Friday, April 20, 2012

What Do You Say In This Situation?

I'd love some people's opinions on what to do in a situation like this! Listen up!
My class is very culturally diverse. Of the ten kid (including the two who mainstream) Kite, Weaver, and Rosella are Hispanic. Kite and Weaver have very light complexions, and Rosella has a much darker complexion. Triller's family is from India. Oriole is African American. Martin is Greek. Finch, Jay, Starling  and Towhee are all Caucasian, with various European backgrounds such as Polish and Irish. Mrs. Eagle is Asian. One of the aides is Hispanic. So you see, our classroom has all different colors of skin, hair, and eyes, and several different languages being mixed in with English.

Yesterday during math, Triller ralphed on the floor. He was sent home sick right after that, of course! The other kids were alarmed and surprised, but they got settled back into what they had been doing after the custodian cleaned up the mess.

Today at snack time, Kite was sharing some of her crackers with Towhee. I reminded them that they are not supposed to share food. "We don't want to share germs," I said.

Martin called me over to his desk. "No sharing germs at school, right?" he said. When I confirmed this, he added, "Triller was sharing germs at school. Triller was holding hands. Thats sharing germs."

I assumed Martin was remembering the moment when Triller spilled his guts in front of everyone. I told him, "Its okay. We all washed our hands afterwards, and Triller is at home getting better."

"I have no germs," said Martin.

"We all have germs all the time. But you don't have any germs that are making you sick right now," I explained.

Martin shook her head. "You and me have no germs. I could touch your hand. White hands don't have germs. Only brown hands have germs."

As I realized what he was saying, I groaned inwardly. Who would have thought my sweet little Martin would be kind of racist?

I tried to explain to Martin that we all have the same germs, no matter what color our skin is. "Germs are too small to see. You can't see germs by looking at someone's skin. Our skin can look different, but our germs are all the same."

Martin looked confused. "Does Triller have germs?"

"Triller has the same germs as the rest of us."

Martin pointed at Rosella. "How about that? Does it have germs?"

(I wasn't sure if Martin was calling Rosella "it" because, since she has brown skin, he didn't consider her a person, or because Martin doesn't use many pronouns. He often refers to people as "somebody," even if he knows their name. For instance, if someone is walking around during calendar, he'll complain, "Somebody is not sitting!" If you ask him what he did over the weekend, he might say, "I went to somebody's house," or "I rode bikes with somebody." So "that" and "it" could have been just like "somebody" to him.)

"Rosella has the same germs as the rest of us. It doesn't matter what color your skin is. We all have the same kinds of germs."

Martin stood up. "Noooooo! I don't have germs!"

"We all have germs. I do. Mrs. Eagle does. Jay does. Towhee does. Kite does. Oriole does. We all do."

"Noooooo! I don't have germs! Martin doesn't have germs!" howled Martin.

At that point, I sort of backed out of the conversation. It didn't seem likely that I'd be able to rationalize with Martin. Plus, it was time for Language Arts.

I wonder if I should address this somehow in class, and how I could do it. I have never seen any sort of intolerance of any kind among the kids, before this. They are all buddies. They all hold hands, play with each other, and consider each other friends. They understand that some kids speak different languages, and they think that is very cool. 

What would you do in a situation like this?

On a lighter note... Weaver, one of the kids who mainstreams during the day and is rarely in the classroom, is a very serious boy. Part of this could be attributed to his having Asperger's Syndrome. He is a very sweet kid, but just not very silly or playful the way some of the others are.
Today Towhee and some of the others were commenting to Weaver that he never smiles. I think it came up when someone in the class did someone silly, and the others were all cracking up over it, but Weaver was just standing there with a perfectly straight face. 
"Not everyone smiles all the time. But I'm sure Weaver smiles when something makes him happy," I pointed out. "Right, Weaver?"
He looked at me and replied, in a deadpan voice, "Only on weekends." 

Have a nice weekend everyone! I hope to hear from you! 


  1. That's a tough one. I wonder if he may just not understand the concept of germs and feels some anxiety over having/'catching' germs himself - doesn't want to puke like his classmate did, understandably! - and so found a way to rationalize why he may not have germs. The most obvious difference to him between his classmate and him is skin color, so he grabbed onto that to reassure himself about not getting germs. It may have nothing to do with actual skin color and race and more just a rationalization/self-calming thing he worked out for himself.

    If it's that, it sounds like you handled it well! Maybe you could even turn it into a whole-class lesson on what germs are and how they are spread. It's easy to say "don't share food because of germs," but something concrete could be helpful. If you google 'glitter germ activity' there are some pretty cool ideas out there.

    On the other hand, sadly, it could be something he picked up from home. I'd hate to know that his parent(s) have told him non-white skin has germs so he won't play with his differently-colored peers - but perhaps that's it, too. If that's the case, it's obviously a more difficult issue. Could the classroom teacher casually mention it to the parent, just to feel out where the comments may have come from?

    Also - I love Weaver's "only on weekends" comment! It made me smile!


  2. What a tricky situation! It is difficult to tell if the anxiety is coming from the thought of germs (especially if students in the class were sick) or if it was coming from a racial thought. It makes it even more difficult because if that child has racist ideas they most likely come from their home life which makes it more difficult to deal with while at school.
    I was totally going to mention the glitter germ activity but I see that Kara already mentioned it! It is awesome if you have time to try it out. I would think that there would probably be some great books that you could incorporate into your literacy activities that could address different races and equity without making it a huge deal.

  3. It could also be that if his hands are dirty they are usually brown with dirt or mud so he could be thinking about it that way.


Do you have something to share with the class?