Teaching Moments – unplanned opportunities to teach values
Russell C. Baskett, Co-Founder and Executive Director
“I’m not comfortable with this.” “You don’t belong here.” “We’ve got Donald Trump; we’re building a wall; you need to leave.”
These—or similar words—came from one of our 6th graders at our 2017 Summer Enrichment Program. She was confronting an SML Good Neighbors teacher who looks different from most people in this area. She is Asian; a international student from China; an outstanding teacher carefully recruited by the Good Neighbors staff.
When I heard this story from other teachers and volunteers I was disappointed and angry. This is the antithesis of the values we teach and model. I wanted the student disciplined—the family contacted. We needed to take action! How could we tolerate one of our teachers being humiliated by a student? Then I listened to the rest of the story; the response of the teacher to the student. It went something like this…
“I don’t see any Native Americans here today.” “If you’re not a Native American, you are not from here either. Your ancestors came from somewhere else. Almost everyone in this country came from somewhere else.”
Of course the student didn’t much like this response but did get the point. This was a “teaching moment” and the teacher got it just right.
The yard sign above expresses the culture and environment of SML Good Neighbors. “No matter where you are from, we’re glad you’re our neighbor.” The week after this incident our daily enrichment theme focused on “Cultural Diversity and Global Education.”
It is our goal to help students appreciate the differences in people; people from other cultures, people who have different languages and practice different religions, people who look different from us and like different things than we do. They are not strangers and not people to fear. They are simply part of the human family to be embraced, valued and loved.
That’s the message we try to convey by our words, actions and deeds. The incident with the student who disrespected our teacher was a teaching moment—a time when we could practice what we preach. Our teacher was a master teacher that day.
The symbols of today enable the reality of tomorrow. Notice the swastikas and the other signs of hate. Do not look away, and do not get used to them. Remove them yourself and set an example for others to do so.
Excerpt from “On Tyranny”, pg. 32, by professor Timothy Snyder, 2017