I asked a friend, Sonia Wang, to comment on the current moment with a particular view toward our teachers and what she’d say to them. As she has before on this blog, Sonia gives us clear, translatable instruction for which I’m thankful.
Our job is a complex tapestry of nuanced roles that impact and influence the young people we engage with on a daily basis. We teach, we counsel, we push, we heal, we redirect, we advise, we feed, we hold hands, we remain present. All the while, we ourselves grow in who we are as men and women because of the amazing young people who walk through our doors each day.
In the current state of affairs, where the lived lives of many of our students are marred by injustices from the minute they awake to the minute they rest their eyes at night, we have to ask ourselves, how do we best honor our students and their families? their lived experiences? And we make difficult decisions – what realities do we bring into the classroom, provide platforms for or safe spaces to come into? And how do we preserve our commitment to the words we say to each child through our own words and actions – that, when the going gets tough, we remain present?
We must anchor ourselves in aggressive honesty and expect nothing short of the most rigorous achievements of our children.
Our black and brown children are living in a time where they are seeing themselves in the media, and the message tells them clearly that they don’t matter. They may have learned about or been exposed to historical events or literary works that resemble their current lived lives.
As teachers, we need to first be honest with ourselves, in a “Come to Jesus” and aggressive manner that this is the reality. For some, it may not be our reality, but it must be part of our known reality, because it is our students’ reality. And thus, our curriculum, our language, our classroom structures, and our approach to relationships building must honor this reality. Now.
Why aggressive? Because our students don’t get back those eights hours from their day in school of being overlooked or denied of their lived reality. The time is, and must be, now. When we are honest with ourselves, we can be honest to our students in the choices we make. How awesome that we have the agency and power to impact students as they enter our classrooms.
And how much more awesome that we honor their voices in the very realities of their lives in their learning. (And yes, I’m thinking of all grade levels, considering what is developmentally appropriate at each grade.) You, teachers, do this. You can do this. Your students learn from you; we must learn from them to best teach them.
most rigorous achievements
Yes, our students come from broken streets. Violence pervades their walk to the bus stop. They see children who look like them being oppressed and wrongly persecuted. They belong to a city, a world in fact, that is comprised of too many broken systems that perpetuate privilege that does not bat an eye towards them.
Yet, our students are Poets. Mathematicians. Architects. Actors. Critical thinkers. Debaters. So, why do we succumb to the second class curriculum of drilling reading and math skills into their hungry minds in the name of closing the achievement gap? We don’t. Because we know who is in front of us.
We set high expectations for our students, and we make it clear that they are going to reach those goals with soaring achievements. We create inquiry and comprehensive units that explore themes and questions that are interesting. And we ask our students to think for themselves to get to your final objective for that unit. And then we scaffold the concept and the skill, we confer with our kids, pull small groups to re-teach, and we continue to push and honor their achievements when they have achieved them.
And we continue to do this complex job because we know from our own lived experiences in our schools and classrooms, the deep joy that comes when our students gain those understandings, master the objective, show kindness to a peer, and stand up for an opinion of theirs.
Teachers, we are in the beautiful position to impact and influence. Which I often find immensely scary as well. But it is in this tension that we must remain: the tension of all the roles we play, being warm and demanding, of recognizing yet safeguarding from realities, of supporting through and pushing towards high expectations…
Our students deserve the empowerment that comes from knowledge. To have agency to make informed choices. We play a role in shaping these young minds and characters. And we must remain present to them – knowing that the strength to do so does not come from immediate evidence, because we know all too well that sometimes the fruit takes a few years.
And we also know it doesn’t necessarily come from our system in regularly honoring the amazing work of teachers. But my hope is that the strength comes from the deep understanding that we are part of a much larger tapestry – one in which the beauties we only get glimpses of are more perfect and frequent.
And so we persevere each morning, welcoming back each young person into our lives to reaffirm to them that they absolutely matter.