which I guess is kind of sad to think that bullying is so commonplace.
Did you find the revision process useful?
I had students initially present in small groups of four. They just presented to each other, and I said, “We are giving helpful criticism or constructive feedback to help deliver the message a little better.” I had the kids talk about their project, why they chose that form of media, and also the message they wanted to get across. The group work was useful in that the kids were engaged with each other, but I don’t know if it was useful in terms of the original intent of the activity, which was for them to make revisions. I don’t know if kids made major changes because of it. It would have been more helpful if I gave them a template for how to give feedback to each other. I don’t know if that’s because kids are being really nice to each other and don’t want to hurt each others’ feelings, but having questions to guide the conversation might be something to consider in the future. (See Getting Started for some such questions –#USvsHate team) I think also having similar projects might help make the revision process more clear.
Did you try any guiding questions, and they didn’t work?
I didn’t try any of the guiding questions, so I’m thinking next time it would probably be good to have those ready for them to use, and say, “If you don’t know what to ask, here is a list of things you could potentially do to have that conversation.” I couldn’t figure out a good way to have kids sort of challenge each other’s’ thoughts, and I think that might be a matter of practice with conversations by providing a space for them to practice in a more controlled environment. I don’t think the students have had many conversations with students asking, “Can I have feedback on my work that is going to be constructive and help me, not in an academic sense.” Kids do peer grading on presentations and posters and projects, but I feel like a lot of that is just grading their peers, rather than thinking about the message of the project and the assignment given, and asking “How can I help you?” Our kids definitely need to be exposed to that more often.
Please give an example of a successful moment in this activity.
The discussion was the most engaging part. Having the questions about bullying and being a bystander, and being able to facilitate that rich guided discussion with the kids, all while watching a pre-video before was definitely the most valuable and helpful part of helping students understand the context of the lesson. All in all, it was a very positive experience for our kids, and for me as a teacher. I wish that it was something our school did regularly. Maybe just once a month, if the kids knew every single kid was doing this, or if we had more events on campus to showcase this, where kids are seeing empathetic thought and action more often. I think that exposure is really important, and that our kids are constantly seeing these messages, even if it’s not something they are having active discussions about all the time. . . A lot of the students that struggle with the issues in #USvsHate are ones that normally might not speak out about their experiences. It it could be for a variety of reasons so walking by and seeing these messages are like little lights of positivity on our campus.
Please give an example of a difficult moment in this activity.
I think . . . it may have been valuable to have a day when we talked about constructing messages, when we talked about the types of submissions, and what an anti-hate message looks like. I’m imagining this would be a much longer process. I felt like it was a little bit rushed. When announcing it to my students I stated, “Today you’re going to work on the project and next week is going to be your last day to work, because we have to submit it by this deadline.” The students always requested more time to work and my response would always be, “Do your best to do what you can. If you need to take it home, you can take it home.” But I think the intentionality of it needs to be slowed down, and that rushed feeling I think—not that it hurts the message—but I think it definitely makes it take a back seat.
How does this type of work fit into your classroom context, being an Advisory teacher?
I think that at our school, middle school Advisory is a perfect place for #USvsHate lessons to be taught and brought forth . . . At the middle school level, it’s really flexible and ties in really well with our curriculum, because we are trying to think about ways to address topics of that nature—being skills and good school citizen habits. Advisory lends itself well here because we are with those kids over multiple years, so there is a community aspect and buy-in. The ability to talk about more sensitive topics is there and well established, whereas if I had just met some of these students, I don’t know that I would have been able to have as rich a conversation. I think at schools where they might not have Advisory programs, ASB is a really good place for this, because ASB is student government, and the students there represent their student body. So as student leaders, looking at how to create the culture at our school, is where I can really see this thriving, because you are taking student leaders and saying, “This is an issue on your campus, and on all campuses. So as student leaders, what can you do now to lead your school into a culture of anti-hate?”
Depending on what your kids are wrestling with—racism, homophobia, et cetera—do you feel fine just trying those lessons, or do you need more equipping?
