by Ginger Teppner
Dear cyber friends,
A few months ago I grew weary of so many Tuesdays coming and going. I said to a friend, “Can’t we please rename the days of the week; I can no longer bear futility.” He renamed Tuesday after the immortal jellyfish: Turritopsis, and I laughed. The next day, I made it to second period before the ennui started to set in. To no-one in particular I asked for a new name for Wednesday. The eleventh grade students sitting closest to me began offering suggestions. Eventually J suggested Hummus. And I said, “Yeah. Hummus is good. Happy Hummus Day.” And we laughed.
I don’t remember exactly what happened next, but somehow I heard myself saying, “Wouldn’t it be funny if there were little signs that said hummus posted all over the school?” My students looked at me and laughed some more. Yeah, they said, that would be pretty funny. Yeah, they thought, Miss Ginger is wild.
I went to my storage closet and found poster board and markers, and I placed them on the center table in my room. “I think we should do it. Let’s do it,” I said. And then the miracle happened. Immediately, my entire classroom of general English 3 students from diverse backgrounds and with even more diverse skill levels and challenges pounced on the opportunity to “play” together. I said, “If anyone asks, we are conducting a social experiment, but it has to be a secret.”
If you are an educator or know anyone who teaches high school, you know that student apathy and disconnect and lack of engagement are the stones we carry in our pockets. To see these students interacting and laughing as a group united lit me up. Each student made a placard that said hummus and pledged to secretly hang it in one of our school’s five buildings. They were to report back what they heard. They were hooked. And so was I.
After a couple of days of giggling about others trying to figure out what all this “hummus” nonsense was, I told the students that if we were going to continue our secret mission, it should mean something. This is when the second miracle happened. They agreed. The first thing they did was come up with words to fit their acronym. Everybody made suggestions, and then they chose to use the words S had written: Humble Union (of) Multiple Mindsets Uniting Students. They made an emblem which consisted of the six letters each written in a different hand with a different color to show, in their words, diversity and unity. And then they worked together to write a mission statement. This is when my heart cracked open.
I’m sure you have heard variations on the theme that teenagers today have gone awry, have no respect, have no empathy or compassion or self-control or self-discipline. That they are lazy. That they are careless and self-indulgent and narcissistic. I asked each of my second period students to write their version of a mission statement. I told them I would take each individual piece and create a whole from their parts. What they wrote was astonishing. Each dreamed of a world devoid of separation, a world filled with love and peace and inclusion. A world where everyone had a voice and felt safe. Every single student in that class took the assignment to create their own mission statement seriously. Every single student in that class wanted to be part of a solution to problems and issues in our global world that scare them. Each one of those students wanted to make their world a better place. The H.U.M.M.U.S. mission statement is as follows:
We are the future generation. We bring minds together for learning, inspiration, and empowerment. We uphold our core values with excellence and integrity. We unite students and people of all genders, races, sexual orientations, cultures, backgrounds, and personalities to achieve our goals, which include: Being accepting of others, promoting peace and positivity, building our community, spreading love and kindness, and creating a brighter future.
Next, they decided to create a social media presence. They made an Instagram page @h.u.m.m.u.s_nation. Currently they have 129 followers.
They presented their organization to the principal of our school with each member taking a part in the explanation. They narrated the groups genesis and how it went from a joke to something important and real that had a place in the world. Then each student stood and shared what “Hummus” meant to them. He, to his credit, gave permission to continue their project however they saw fit. He was very pleased (and relieved) that “Hummus” wasn’t a gang.
For its first project “Hummus” asked students on our campus to take the time to meet someone new, to interact in conversation, and to find commonalities. Students were then asked to take a selfie together and direct message it to the Hummus page where it would be uploaded. In the wake of the shootings in South Florida, I feel my students were remarkably prescient. Their message that “we are here to love” could not be more timely.
Now, in my classroom, every Wednesday is Hummusday. I am beyond inspired, as I watch these little chick peas spread their love. You should be inspired too. I hope you are inspired too.
P.S. After you read this, I dare you to take the time to meet someone new, have a conversation, find commonalities, and send a selfie to my students’ Insta page @h.u.m.m.u.s_nation Let them know that they can make a difference. Let them know that people will listen.
And if you are so inclined, read my Pedagogical Manifesto:
As a writer and educator, I am interested in intersections: the points where curiosity, contemplation, and creativity overlap. I believe these corresponding spaces or moments offer the most fertile learning environments, and joy is a natural by-product of this collision.
Curiosity is a desire to know. This quality, while inherent, needs to be nurtured, or it is lost.
Contemplation is a way of “seeing.” In educational terms this encompasses seeing the connection between ourselves and the world we inhabit. Through introspection it is possible to connect to a larger purpose relative to what is outside the immediacy of our own us-ness.
Creativity is what happens when curiosity and contemplation collide. Learning is a creative act, as is teaching. I believe teaching, in its highest form manifests from a desire to share. To share implies a reciprocal relationship, in this case, between the student and the teacher. Ideally then, teaching is a mutually beneficial transaction: a co-creative endeavor.
My pedagogy style is rooted in contemplative attention and awareness. I believe education by definition should entail more than knowledge building, that it should also encourage an understanding in each student as to their personal role (responsibility) to create a better world.
I believe education should foster a creative, contemplative, curiosity filled exchange across a wide range of disciplines, and that this exchange can involve new thought processes and new pathways of understanding that embody our best hopes and aspirations. There is no doubt that students today are confronted by a world that is often scary. For this reason it is especially important to remember and reinforce joy.
I believe education must have the bones to become a place where many elements co-construct questions about empathy, about ethics, about imagination that include the nuanced fragilities in our shared stories, stories from all over the world.
I believe education must manifest in diverse voices, visions, forms of knowledge and expression in order to transform how we experience today into how we will experience tomorrow.