“What does this have to do with substitute teaching,” you ask. I would ask myself the same question only a few years ago. But first, let me start this story with a little background. A study done by Penn State in 2012 concluded the following about the area where I live.
PARKERSBURG – A new study completed by Penn State University professors has determined the Mid-Ohio Valley is among the least ethnic diverse areas in the country.
The Parkersburg-Vienna-Marietta area is 96 percent white, according to the study, and is the second least diverse area in the country. The Mid-Ohio Valley was topped only by Laredo, Texas, which is almost 96 percent Hispanic. (full article here)
The fact that it took a study to tell me this is a little humorous, because it just takes a day in the town to be in the middle of this reality. I don’t have exact numbers on the breakdown of my particular “city,” but in the state of West Virginia where I live, I am a proud part of a whopping .8% Asian minority (from Census Bureau quick facts). I have lived in this town since 1990 when I was 5 except for my 4 years in Boston for college. I was born in the U.S. but my parents were not. Being culturally “different” from the VAST majority is not new to me. I don’t feel disadvantaged, I don’t feel different in a bad way, and I am fortunate enough to have never worried for my safety because of my outward appearance. Racial prejudice is around just as it is everywhere, but I’ve fortunately never encountered it in a violent way nor have I heard about that in the area. I’m lucky to be able to proudly embrace my ancestry and nationalities.
OK back to subbing.
I was working in Ohio at the time, but it’s only about 10 miles from where I live. I overheard some boys in the class talking about me being Chinese (note: I am not). A girl told them to “stop being racist” and one of the boys said, “I’m not being racist.” He proceeded to make his eyes slanty by pulling on the corners. I was so absolutely shocked that I didn’t do anything about it. Before I started subbing, I never thought I would need an action plan for encountering this kind of behavior in a 7th grade class. I didn’t think about getting personally hurt in that way. I made a note to the teacher and I can only wonder if the issue was ever addressed
Only a few days later, I returned to the same school and as the kids were changing classes, I heard some of the kids yell, “Our teacher is a Chinese! We have a Chinese!” This was 5th grade.
All of this happened 3 years ago, when I was very new to subbing, new to taking any education classes, and new to working with students. I have always been very introverted and passive. I hadn’t developed the thick skin needed for dealing with brash children with no filters. I would absolutely say something if this happens again. I wouldn’t care to drop everything, forgo all plans, and give an impromptu, one hour lesson on diversity and sensitivity. If I didn’t do it, who knows if they would ever be corrected and who knows what the results would be if some of these kids went on fostering an idea like a group of people being funny or ugly or lesser for the simple fact that they look different. They may end up being like the elderly folks who rudely stare at my husband and I when we go to Bob Evans for dinner. They may end up being like the teacher’s husband who asked if I was related to the Asian exchange student. They may choose to ignore someone who needed their help or maybe would have otherwise made a great friend. Or it could even end up worse.
Here is a little bit of the lesson for those of you who might need it: It’s totally ok to be curious about someone’s nationality! Just don’t be an insensitive asshole.
i’m not Chinese.