With respect to being better equipped, I would probably want to look at some more resources on whatever topic I was covering ahead of time. One of the big topics I’m hoping to work towards in my class is homophobia. I think it would be so valuable for our kids to understand what that means and how it affects so many people around them. I don’t know that I’m ready to answer all of their questions, nor guide all of their conversations such as what is appropriate or not appropriate. I would definitely want resources behind that. I would look into things I should know about the various communities, and also stereotypes, and what people think, because I might not know what all the stereotypes are. If kids are coming up with things that I haven’t heard of before, but are commonplace, in order to be able to adjust to those things, I would want to be more prepared to understand what I might hear from my kids. I also think as an adult, my understanding is probably very different from what they understand as students, and what I see in my community might be different from what they see in their communities. So being able to understand where my students might be coming from, and have some background knowledge so I can address a misunderstanding or a misconception is very important to me. We’ve made a lot of progress in our classroom, but verbiage in general—I think a lot of our kids still don’t understand what their words mean with respect to homophobia, and what that means to the LGBT community. Furthermore, the power of words is something that I think my students often forget. I don’t think my kids are ready for that now, but it’s definitely something I would like to do by the end of this year.
Interview with TJ, 7th grade Social Studies and 7th grade Advisory teacher
Facilitated the #USvsHate lesson and activity in 7th Grade Advisory class.
Which #USvsHate activity from the Resource List, did you try?
We used a very specific lesson, the “Bullying and Bystander Effect.” It involved a video, which we combined it with, as an extension of (a recent) anti-bullying speech by the dean. We did
Can you reflect on that a bit? Different teachers approach this in different forms—grading it, talking to a subset of students to do it . . . how do you get quality submissions?
You’re going to get more submissions but less quality when you make it a class requirement. But the good part about the class requirement is that we make them go through drafts. If you just turn them loose, and say, “Anyone interested can get extra credit,” or, “Anyone who is passionate about it can do it,” . . . The 5% will try to make a quality project on their own because they have passion about it, but that’s the 5% of kids who are anti-hate. And making those who are not choosing to do it, is teaching the lesson to those who actually need it.
What was the draft process like?
Gave them the info, had them think about what type of project they wanted, and then gave them two days in class to work on it. Had a first draft that they needed to submit and get points for. Had a second draft and then after the second draft it was like, what will it look like on a poster? So two drafts for content and quality—that’s where we got some of the hateful words out of there, made sure they were meeting the requirements, that it was in pen rather than pencil, things of that nature. After that it was about trying to make a project that could be duplicated into something useful.
Who was reviewing the drafts?
Some got feedback from peers, but I was the main person.
What did the peer review process look like?
(imitates a student) “Oh cool,” “Oh uh, I don’t know if you can do that,” “Mr., is this a form of hate?” You know, things like that. I think if given time, it could be even more explicit in a peer review process. (See Getting Started for some sample questions for this peer review. -The USvsHate team)
Did you find that students were able to get into any deep conversations about multiple hate forms through the lesson?
The teachable moments came from explaining what forms of hate were, and going into why we would not want to show hateful terminology when we are trying to send a positive message. We had a discussion with my ASB class. We got to go deep there, because it’s all high school, so we have ninth through twelfth grade. So it’s really about what’s age appropriate . . . When I was talking to my ASB class, we talked about how, in a non-religious way, from a historical perspective—I talked about how I’m seeking advertisements for Black Friday, which is supposed to be buying stuff for Christmas, and on the news, the next thing on there is immigrant children being separated from their families. And how Jesus was an immigrant and was born in a situation that’s not ideal, and literally had to travel across borders and had to move and migrate. The irony there. That was something we could get in much deeper because they had enough background about Christianity because they studied that. They had enough background about migration, and they can make a deeper connection than what I would have to feed the seventh graders. It’s current, it’s personal, and it’s accessible because they have enough background knowledge. Current, personal, accessible.
You’re doing this with your unique population. We also have educators doing this in many other regions, in different contexts . . . What’s your take on that? Teachers trying to broach this in communities where they’re not sure about how it will be received.
