With Black History Month upon us, I have been nervously trying to figure out how I plan to incorporate Black history into a classroom full of white fourth and fifth graders. I am the ONLY person of color in my classroom. 17 years on the job, and this has never happened before. Of all the years for this to happen, it had to be one of the most racially charged and politically tense years in recent history.
After a classroom mock election back in November, it was clear to see that my little people were all hearing different messages at home. What a confusing time to try and teach anything! I don’t want to offend or overstep. I don’t want parents to think my messages are underhanded or fueled by my own agenda. It has been scary enough trying to teach the Constitution and Bill of Rights in this climate.
However, I find that the answer is simple. I will teach them about Black history this year the same way I would normally teach it. This year, as a small blessing, my students will feel comfortable asking questions since the only person they would run the chance of offending is me. I get to be the example! For some, I may be the first daily interaction with a Black person that they’ve had. What a joy for me to be able to help them understand that a person is a person.
In my classroom, we will learn about Black history through STEM. Instead of checking off the list of the only five famous Black Americans they all can recite, I am setting out to show them that there is Black influence in everything. From science’s Marie M. Daly and Marie Van Brittan Brown to art influencers such as Alma Thomas and Aaron Douglas. On the engineering side, there is NASA’s first female Black engineer Mary Jackson and Guion Bluford Jr., who was the first Black man to travel to space.
People are different. People look different. People feel different. People learn differently.
After leaving my classroom, I hope I have succeeded in breaking down the stereotypes or fear associated with Black people. I hope they remember the kindness, patience, and love I have shown them and then extend that onto others. I hope I can help shape their experience enough that as they grow up they can be better and do better.