Friday, May 18
On Wednesday May 16, I was the "sub" in the 1st period Geometry class, as I was left alone with the students because the sub for the class had to leave for another class to occupy. There wasn't much for me to do; the lesson plan called for an independent practice/review worksheet to be done by the students. I was mainly prepping for my class coming up and helping students with questions when they had them.
Near the end of the period, maybe around 9:15 AM (class got out at 9:30), I overheard some students gossip about a male peer that they discovered was gay. The most resonating thing I heard was when two girls mentioned that he was a "waste of life." This moment in their conversation was preceded by an acknowledgment that this young man they were speaking of was a good-looking fellow, though they said it with less-attractive vocabulary.
I eavesdropped a bit more as I helped a couple other students. Their gabbing eventually fizzled to another, probably mindless, teenage topic. I felt irked, disturbed and upset about what these girls had said though; so much to the point that I needed to address my concern.
So I did. To the entire class. Before the bell rang. I asked for their attention and received immediate silence; not something I necessarily expected. I was running on adrenaline from here on out, although I had good control of my heartfelt intention to promote civil, intellectual, and respectful discourse among those in our school community, as well as in society as a whole. I said:
"I think it is very distasteful and wrong, and often hurtful, to judge someone based on who they are. If you want to make a good judgement about a person, do it based on what they do; do it based on their actions.
What Martin Luther King Jr. said in the 60's is pertinent today, and it always will..We need to judge people not my the color of their skin, nor by their sex, or ethnicity, nor by their sexual orientation, but rather by the content of their character. Calling someone a waste of a life (I didn't look at any students in particular during this whole time) just because he is gay is something that disturbs me very much, and it should disturb you all as well. You know there is just so much other crap going on in the world, so many more important issues to contemplate and deal with, that talk like that is, just...hateful...and stupid...."
At this point my voice had gotten shaky, emotions showing, eyes watering up (seriously).
I then thanked the students for their time as the bell was close to ringing. I had a completely silent room for those moments before the bell. There was an intense, stale air in the room. The air conditioner attached to this standard, rectangular prism-shaped, portable high school classroom was on the verge of rumbling on for the first time that morning. I was able to compose myself fairly quickly.
The bell rang, the A/C followed suit, and vibes returned to normal frequency.
The past two days, I've felt like this event didn't really happen, that is how surreal it felt. But after prepping in the same classroom this morning (today was the first time this class had reconvened since the "speech"), one of the students approached me after the bell and told me that what I did last class was really cool, and that all the kids were talking about it afterwards. This, along with putting a smile on my face, confirmed the event's validity, and compelled me to write about it before the memory gets foggy (or before my verbal storytelling alters its details).
How have you reacted to similar situations? Any comments, stories, tips, etc., that you have are welcomed:)