A Completely Totally Made-Up Fictional Episode

It’s a 4th Grade math class. S is somewhat moody, alternating between a kind of sullenness and goofiness. S sometimes refuses to do work that disinterests him. For a while he would take a globe from the front of the room and clutch it at the beginning of class. He likes drawing pictures on the board while the teacher isn’t looking.

While students are working independently, S rises from his chair. He goes to throw something out at the back of the room. He passes by C — the only black student in the classroom — and starts rubbing C’s hair. C tells him to get off, but S doesn’t.

The teacher, publicly, tells S to get off of C’s hair. You don’t touch people’s hair, ever, unless they ask you to.

Later, the teacher wonders if he should have said something more. In fact, he feels strongly that he should have said more. But what to say? S is not white. The teacher is. The vast majority of students in this (entirely made-up fictional) school are wealthy and white.

He doesn’t know what to say. Even more, he doesn’t even know how to ask the question.

What do you say?


3 thoughts on “A Completely Totally Made-Up Fictional Episode

  1. So hard to handle. I like that the fictional teacher stood up for the principle publicly. I would want to talk to the students independently, later, but not too late. To let S know that the principle of unwanted touching is true in general, but hair is an issue for some people whose hair is different than the majorities b/c there are lots of people who want to touch it. C I would want to talk out how he might handle the situation himself when it comes up, since it will come up.


  2. Hmm. I think the fictional teacher did the right thing for the whole class. I would then talk to both students separately about the situation. I wouldn’t want to make C feel any more singled out than C already does. It’s important that S understands boundaries with everyone. Reasons to do something more would be if this was a pattern of how students in the class interact with C. Even then I am not certain I would discuss something with the whole class in a moment – I would talk with C and see what C thinks about this scenario.


  3. This exact thing happened in my (fictional) 4th grade classroom yesterday and not for the first time! In this case I had already spoken to both students together and separately. I had also brought it to the attention of the students’ parents during conference, so I was particularly struck by the continued hair touching. In my case S and C are both girls, C being one of only two African American students in my class. I followed up this incident with a conversation with S, a note the the principal, and an email to S’s parents. If it happens again I’m struggling to see how this isn’t a disciplinary issue. The NYT article was powerful – we can’t make excuses, we need to have open conversations, and they need to include both children and adults.


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