About one month into e-learning this fall, I was exploring with my 9th-grade humanities class the construct of the American dream in Lorraine Hansberry’s A Raisin in the Sun. The play centers on the experience of a Black family living on the southside of Chicago after WWII, who strive to achieve their American dream in the face of racism and poverty.
Just as I asked, “Why did Hansberry want to give mainstream America a glimpse into this family’s life?,” my class was suddenly peering into my private life, as my newborn son, sleeping near my desk in his mobile pack and play, began to wail.
As I frantically took him into my arms, patting his back, trying to soothe him, 22 students were staring at me through their little square boxes on my computer screen, silent, muted, waiting for me to get control of my situation.
My son settled down, I unmuted myself and tried to step back into the class discussion, when he began to cry again. My roles as teacher and mother collided, I was totally flustered, and I did not know how to proceed.
Then one of my students unmuted themselves and asked me if he could help in any way. Another student proceeded to unmute and said, “Let’s continue the discussion while Dr. Bucio is taking care of her son.” In the face of my embarrassment, my students started to discuss the question I had posed to them and I listened in the background while tending to my baby. Eventually, my husband came and took him, and I was able to return to the conversation and continue teaching.
I certainly wasn’t prepared for that humiliating moment. I wasn’t ready to have students enter my personal life.
But now that it has happened, I’m glad they did.
Although I may have been forced out of my professional role as a teacher momentarily and embarrassingly, my students were able to have a glimpse of what it takes to play the role of teacher from home.
The point of the lesson that day was to have students consider the value in seeing different perspectives, to have them think about a life different from theirs, to witness another’s lived experience. I was hoping to accomplish that solely through Hansberry’s play. But on that day, my own life contributed to my students’ learning as well.
During a class later in the week, my students began by asking me about my son. This prompted us to engage in a conversation about the challenges each of us was facing during remote learning. Some students told me how overwhelming it was to constantly be on screen. Some disclosed how insecure it made them feel to see themselves on the camera in Zoom sessions. Others described just how hard it was to stay organized and remember where each class’ Zoom links were.
It was clear my students were dealing with as much as I was, if not more. As I listened to them, I realized that they needed a safe space to decompress, to speak their truths, and to acknowledge how difficult life is right now. Together, we took a moment to breathe and embrace the messiness of life under the pandemic.
Even though we were unable to fix all of the problems we continued to face both individually and collectively, this moment of solidarity created a deeper connection between all of us, and we are stronger together because of it.
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Anita Thawani Bucio teaches English and AVID at Evanston Township High School in Illinois and mentors new teachers as an instructional coach and professional development facilitator. She is a former Teach Plus Illinois Policy Fellow.