It is amazing that being anti-hate could be seen as political. We’re in a situation where obviously things are very skewed if being anti-hate and pro-compassion is considered political. I think that is something that teachers always need to come back to. . . . Wanting people to migrate legally is, you know, political. Wanting kids to be with their parents should not be political. I think a group like #USvsHate needs to put the pendulum in its right place, which is that being anti-hate is not political. Being a nice person is not political. Protecting people’s rights is not political . . . I think we can’t let our standards get eroded to that. I understand that I am Black, and I’m teaching in a school where it is a majority immigrant minority. But, I think if you cower or you compromise with hate, then you’re letting hate guide what you teach.
Focus Group with Teachers from the California Reading and Literature Project.
Kathrina, 4th Grade Teacher
Her students made this winning message.
Ashley, 6th Grade Teacher
Her students made this message, a finalist in our November contest.
Artemisa, 1st Grade Dual Language Immersion teacher
Her students made the Lego animation anti-hate video on this page!
Shannon, High School English teacher
Her student wrote this winning essay in our Spring 2019 contest.
You’ve all been piloting this project at your schools, and trying to recruit others to participate. What have been your successes and challenges, especially pertaining to the recruitment aspect?
Kathrina: We have a new math curriculum, a new ELA adoption coming, socio-emotional learning, we all got new counselors, a ton of new stuff coming our way . . . Then we had fall break, and then Thanksgiving. So timing is never going to be ideal, but at the same time, this week was the start of anti-bullying week, and that was really easy to tie into the whole anti-hate topic . . . [also], At the beginning of the school year, all the lessons for community building 3-5 and k-2, a lot of it is really awesome.
Did you have any issues doing this in your school community specifically? Any resistance?
Kathrina: I don’t think so. If anything, I was pleasantly surprised at how deep my kids were able to go. I was bringing up topics I’ve never discussed in my classes, and I’ve been teaching fourth grade for almost 14 years. So we were talking about recognizing hate at an adult level, and how that plays out as bullying at the elementary level. We talked about why people are bullied and how they relate to the same things adults face, so we talked about race and sexual identity, all the way to special needs and disabilities. It was surprising to see how much my kids are exposed to at school that I never realized. I’m glad those topics are now coming to the surface.
Did you use any specific lessons on the site?
Kathrina: . . . We did “It’s OK to Feel Different,” and I do that every year at the beginning of the year. I do it as a class book at the beginning of every year. And we just finished the “I Am” poem, and I loved it. That’s another beginning of the year activity. It talks about different topics. The kids are going crazy because they just want to read [their poem] in front of the class, and share. And I have 31 kids, so we haven’t gone through all of them yet, but I had kids volunteer to share, and now everybody wants to do it. After every kid goes, we have a
Another one . . . was all about learning the story behind their name, so each kid had to go home and talk to their families about where their names came from, and they shared, and a lot of the kids didn’t even know where their name came from. And it was really fun getting the parents involved. So now all the kids are into what their names mean and where they came from, what their last name means and who it came from. I have kids with really great stories and then other kids have no story, so that’s kind of interesting, and that’s also kind of scary to navigate too, because I have some foster kids in my classes that I didn’t realize, and they didn’t know the story behind their name because they don’t live with their parents. So that’s something I didn’t consider. I already knew most of my kids were able to access someone at home, but I need to be sensitive about that too, in recommending that to other teachers. But we are all getting to know each other even more than we thought we would.
