Today marks the first day of “Kickoff”, where ATF org members reunite to focus on what we will be doing and who we will be as teachers in our actual placement schools.
Today, we did a lot of reflection.
During said reflection, some of the experiences of the summer actually fell into place and began (mind you only began) to take place.
Most of these reflections on myself as a teacher were extremely humbling because, well, I realized how much I actually sucked. Really, really, actually, positively sucked.
One example of suckage that particularly stands out is the story of Robert.
Robert was a student in my summer school class. I noticed a few days into school that all of the students called him Red. Everyone in the gym in the mornings called him Red.
Awesome, Robert has a nickname, I beamed to myself, praising myself for my observations. I’m going to call him by his nickname! I will show Robert how much he means to me, that I pay attention, I observe, I know about him and who he is. Look at me! Building relationship! I tooted my own horn so loud and proud, I even ran off and “enlightened” my teaching quad about his nickname.
The next day, I started referring to him as Red.
“How’d you know my name’s Red, miss?!” he exclaimed, clearly surprised. I’m just that awesome. Go me. Yay Ms. Wildes!
A few more days go by and all of a sudden, it’s community night and what do you know?! Robert’s mom came. During our conversation, I referred to Robert as Red blatantly and intentionally. See ma’am, I know your son! I even know his nickname. I care.
Flabbergasted, she looked my right in the eyes, “Oh lord, y’all calling him Red now too?”
“They’ve been calling him Red ever since he was in the elementary school. The kids picked on him because he’s light skinned and his hair has that reddish color to it,” Ms. Robert’s mom began slowly, and softly. “I told him everyday when he came home crying, ‘You are not white! You are a black boy, don’t let those kids tell you any different just because your skin has less pigmentation than theirs?’ And so, for years, they’ve called him Red and I guess it’s just stuck”.
Shit fuck fuckerface fuck.
This name, this “nickname” that I “so kindly” called him because I was “building relationships” is something that originated from bullying and is something that was terrible for my student. I didn’t build a fucking relationship by mimicking the teasing of his peers, I potentially demolished a relationship. I didn’t seek to understand where his nickname came from, I just thought I was great for observing it.
And the worst part, I never asked Robert how he felt about being called Red.
The next day in class, I switched back to calling him Robert to “fix” my screw up. “Miss, why are you all of a sudden calling me Robert again?!” he protested, confused and probably frustrated.
Cue the moment where I should have had a discussion with him about where his nickname came from and how that makes him feel. Instead, this is what happened.
“Well, which name do you want to be called?” I inquired, curious and nervous all at once.
And the rest of the summer, I called that poor kid Red.
In the middle of my multi-cultural, multi-ethnic affinity group, the horridness of my own actions and choices hit me in the face as hard a cement block. Balls. I fucking suck.
And it was apparent.