Racial tension (updated)

Another first for me today: broke up a fight in my classroom.

Just as sixth period was starting (after lunch), a group of Armenian students came into my Algebra 1 class. They started having an altercation with one Latino student who was already in the room. I was scared because so many students came in all at once, but I quickly isolated the Hispanic student from the one student that seemed to be the target/instigator of the fight.

Thankfully, the teacher with whom I share the room was in the room and she also helped separate people and get the group of kids out of the class. She went to get help and together we were able to diffuse the situation without any punches landed, only a little bit of shoving.

It was nice to see some of the other kids in the class trying to help too. They were saying things like, “Hey, calm down” or “There’s no need to get so dramatic.”

I have no idea why the fight started, but it was clearly racially motivated. Most of the insults that were hurled were racial.

It was incredibly hard to get any learning done in that class today, and I don’t blame the rest of the students for finding it hard to concentrate. I also found it really hard to pull it together for the rest of class.

P.S. Another first today: having a student try to access my laptop from his/her cell phone via Bluetooth during class so that the name of the phone (which had some obscenities) would show up on the projector. How creative.

UPDATE: I was told that the fight started in gym class when one student crossed out another group’s graffiti, which was an expression of racial pride. That escalated to the incident in my class. There was a big fight after school. Admin tried to prevent the fight but Latino student somehow sneaked out of where he was being sequestered.

2 thoughts on “Racial tension (updated)

  1. Sounds like you did everything right… Since it happened coming in from lunch, at least you know that it wasn’t your classroom climate that’s somehow enabling this. I’m so sorry this happened to you but I’m glad another teacher was in the room.
    Despite the armenian vs Latino aspect and the racial slurs, it might not be racially motivated. Sometimes students just say things to hurt (like calling a girl a dumb slut because she bumped into you… Or something).
    I remember my first year and thinking “I just want to teach, not teach students how to behave!” I’ve convinced myself that teaching them “how to behave” is teaching them how to be citizens which I believe is the ultimate goal of public Ed. You may disagree 🙂
    Good luck!

  2. I remember hearing about a study that indicated that racial tensions were worse in integrated regions of the US than in largely homogeneous areas. The study claimed that it was an artifact of the way most schools reward individual merit over group work.

    The psychology book that was referencing the study said that racial tensions – or tensions between groups – can be diffused only when interaction occurs in a context that necessitates collaboration. I’m not sure if there’s a way to build that in – it may be well beyond possible without coordinated and strategic efforts from teachers, the principal, and parents.

    Constructing new identities, or challenging existing identities, takes time.

    It may well be that by giving your students confidence in their ability to do math and be good at school that you will help them develop another component of their identity. In that seemingly small way, I think you will help them view themselves positively, and to challenge deterministic notions of what being “X” means, or requires them to do behaviorally.

    Good luck!

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