This past week, I received an email…a different kind of email. A harassing email from a random/generated address. I don’t want to post the actual email, but it is quite specific in its digs…it made particularly derogatory remarks about my blog, my ability to coach soccer, my wife, my kids, and my ability to treat my students equally. Because of how specific it was, I am led to believe that it was written by one of my students or players…which really stinks.
I wasn’t really hurt by most of the insults. I didn’t care that they believe my blog is bad, that I am a bad coach, that they have negative opinions of my wife and kids…I was fine with all of that. No big deal. The only comment that really caused me to pause was that I “favor white popular kids”.
Wow. That stings. A lot.
Even though I believe the person who wrote this really just wanted to hurt me more than anything (again, there were some real zingers in the email), I couldn’t shake the possibility that there may be some truth to the ‘favoring white popular kids’ comment. But since I didn’t know who wrote the email, there was no way to ask that person. So, what to do? I knew I didn’t want to do nothing…if I was, in any way, favoring any group of people over another group, I sincerely wanted to know so I could do whatever necessary to stop doing that.
So, I showed my classes. I put the email on the overhead and let them read it. The room got quiet and I noticed several students’ eyes get really big. I expressed to them that most of the insults didn’t really bother me and I wasn’t really worried about this person’s opinions on my blog, coaching, or my family. Then I circled ‘favors white popular kids’ and told them this really bothered me…and I genuinely wanted to know if this was their perception or if I’d ever done anything to make them feel less than another person. I expressed to my students I sincerely wanted them to tell me if I’ve ever acted in a way that favored one person because of their skin color, religion, social status, et cetera. I wouldn’t be upset with them…one human being to another human being…please help me improve here. They could come up after class and talk to me or come early in the morning or leave an anonymous note…whatever they feel most comfortable with doing. The only option I didn’t mention, that I believe I should have, was to go talk to a school counselor about it if they really didn’t want to approach me. After both classes, I had a few students come up to me to offer apologies for the email and one even said she thought it was cool that I could take something so negative and try and grow from it…that really meant a lot to me.
Why did I show my students?
- As stated before, I really wanted to know if any of my students felt that I was favoring certain groups of students over others. I definitely don’t want any of my students to feel less than in my class and strive to treat all fairly…but we all have our biases and I believe a first step in combating biases is awareness of them.
- I wanted my students to see how I handled the harassment…to not be angry, to not take it too personally, and to try and take the negative and learn from it.* Even though I am an adult, I am not perfect and I am not through trying to better myself.
- To discuss implicit biases; they exist and awareness can help us avoid exhibiting them as much as possible.
To be honest, I don’t know. I guess I’ll wait and see if anyone approaches me or if I receive another email. This is the first time I’ve received a harassing email and I really don’t know what else to do.
Have you ever received correspondence like this before? What did you do?
How would you have acted differently if you were me?
What do you believe I did wrong?
Please comment. Let’s have a conversation.
*I understand this isn’t how we should handle all harassment. Some harassment is much more serious and warrants more significant actions.