Why does ethnicity mean so much to students?

In third period, a student called me over to his group. “Teacher, what does ching chong <insert other random Asian sounds> chong mean?” He had his whole group in stitches. The first time he asked the question, I didn’t realize what he was doing and I said, “I don’t understand what you are trying to say.” (Duh, I’m slow.) He tried to call me over many other times with the same question and I ignored his subsequent attempts. I was busy responding to other students’ mathematical questions.

At the time I didn’t think much of it, but now I realized how bothered I am by the student’s actions and the reactions of his peers (one is an A student). I can’t do anything about my ethnicity (Asian) being different from most of my students so I’m not going to overthink that. I do wish that I was a lot quicker on my feet than I am. I’m usually the last one to get a joke and can never think of the right thing to say in a situation until much later.

This and other incidents at school make me wonder why high schoolers seem to be so fixated about ethnicity. There was another conflict between Hispanic and Armenian students at school this week, apparently.

3 thoughts on “Why does ethnicity mean so much to students?

  1. Any particular reason that the right answer isn’t just to eject him from the classroom? Something about “no racism on my time”?

    –Mac

    • Maybe that should have been the right thing to do. I rarely send students out of class because then that’s the end of learning for that student. As long as they’re not preventing others from working, I usually let them stay. Maybe I’m too soft.

  2. Ethnic tensions are a problem everywhere in both time and place. Make sure that it is not a center point in your classroom. Unfortunately, part of your job as a secondary teacher is to teach this students how to be a decent human being and pointing out his racism and a “no racism in my classroom” rule. Though he may have thought he was being funny and teasing you lightheartedly and he may not have been being malicious (I’m being generous here) it was inappropriate humor and he needs to know that that behavior is dangerous. Kicking him out of class may have taught him that you do not tolerate that behavior and he would be learning a valuable lesson, but that may also make him dig in his heals more missing the lesson altogether. You have to gauge how you can turn his actions into a teaching moment. How can you teach this student not to be racist and to act appropriately without turning him off to learning in your class. You can address the class about racist behavior and point out those that laugh along are just as bad as the one verbalizing the racism. You could talk to the group separately from the rest of the class, or you can talk to each individually about your concern that their behavior is not just a disappointment but can lead to dangerous clashes in the future if it continues and if it is directed to someone who is not so understanding.

    You are a wonderful teacher, this experience is going to make you better and stronger, keep up the good work.

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