I did not conduct a survey of my students’ backgrounds for two reasons.
First of all, I thought it would have been a very artificial way to find out about their lives. I learned as much as the students were willing to share from the letters of introduction they wrote to me, and I really did not want to put them in a position where they had to check off a box to describe their identity.
Secondly, I did not want to be invasive. I learned from talking with the students individually, observing them in my classroom, listening to them during their class morning meetings (I saw them every morning because I was their class co-sponsor), or watching them during their club periods when they debated or talked about religious diversity. We ate lunch in the same room. I talked with them while I did their make-up and hair during two nights of Sense and Sensibility. We exchanged notes in the journals they kept in our classroom. I thought I learned as much about my students as I would have liked my teacher to know, were I an adolescent sharing with an adult who respected my right to privacy.
At the end of our last class together, one student gave me the compliment of my life. As she was leaving, she turned to her friend and said about me, “She believes in everybody.” I think I learned enough about my students to actually do believe in all of them.
On the last day of class, students asked me to read them my fairy tale. This is how they listened.