Racism in My Classroom

Dear Jake,

How was your first day of high school? I read your emails when I arrived back from Cuba but it has taken me a while to find the time to sit down and write you back in the way that I wanted to. Please accept my apology for such an untimely response. 

For the past 5 weeks, I have been attending an intense professional development institute (sort of like the meetings the teachers at SBCS have on Friday afternoons when the students go home early) that has been transforming my teaching style. I have been thinking of you and your classmates, wishing I could go back and reteach you, using the tools that I am gaining here. I feel like there is so much that I did not give you guys as readers and writers and it actually causes me to feel quite desolate. I know you’re probably thinking how crazy that sounds, considering how much work we used to do but as you know (from the multiple drafts that I would push you to complete to perfect a single assignment) I believe that enough is never good enough, I am deeply reflective on the ways in which I could’ve done more to empower and elevate your minds to higher levels of greatness. But I won’t dwell because I am a firm believer in seasonal growth. I gained what I was supposed to during my time with you guys and you gained all that I had to give. Now, here we all are, scattered in our new schools, learning the value and importance of leaving comfort zones; it’s scary and unnerving but beyond worth it.

Sometimes, I find myself growing anxious because of all of the changes that I am baring but one of the reasons that I am able to remain optimistic is because of the letter you gave to me at Passage. You will never know how much your words reassured me that day – the day that was not only my last goodbye to my beloved students of 3 years but also, the day that ended the most challenging year of my life and career. Your words revived me and they meant so much coming from you because the truth is, in the same way that you gained a lot from me as your teacher, I gained so much from you as my student. Jake, you in particular, challenged me to become a better teacher. It was because of all of your questions and that relentless (sometimes vexatious) craving to know more than anyone else in the class, scratch that, in the world, that I gave you all so much more than what I was given in my English and Social Studies classes during my middle school experience. It wasn’t until college that I began questioning things that I learned from my teachers, textbooks, and even the messages of the media. No one really made me think deeply about where I came from and how my experiences are constantly shaping and molding who I am. I wanted you all to leave my class with a strong sense of self-awareness along with a vigorous confidence in your power and ability to impact the world around you. Of course, we cannot fully determine if you have that sense yet but as you progress through high school and find yourself tested by different situations, your reaction will be the measurement of my success in cultivating you. Please keep me posted on that. Please note: Though I use the letter I to describe my work with you, I do not take the full credit for fostering your character, consciousness, and insight.  You had and still have a strong team of teachers and stakeholders supporting you.

As I said, I gained a lot from you. While in Cuba, I was faced with a racial struggle that made me think of you. Since our very first week together, we have always discussed political issues especially race. Remember when you were in the 6th grade and you asked me about racism. I told you, “Yes, I am racist. Anyone who considers himself or herself Black or white is racist. That doesn’t necessarily mean that they are prejudice. I don’t consider myself prejudice.” This is something that I probably shouldn’t have told you, not because it wasn’t true but because the concept of what it is to be racist, is one that you should have been encouraged to define for yourself. What I realize now – which I was ignorantly unaware of back then – is that you and the majority of your peers equated talking about issues regarding skin color with being a racist in a negative way. It is now my belief and understanding that the false notion that merely talking about race makes you a prejudice racist, is what makes many teachers shy away from having the raw discussions that we used to have in our class. But I was wrong for that too – not for exposing you all to the realities of our society – but for the way I went about it. Many of those discussions were off the cuff and unplanned. While I can appreciate the beauty that is an organic conversation, I now recognize the power in planning for them, providing resources through text and experts, and involving your parents. Because they were not just mere discussions – we were engaged in verbal experiences that for many of you, were first impressions, lasting imprints of what it means to be white or Black in America.

I am such a rebel. I am not afraid or embarrassed by the big R-word. I love to put controversial topics on the table but it is not fair or conducive to the empowerment of my students if I am not purposeful in facilitating these discussions. I will work on that on my part as a teacher but I implore you, as a young, eager learner, to continue searching for your own answers and definitions. Continue learning, unlearning, relearning, and reflecting. Go above and beyond, explore, explore, explore. And, oh yes, question EVERYTHING!

Love always,
Ms. Clay

PS: I am sure you NAILED that essay and even if you didn’t, the feedback will help you grow. Please, tell all of the kids at CITY that I said HI and I MISS THEM!

His Response:

Woah...I just had my mind explode....from knowledge bombs! Thanks for writing me back! Everyone from SBCS is fitting in nicely, and we're kind of dominating the classroom. Im pretty sure you'd be proud. Speaking of proud, Jaheim (Yes, the kid who fooled around all day) just transferred to City, and the whole day he was smiling. It's great to see everyone form SBCS grow outward and make new friends. High school is actually kind of fun...

..Then again, it's the second day. The building is huge! I keep getting lost, but I'm learning. Speaking of learning (That Segway was amazing), I do actually remember the day you said that, and it's defined how i've perceived racism, but not in the way you say. Yes it impacted how I thought about it, but it showed me the difference between prejudice and acknowledgement. So instead of using the word racist for meaning negatively so, lets just use the word...Potato. So, it's not potato of me to say that I'm white, or anything that has to do with white or black, thats acknowledgement and me saying that I recognize that I am white and others are black...and thats racist, but not potato. To truly be not racist would be someone who only sees everyone as the same thing, which is hard since people classify animals by color (Not in a potato way). Im not sure if that made sense...but just know that what you've said has fueled me to understand more about it. About asking questions, well...I think have pissed off one of my teachers already, but I'm not trying too.

Thank you for replying and I'm pretty confident that my essay will kick some serious *you know what goes here*. I hope that your new school is great, but I'm sure it'll be better with you. Thank you so much for preparing me and every other SBCS student who is walking City halls- It's because of you that we got here.

                                -Jake The House (Thats what my last name means in french, probably the name of a king :P)

PS. How was Cuba? And where are you going next?

PPS. Oh yeah, the blog looks great!

PPPS. You should look up some quotes by 'The Rock'. He's awesome and has some really inspirational quotes about working asses off and being the hardest worker in the room. You remind me of him, which is funny cause he's 6.8, HUGE, and a wrestler...and you're...yeah.

PPPPS. This is actually pretty fun :D


  1. Hey Ms. Clay, I think this is the only way I know how to reach you but I was wondering what was the name of the book you read to us in middle school during advisory? It was two I believe. One girl's name was Tracy and the other was Winter.

  2. The Coldest Winter Ever & Flyy Girl ... email me your number Valencia.D.Clay@gmail.com


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