Teaching in The Age of Coronavirus: Week 10 — Black Lives Matter

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High school teacher Sari Beth Rosenberg in a meeting of her student feminist club.

Building A Sense of Community Across Devices

Week 10 was slated as “Self Care/Community Week” at my school. The plan was to allow students time to make up work, participate in college and career seminars and join some virtual self-care workshops. 

However, by the end of the week, the news about George Floyd’s murder by police eclipsed many of our intentions to provide students a sense of comfort in the chaos of the COVID-19 crisis.

 

"While we all watched the nation seem to break apart at its seams, I did my best to help my students feel connected. However, it is really challenging to help build a sense of community across computer and phone screens."

 

Week 10 was the hardest week of quarantine so far. While we all watched the nation seem to break apart at its seams, I did my best to help my students feel connected. However, it is really challenging to help build a sense of community across computer and phone screens.

The week started out hopeful. Our excellent college counselor, Jessica Arkin, organized a week of sessions on college for our students. She brought in alumni who are in college to help the  current High School for Environmental Students students navigate the college application process. 

 

building a sense of community with distance learning

 

I helped moderate the panel “Developing Your College List and Thinking About Applications.” It was really moving to see so many of my former students participate in the discussion with many of my current classes. The alumni spoke about the process of applying to college and we discussed the importance of self-reflection when choosing your potential school. 

To continue the community spirit of the week, our Assistant Principal of the Humanities Department, Heather DeFlorio, produced and edited this amazing video for our students. As you will see when you watch it, a group of High School for Environmental Studies teachers lip synced and performed the song, “I’ll Be There For You.” The goal was to show our love and connection to our students, even during remote learning. 

 

 

Students were thrilled to see that their teachers took the time to perform for this video. Here’s one of the many students who responded to the video:

 

building a sense of community with distance learning

 

Addressing Race & Racism in Class

My plan for the rest of the week was to offer support to students who were struggling with work. I had no intention of assigning new work or having another class. I toyed around with the idea of having an impromptu Instagram Live class if students were interested, but was ultimately planning on giving them space for the week. 

Then we all heard the news about the murder of George Floyd by four Minneapolis police officers.

Even though we were not technically supposed to have class this week, the history teacher in me compelled me to hold an impromptu class about George Floyd on Instagram Live. I was so honored to have Dr. Yohuru Williams, who had already spoken to my students about the Black Power movement of the 1960s as well as the Black Panther Party in a previous Zoom class, meet with my class. I wanted to ground the murder of George Floyd at the hands of the Minneapolis police in history for my students. I also wanted to give them the space to learn about and further process what they were watching in real time on the news. 

 

Sari Beth Rosenberg and Dr. Yohuru Williams

 

I invite everyone to watch the whole discussion, but highlights include:

  1. The historical context of the civil rights movement as well as police brutality against brown and black people.
  2. The Six Degrees of Segregation.
  3. The history of rioting as a response to racial injustice as well as political, economic and social inequality.
  4. The history of the Black Lives Matter movement.
  5. The concepts of “incremental change” and “white privilege.”
  6. The meaning behind the phrase “Black Lives Matter.”
  7. Why saying you are “color blind” is problematic when discussing race and racism. 
  8. How students can help break down racial barriers.

After class, many students, as well as friends who follow my teacher Instagram account, shared that the conversation was helpful in helping them understand what they were seeing on the news.  

On the last day of this challenging week, we had an impromptu Feminist Club meeting. I told the students that I was going to attend the meeting but my goal was to listen and share the space with them. The goal was to give them a forum to stay connected and process their feelings about the killing of George Floyd as well as the protests across the country. 

I have never felt more exhausted during remote learning than after this week. I wish I could snap my fingers and fix the oppression many of my students face. I also wish I could stop the global pandemic that robbed them of their spring semester of high school. 

 

"I wish I could snap my fingers and fix the oppression many of my students face. I also wish I could stop the global pandemic that robbed them of their spring semester of high school."

 

However, as educators, we are lucky to have a profession where we can take direct action every day to help young people. I feel honored and grateful to be a teacher. I am sure the people who share this profession with me feel the same way. 

Right now, the world feels more alienated and disconnected than ever. However, I will continue to do my small part to keep up the connections with our students.