I've read many books in my life, my life as a parent and that as a teacher. I read books to see how authors see lives being lived by both children and adults. I read professional books about teaching so I can be a better teacher. I work hard to find solutions to challenges.
Lately there seem to be more stories than I am used to that reflect the problems of the bullied and the actions of bullies. There is that recent movie Bully. Companies are producing curriculum to try to solve the problem, schools are attempting to follow certain plans, and still, there are those books, reflecting life as the authors write it, and from their research, know it. Two recent book examples are Wonder, by R.J. Palacio and See You At Harry's by Jo Knowles. It is worrisome that we cannot help others, children and adults, find ways to respect and love each other as individuals.
Here at the end of the school year, I hope that all of us can take time during our breaks to find ways to aid both those who are bullied and those who bully.
It Takes An Ally…
It Takes Change
It Takes Us
As the Buddha taught: Life is so very difficult. How can we be anything but kind?
R.J. Palacio, in Wonder, wrote Augie's teacher's first precept as: When given the choice between being right or being kind, choose kind. by Dr. Wayne Dyer
Being kind is not all that allies do for others, yet it is that basic feeling that propels us forward into action. If we want to choose kind actions for others as a life’s goal, then becoming an ally for those who need one can become part of that goal.
A few years ago, I attended my first board meeting as the first vice-president, one of three leaders. There was also a second vice-president and a secretary/treasurer. I was both a staff member and female. The president was male, as were the other leaders. Each time the president asked a question specific to a leader, he directed it to the second vice-president. Each time it happened, the second vice-president looked at the president, then at me, and said something like “I think that’s better answered now by Linda.” It was one of the times in my life when I recognized the value of having an ally.
At the same time, I began to identify other situations where I could take steps to make a difference. When a store clerk makes eye contact with me, asking what is needed and ignoring the customer there first who is much younger or a different color, I can speak up, saying the simple words, “oh, no, he or she was here first.”
I am re-thinking what other ways I can work as an ally in my life. Most of the time, when one thinks of being an ally, goals become lofty and feel unattainable. We say to ourselves that we admire those who have taken on big challenges to achieve diversity, to fight for the unearned privileges of some to be given to all, and to ensure the doors closed to some will open for everyone. Yet, we also say that we must wait a little longer, because we don’t have the time or energy to take on such a large commitment.
Yet, I’m convinced that we can live our lives as allies every day, using our eyes and ears to become attuned to the situations happening around us that call for allies to use their confidence to step forward to do the kind thing. As a teacher, I am aware of possibilities every day at school.
I can greet students as they enter school, saying specific and personal words to those who appear isolated from others. I can, as the old telephone commercial told us, reach out and touch someone...
WITH WORDS-“Hi John, welcome to Tuesday. Hope your day today is terrific.
“Hi Marianne, I see you have a new backpack. How’s the back doing with that load?
“Hey, Justin, your teacher told me you wrote some awesome words in your writer’s notebook yesterday. Tell me about it.
“Ruby, you got a haircut! Looks great. How do you like it?
WITH TOUCH-I can grab someone’s arm, give it a squeeze and walk him or her to the stairs, asking how the day is going ‘so far’, and if there’s anything I can do to help.
Pat someone on the back as they walk by, saying to have fun in class. And later, ask how the class is going, and what the student is doing in the class. I can follow-up every few days to communicate that I am there, watching and caring.
As students move through the halls, when I hear names called that are derogatory to other groups, I can call attention to it to stop it. What I can’t do is ignore it!
WITH ACTIONS-Because of what I know and continue to learn, I can give a book talk to my class that includes books about all kinds of people and all kinds of circumstances. When we read poetry, I can teach the poetry of various cultures and sexes, both contemporary and historical. When I give examples from history, I can ensure that my knowledge is broad enough to talk about the history from many perspectives.
And finally, I can open discussions about myself with students or teachers in order to raise their levels of understanding of differences: about adoption (my own children and several nieces and nephews are adopted), about persons with physical challenges (I have a niece with Cerebral Palsy and a husband with Parkinson’s), about children with step-parents (I had one), about people who are non-white (I have nieces and nephews who are both different races and non-native Americans).
Being an ally means living the minutes of one’s life as one, without fanfare, without excuse. Will you?