Ashley: I teach sixth grade . . . We’ve been talking about “unprompted inclusion,” and that’s a phrase built on an article from Teaching Tolerance. So we’ve been talking about how do we show unprompted inclusion, to reach out without someone having to ask us or tell us? So it was a good segue into what I wanted my students to create, which is a PSA. . . . The way I structured it—first, I wanted students to understand their own identity. So I had them take a strengths test, and they were all really excited about knowing who they are and what their strengths were. Then we went through the GLSEN guidelines from the #USvsHate website, the norms, the GLSEN guidelines for respect. Then we went into one of the activities of being an ally or bystander, going to four corners of the room for how they would respond to different scenarios. One of the best parts was that I ordered the film kit for the documentary, “The Children’s March,” and that was where they really gained gusto for the
Artemisa: I reached out to a teacher friend I have . . . [in a program where] all of the kids have IEPs, and have not graduated from high school. The idea is they can get their diplomas between the ages of 18-22 . . . I feel like they were really on board and excited about it. Because a lot of them do have IEPs and are autistic, and they each have their own thing going on, sharing their perspective with the world was particularly powerful as well. I’m excited—I helped her a bit over the weekend, to submit some of her entries and stuff.
Could everyone share a moment of intense growth, or a moment when you felt courageous—something wonderful or challenging?
Ashley: I think for me it’s just having students share and acknowledge that hate exists around them, and I think that especially with the grade level being sixth grade, they are pretty mature, and they have seen a lot. I was telling them that a lot of times 11 and 12 year olds aren’t listened to, because people think they are inexperienced, and they haven’t lived enough life, and they are proving the public wrong. They have lived a lot of life. And it was really interesting to get to hear their stories, because it makes me connect with them more, and it allows me a window into their lives that I don’t think I would have seen—I don’t think I would have known these hard parts of their lives, if we didn’t have this project.
Kathrina: Remember the hate note I found? Is that worth sharing? I was trying to think about how I could talk about this with fourth graders—most of my kids are still nine—and I didn’t think that hate would be such an applicable word, because they throw around “hate” like the word “dislike.” So it’s often synonymous. It just happened a week ago. I found two notes in my classroom. One of them said, “I hate (one student)” and another said, “I hate (another student).” There have been years when I’ve seen these and I catch them, and I crumple them up and thrown them away, and I ignore it. And we’ve done a lot of restorative circles since the beginning of the year, we do it daily. And I knew from being a part of this project, that I said, “I need to acknowledge this, and really teach the kids what this four letter word is, and how heavy it is, and how serious it is.” And we met in a circle and I laid on the guilt, and pretty much told them how upset and disappointed I was. I had a circle and I said, “I will give you all an opportunity to tell me if you know something, or admit what you did,” and we went around the whole circle, 31 kids, and every single student said that they didn’t do it. I just said, “I’m really sad, because now I know there are two people lying in the class.” It gave us a place to talk about honesty. Making a long story short, I tried to bring it down to their level and really talk about what hate meant. And how there have been acts of hate in our country, with terrorism, with shootings. I went down that road. And I wouldn’t have gone down that road had I not been exposed to the content on the site and Teaching Tolerance.
And it was really quiet in my room, and I have some really squirrely boys, and we sat there for 45 minutes talking about this issue in a circle. So when you ask about a moment that was a turning point, I felt it was this moment. And I said, “This circle is not for me to just solve a problem and tell you what to do. I’m tired, and I want us to work it out together.” So I asked them, “How do you think this makes [John] feel?” So they went around and said all these things, because [John] is a really sweet boy, and he doesn’t get into conflicts over anybody, he’s pretty quiet. So students started to say they felt sorry for him because he is friendly to everybody. And we went around again and said, “Now we know that [John] probably feels like this, and we are talking about this note, how do you think the two people who wrote these notes feel?” And instead of them getting angry, a lot of the kids showed a lot of empathy, and said, “They probably feel embarrassed, they probably feel nervous, they probably feel too anxious to come and say anything.” So I said “Ok, what do we do? How can we make this an environment where they feel comfortable coming forward?” The kids went around and gave ideas. They said, “Maybe they should come up to you at recess when no one is looking, they should go to [John] themselves, they should do this.” Every single suggestion was to not shame or point the kid out, whereas I feel like in the past it would be, “Find out who did it, they should be punished, everyone should know who it is.” They didn’t really care anymore who it was, they just needed that person to come make it right. So I said, “Ok, I’m hearing you say we don’t want to shame the person or embarrass them,” and the kids were saying, “They need to know they are going to be forgiven, I don’t think they knew what the word hate meant.” I said, “Ok, putting all your ideas together, take out your laptops, and email me ‘I did’ or ‘I didn’t do it,’ and how are you feeling.” I was crossing my fingers because I thought, “If this doesn’t work, I’m screwed!” And the two kids came forward. Hallelujah, they came forward. So I had a talk with my kids, saying I really trust every single one of them, because they want to make things right, and that laid the groundwork to do more of these lessons. And I always go back to that, like, “When that happened, we worked as a team, and we don’t want hate to be here, and we need to spread our techniques and strategies for working with this to other classes, with other schools,” and that’s why they were really excited to participate in the competition. But it was a teachable moment that happened on its own, and I’m lucky it happened that way. So like Ashley was saying, I don’t think people give kids enough credit. I want kids to know they have power. Adults are dealing with hate all the time, and kids are resilient, and a lot more forgiving, and they can teach us a lot more than adults can.
