Saturday, January 21, 2017

Teaching in the New Era- What Does It Mean?

Yesterday I watched the final day of the administration of President Obama, and the beginning of the Trump Administration.  I watched it with a pit in my stomach, not one of anger, or of some overwhelming sense of hope that this man would fail.  It was a pit of fear- fear of the unknown, fear of the what could be.  I listened to the President's speech, a dark and troubling look into what might be.  I watched the protests turn violent, and grew agitated as I saw the verification for many that all those who are concerned with President Trump are out of control social dividers.  And yet, I woke up this morning feeling, for lack of a better word, steeled.  Steeled in the knowledge of the impact that I can make, as a father and as a teacher, to encourage respect, self-awareness, mindfulness, and, most of all, love.  You see, I can't sit here and hope that the Trump Administration fails.  I am deeply concerned when I hear his words, see how he carries himself, and certainly when I see those people that he has chosen to lead the various departments within his Cabinet.  But I can't hope that he fails.  I have to keep my hope in the fabric of this nation, in the belief that good government is a good thing, in the belief that the American people can work to help hold the new President accountable for his actions.  I think being concerned is good, being vocal in that concern is good; these are part of the fabric of this country.  But hoping for his failure out of some desire to proclaim "Neener, neener" demonstrates a lack of understanding of what's at stake.

I could go on and on, but I promised a post on teaching in this new age, and so here are my thoughts on what the regime change means for teachers.  Truthfully, for this teacher, it means very little, at least in my approach to the job.  You see, as I've grown over the past 12 years of teaching, I've come to view certain foci as the core of who I am as a teacher, and what I want to accomplish in our classroom.  Content is, of course, important, but certainly not more so than the kids themselves.  I've always tried to be someone who's love for his kiddos was clear and obvious, but that expected respect, and demonstrated fairness.  I've tried to structure opportunities for the kids to be exposed to multiple perspectives, whether it be in interpreting historical events or current events, not out of some vain hope that a student will adopt any certain philosophy, but instead out of a desire for each student to realize the value in being their own person and having their own thoughts, that a student will have the chance to shape their own view of the world, rather than one prescribed for them.  I've reminded my students that their age is not an obstacle to their voice, that their voice has value.
At the same time I pushed them to develop a voice that leans on knowledge than simply pure emotion.  "Just because" is never the right answer to "Why".  I can't count how many times I've argued a point of view different than my own just so that a student can see and hear the other side.  We as teachers cannot endeavor to mold a student's mind into our own personal definition of "right", but equip each with the necessary tools to define themselves.

So what will the change in leadership mean for this teacher- very little.  I will continue to push my students, challenge them to see that there is rarely one side to any story.  I will continue to push them to consider the consequences of decisions.  I will continue to allow a forum for their voice to be heard, but will also continue to expect that this voice be an informed one.  I will continue to value my students for who they are, not despite who they are.  In our classroom students will continue to be protected.  I will continue to encourage the all-important value of respect.  I will continue to stand up for my students, all of them.  Most of all, I will continue to love every single one of my students for who they are, not who I or anyone else thinks they should be.

Sunday, January 15, 2017

In School on MLK? YES!

When I was younger, so much younger than today...I remembered loving that magical Monday in January, when, after having been back in school for two weeks after winter break, we were given a day off for Martin Luther King, Jr. Day.  I can honestly say that I don't remember my teachers saying much about it, and I certainly didn't spend that day reflecting on the work of Dr. King, but I sure do remember the day off.  And now here I am, 35 years old and a teacher in a school that is not giving this day off, and I've listened to my students complain about having to do go to school when so many other students have the day off.

As I sit here grading papers for tomorrow (remember- it is a school day), I've thought about this one day, one national holiday to celebrate this man.  And I can't help but feel like it's wrong.  Now, before you scream and castigate me, allow me to explain.  You see, the real meaning of this day seems clearer to me now than it ever has before.  There are few figures in American history that I respect more than Dr. King, and for that matter figures like John Lewis, Rosa Parks, and the countless others of all races who gave so much in the fight for civil rights.  But what I've come to respect most about Dr. King is that I truly believe he knew that while his work was important, his legacy was just as important, if not more so.  I believe that Dr. King knew that the fight would be far from over when his time came, and that, while a man may die, an idea can live on forever.  That is what MLK Day has come to mean for me.

It's not so much about a man, but an idea.  An idea born of the passion that only comes from true conviction.  The idea that the outside of a person means far less than the inside.  That a person's soul is truly all that matters.  That skin color, wealth, advantage, and a wide host of other items to a person that some might see fit to judge are insignificant to the fact that a person's mere existence entitles them to the right to be treated as equal.  That our actions and our words are the only thing that can truly make a person inferior.  That love means something more important than anything else.  This is a conviction, and I believe that Dr. King embodied that conviction, allowed that passion to serve as his legacy.  If you need a set-aside day to celebrate the man, fine.  But celebrate his legacy, the meaning to his life, every day.  Be love.

As I said, I teach.  And we are entering a time period of, well, many things, but uncertainty is the only certainty.  We stand, as a country, at the precipice of great choices, but none greater than the choice to open ourselves to love, or succumb ourselves to hate.  And the choice we make will undoubtedly make it's way into our classrooms.  Hate is easy, especially now.  It seems like there is so much fear and anger, and, as Yoda made clear, that leads to the dark side.  But it's this environment that has brought so much uncertainty into our students' hearts and minds.  Everywhere around them loud voices feed anger, and it is easy to feel like that must be the right mindset.  This is where we come in. We get the chance to work with and talk to these students every single day.  We have the chance to show a student love and compassion, to engage with them in a civil dialogue, to introduce them to multiple perspectives.  We have the chance to channel so much of what Dr. King stood for...or just be part of the problem.

As for me, I am excited to be at school tomorrow, as I am every day.  I am excited to have the chance to love my kids.