The Daily WORD is N WORD

My finest teaching moment – or the end of my teaching career?

7th Grade language arts, the bad class. I was a substitute (read target.) Every student had a copy of the novel they were reading, and the lesson plan said the kids could silent read (that class? No way) Or I could read the chapter to them.

Reading to a bad class is an exercise in multitasking. Not only was I reading unfamiliar material, but I also was watching for UFOs, gum smacking, sexual activity, note passing, and other typical 7th grade behavior while repeating pointing to the note on the board “No passes, no exceptions.”

The novel was set in turn of the century south, and the protagonists were poor with abysmal grammar. I cringed at every “ain’t” and “he done it.” If I hadn’t been otherwise distracted I may have caught the N Bomb, but I read, “Jeb said, ‘Hey you big black nig..”

Without a pause I continued the word. To shriek in dismay or otherwise react seemed an inappropriate response to literature. To my surprise, the students were actually listening. The room exploded. A Caucasian girl fled the room, and the only shouts were SHE SAID THE N WORD.

Cooly, I responded, “Let’s look at the concept of ‘context.’” A few listened. I went further into forbidden territory by suggesting that they, as future policy makers, needed to form an opinion: do we face the hard truths of our history or do we rewrite our literature?

A few more future policy makers listened, and it seemed to me they were thinking.

The bell rang, and I wrote the teacher a long note. I explained the situation to the principal who agreed that she would probably get some phone calls from parents. She said I had turned the episode into a “teaching moment” and had not behaved inappropriately.

So far, my house has not been egged; the police have not arrived; and the school board has not sent a delegation.  If my teaching moment was successful maybe we can hope that our literature will stand as an accurate depiction of our past, an illustration of how far we, as a society, have come.


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