One thing that seems to pop up every year in my classroom is the question, “Am I your favorite student?” This is closely followed by its popular cousin, “Is ________ your least favorite student?” Students generally are curious what us teachers are thinking so I typically give an answer but rarely the one they want.
“All my students are my favorite! I like them equally!”
“I don’t have any least favorites! Why haven’t you taken your homework out yet?”
This year I’m teaching a new subject with 6th graders. I’ve never taught students this young but so far I am enjoying it. I am extremely hesitant to generalize about this in October but it seems to be an exceptional group of kids. I would like to describe one of them to you.
She is a happy, bubbly, talkative, kind sixth grade girl. She always says “Hi!” expressively in the hall when she walks by. She raises her hand everyday, participates actively and always has something interesting to say. When she learned I liked soccer on the first day of school she excitedly told her dad that she had “found his favorite teacher!” because he was a big soccer fan too. Her mom showed up on back to school night, just as bubbly as her daughter, to tell me that.
The Monday she found out my birthday was the day before she announced excitedly that she was going to bring me chocolate and the next day she did. I won’t go so far to say that she was my favorite student ever but I looked forward to seeing her every single day just because of how positive and nice she was.
She also happens to be a Muslim who wore a headscarf every single day to school.
Her fashion sense is ridiculous. She has a different scarf every day that always seems to match perfectly with her shirt. The day after the Patriots first game of the season she wore a red shirt with the team’s name down the sleeve and a blue headscarf. Not that it would change my opinion of her at all but she speaks perfect English and I have no idea what her immigration status is.
I mention all this to make the following point. There are voices in our society who use fear to gain power, usually political. Some of these people like to decry those who are different and “other.” They scapegoat all immigrants, particularly Muslims, as those bringing violence and crime into our country. They decry the value of multiculturalism and diversity in our society and schools.
These voices are at best ignorant and misinformed, and at worst filled with malice, racism, and hatred. They should be ignored and marginalized for the inaccurate dreck that they are. Anyone who spends a day in even a mildly diverse classroom could see that the fears these people are exploiting have no basis in fact. The US is a country of immigrants, based on freedom of religion and expression. Diversity is and should be our strength and pride.
A few weeks ago my “favorite” student announced she was leaving by the end of the week to go to a nearby charter school she had finally been accepted to. I played it off in the moment but I was devastated. Teachers only get a school year with their students and then they float on to another hallway and grade. This student was only in my class about a month. I hope she comes back to visit at some point.
We are living in divided and acrimonious times. It is far too easy to “what about” ourselves to death when the latest outrage or rhetoric is splayed out by our leaders. What hope do we have?
I hope my student continues to grow into the intelligent and kind person she is and I hope we continue to acknowledge that what unites us is far more significant than the things that divide us.