I teach Grade 8 (13-14 years old) in Ontario, Canada. I am gay, and my students have known this for about a month or so. I am in my first year of teaching, and I teach the class that is considered the “tough” class – they can be rowdy. Not so much for me, though.
In particular, I have one group of boys that can be a bit of a pain in the neck. Never keep their hands to themselves, always talk out of turn, have gotten in fights, etc. There is one boy in this group (he will be known here as Harry) who is a little quieter than the others, but very popular. He’s a bit tough to get close to, and seems like the type to be resistant to new ideas and different people. He hangs out with another tough kid (let’s call him Mark), who is loud and boisterous and often rude.
Now that it’s so close to the end of the year, I do a “YouTube of the Day” with them every morning. Kids can send in a short YouTube video for me to show to the class, I preview it, and if it’s appropriate, I play it. So this morning, Harry comes up to me and says, “I have a video I want to play.”
Now, I preview things for a reason. There are enough horror stories out there of teachers accidentally showing their kids porn for me to be very careful what I show my class. So I tell him to send it to me because, y’know, them’s the rules.
“I really want to show it,” he says back. “You’ll like it, I promise. It’s a music video.”
Given what Harry listens to, I’m wary. He listens to a lot of rap and hip-hop, and that’s fine, but I’ve heard some non-school-appropriate language come out of the music he listens to. So I ask him if it’s appropriate for school; he tells me yes.
This kid is many things, but he has never lied to me. Not once. So… I take a deep breath and tell him okay. What the heck.
(Note: I did read the lyrics, and they were beautiful, but what came next was unexpectedly awesome.)
So he goes on over and pulls it on up, and on comes a song I have never heard before. The artist is rapping about growing up gay, about the struggles of being gay, and about standing up in the face of hatred and homophobia. “Same Love,” by Macklemore and Ryan Lewis. The video was beautiful.
And there’s Harry, proudly watching along with the rest of the class as the artist stands up for those gay kids who struggle, and the video shows a difficult, lonely life culminating in a fabulous wedding. Harry. My “tough kid.”
The video finishes, the kids applaud, and I thank him, and he says to me, “I told you you’d like it.”
And then his loud, rude friend Mark says: “That was for you, Mr. K.”
The whole class applauded again – for me this time – and then I cried. I cried the proudest tears I have ever shed.
Harry and Mark… they might tick off every teacher they ever have, but today they gave this teacher a moment he’ll never forget.