Dear Rethinking Schools:
My name is Leslie Hiatt and I teach 5th grade in Bell Gardens, California. I want you to know how much the article “What I Wish I Had Said” (by Anita Stratton in the summer issue) resonated with me. I found myself crying while reading it and feeling the same hesitations that the author felt.
The school I teach at is 99 percent Latinx, mostly working-class immigrant families. I am one of a few white teachers at the school. One of my white colleagues was having problems with some students near the end of the year, so our class received one of the students just a month before school ended. We welcomed him by asking his name. He said his name was Edward. Other students in the class who already knew him said his name was Eduardo. I asked him what his parents called him, he said Eduardo, so he was Eduardo to us. He then told the entire class that his other teacher called him Edward and started to cry. After some heartfelt conversations about his name and identity, he wrote a poem about his name and why he wants to be called Eduardo Garcia López. It was all about family and family history.
So, as a veteran social justice teacher for 37 years, a well-respected school and district leader for elementary education, did I feel comfortable talking to this teacher who called him Edward? NO! I even planned a conversation, bought her a book called Alma and How She Got Her Name, and made a copy of Eduardo’s poem. As Stratton wrote in the article, “I realized I was more upset about upsetting her than thinking about how I could speak up for my student.” This happened two years ago and I still have the book and poem. Eduardo finished the year happy, but what about the other Eduardos? Stratton’s article inspired me to be brave enough to have the tough conversation with the teacher who called him Edward.
Thank you again for the article. It was an inspiration.
Note: The student’s last name was changed for this letter.