That’s really powerful. I don’t want to assume this, but it sounds like you might be giving too much credit to this project, because it sounds like you’re doing a lot of this kind of work. This is embedded in a lot of related work you do.
Kathrina: It is, but I think there is a little hesitation to talking about hate at that level. I would talk about, “Oh yeah, hate, like when you don’t like someone or they’re different,” but like today, we were saying words we usually wouldn’t say in my classroom. Kids were talking about racism, about teasing kids because of their accents. Terms they hear on the playground that were really hurtful, and I was surprised. Rhyming words that had to do with skin color, gay, all these words that, I don’t know—I know that they’ve heard them, but I didn’t know they heard them that much.
Artemisa: Going off of what you just said, I remember looking through the “Safe Spaces and Unsafe Spaces” lesson, and looking at it in detail. I had just read the book “Blubber” by Judy Blume, which was perfect for this period and stuff. And reading through the lesson really got me thinking about kids and their perception. What are safe spaces at school, and how can we as adults provide them? How can I make sure to listen to my kids, and really keep an eye on what’s really going on to the level of the playground, and how do they interact with one another, and how do they talk about each other, in a way that I hadn’t thought so much about before. That’s been the more reflective part of it, more than conversations with the students. That frame and lens
Are you worried about the teacher who has no background in any of these issues?
Ashley: I knew what I was comfortable sharing and teaching, and I didn’t do anything that I would feel uncomfortable with. I wanted to make sure it was something that I felt I had—not expertise—but more of a comfortable feel with. That was a concern of mine, not knowing. There are so many things I’m not comfortable sharing because I don’t want to say it wrong, or offend my students because of my ignorance. So hopefully teachers would be mindful of knowing what they feel comfortable sharing and what they don’t with their class.
Shannon: I think I was resistant, not because I didn’t think it was important, but because of my population of kids. I was scared. I was scared for how to do this the right way, to honor the students and protect students in my room, but also be able to combat anything before it happened. Like negativity that might come at me. To be well equipped . . . I would have done it a lot faster and sooner, and felt more empowered if I had looked at examples. I needed to do that first.
Interview with Shaoni Bandy, 11th Grade Advisory and 7th Grade Science teacher
Facilitated the #USvsHate lesson and activity in her 11th Grade Advisory class. Her student made the “Liberty” winning entry at the top of this page.
Which #USvsHate activity from the Resource List, did you try?
I used the 25 mini films from the New York Times about race and identity. So I used that link, and I went through their website, and read everything that they had there, and . . . built a lesson piecemealing together certain segments . . . I had the first day be just an individual activity—I had them own
So I read all of those, and read for trends and common themes. And I had them submit on Google Classroom so I could respond directly to questions that they posed, and then based on their responses, that guided the discussion that we had the next day. For example, one thing that came out is something I’d never thought of—this was the first time they had heard this idea of the “Model Minority.” And then a lot of the students identified with the colorism aspect—”I don’t feel Latino enough, because I’m so white,” or whatever. From there I went my own way. I had them read the list from “Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack,” by Peggy McIntosh, and we read segments of that, and then looked at other markers of privilege. “How might that list change if it was a heterosexual person, or a man?” . . . We reflected on experiences where they had felt uncomfortable before, times when they felt so out of place, so uncomfortable . . .
