Valeria had been teaching fourth grade for 10 years and having the natural inclinations of the Goddess Demeter, she loved it until the presidential election up-ended her life. Her class of 25 children in Florida had been getting along very well with each other, give or take a few skirmishes that were normal for their age and for a class that was so diverse in its makeup.
This changed when these young students started picking up on the prejudice and mean-spirited atmosphere that they witnessed or heard about around them. A Moslem mosque sprayed with graffiti, malicious exchanges between counter clerks and customers at convenience stores, and nasty chants at school sports events – in which some of the parents vented racist slogans.
Valeria’s “make nice” talks, reading to students about tolerance, and team building exercises weren’t doing it. She thought of quitting her job to find work teaching in South America.
Then she focused on why she got into teaching. “I’m a nourishing person. I make people and ideas grow. These students need me. They are at risk for becoming adults filled with hate who want to do harm.”
She helped the students create a class garden in the larger community garden in town. As a group, when they walked to the garden, Valeria mixed up the students so they didn’t walk with their BFFs – instead they were side-by-side with students they barely knew. After having established this new way to ‘buddy-up’, Valeria gave each student a ‘mystery plant’ to dig into the earth in honor of their new friend. Nothing like sharing a task!
On their way into town, Valeria pointed out neighborhood buildings and places for people from different backgrounds and needs – a group home for the disabled, a synagogue, a Fire House with firefighters of several ethnic backgrounds. She had arranged one day to have these men come out to greet her class and show them around a firetruck.
She arranged her student’s desks in clusters so they faced one another and tacked posters on the walls – women and men of achievement from a variety of races and religions: Temple Grandin, César Chávez and African-American female pioneers in the space race: Katherine Johnson, Dorothy Vaughan, and Mary Jackson who worked in NASA’S team of ‘human computers.’
She decided to hold support groups for area teachers experiencing similar classroom negativity, thus extending her soothing sensitivities out to a broader base. They came together to share their ideas and what was actually working to banish the pejorative mindsets and patterns they encountered in their schools every day. She did this to balance her own anxieties as well as for the others.
In time, the nurturing energy of the Goddess Demeter blossomed again in Valeria as she became accustomed to hearing the giggles of new friendships when her students became more open with one another. Her cup felt over-full – she was no longer running on empty at the end of her day. She didn’t need to fantasize over life in another part of the world because she had confidence that her imagination would keep on supporting the work within her beloved, complex and exciting community.