I definitely wanted to start with race and identity because I know there was a need for that with this particular group. They were open to these kinds of discussions—they very much crave it. I want to pull another lesson, and I’m still thinking about it, but I want to do something with harassment and “Me Too” kind of stuff . . . not just because of this day and age, but because of comments I’ve heard people make . . . I would like to come back to this a couple of times, maybe once a month, and do something.
You said the “Model Minority” issue came up, and colorism. How did you feel in terms of your own skill set in responding to those issues?
I felt comfortable about it, but I think that’s a product of my graduate program
Do you have any thoughts about another teacher who hasn’t had that background, and how to support them as they navigate this project?
I can definitely understand how that is scary. I can see that some people would just be overwhelmed. Like, “I see all these resources, and I don’t know what to do. What’s my step one?” I think there has to be some self study or self exploration of whatever topic they are going to be doing. Maybe reading some of the resources on the website. Maybe finding a toolkit for how to deal with things when they happen. (See our Tools for Productive Anti-Hate Dialogue page for such resources! -The #USvsHate team) Like if someone says something ridiculous in my class or like, wildly inappropriate, I feel like I have to address it. And I have to address it with everybody, because I need everybody to get the message that, “That’s not ok.” They need to know when somebody says something offensive or ridiculous, it’s ok to speak up. That message has to be sent. (Check out our starter list of #USvsHate Dialogue Strategies, too! -#USvsHate team) But if you aren’t thinking about those things, then maybe you’re not going to know how to handle the situation, and that’s going to cause more tension. (sigh)
To summarize, I think part of it has to be in terms of content knowledge, you need to start learning about some of this theory. If I didn’t know about the “Model Minority,” or if I didn’t understand that was a problematic idea, I wouldn’t know how to handle that. So that background information is a necessity, and then there has to be some type of preparation about the reactions and comments people might make. And I know there will be a couple of people who, I have to say, “That should probably be a one-on-one question that should not enter the public sphere.” The “Tools for Productive Group Dialogues” on the website, I really liked that. I feel if you’re going in with the intent to do this right, you’re going to follow these recommendations and explore those resources. Just seeing the wealth on the website was exciting, because I think I’d be Googling these things for hours if I was trying to find something
Please give an example of a successful moment in this activity.
Just reading the kids’ responses was really great, because almost all of them said in their reflection said that they appreciated me having them do this. They appreciated looking at these different perspectives in the videos, and I think they appreciated that space. I made it very loose for our conversations—questions, comments, concerns. I think they were excited to just listen and see what other people were going to say. One thing that was really good that challenged me, and I realized I had made a mistake, and I was glad somebody pointed it out—I had gone through and I had selected films for the specific groups of people in my class. And somebody raised their hand and said, “How come there are videos for Black females but none for Black males?” And I was like, “Well because there are no Black males in the class,” so I just skipped that one, and I shouldn’t have done that, but I pulled videos that were very specific to my class. They picked up on that too . . . That was really cool, because that’s exactly the kind of stuff we want them to be thinking about. That was awesome. And I think because a lot of them are more willing to share in writing, I got a lot out of reading their responses.
How did you feel about the message creation? Did you use a revision process?
I kind of had a different approach. In my class it was more appropriate to just have a smaller group of 10 work on it, because it aligns with their interests . . . and I had the artist talk to the budding activist about how it might look, and the budding activist is not an artist. I had them look at the previous cycle’s submissions and they were really excited about it. They could use it as an option for scholarships they are applying to and other things they have to do. I explained it like, “You can be part of this program that can be rolled out nationally,” and they thought that was cool.
Another issue is doing this kind of work right now, as opposed to five years ago. Do you feel like the political current event stuff has any effect on this kind of work?
I think it makes the students want to talk about it more. It makes them more ready to have these conversations, because they are processing everything else going on in the world.