There were a lot of promises made this summer. It seems that each time our country was faced with another example of the injustice we are willing to tolerate, many educators, though still not enough, made promises to do better.
This summer, educator conferences, for the first time since I have been watching, finally seemed to be elevating and amplifying the voices of those who have been doing the hard social justice work day after day in classrooms and schools, but who had been silenced for far too long. It prompted long over-due conversations and forced many educators, though still not enough, to stop and think about the silencing they were allowing and promoting in their own classrooms. And educators made promises to do better.
This summer, we watched another police officer receive a not guilty verdict for the murder of a black man that was live streamed across the internet. Again a police officer walked away and an entire community was left in pain when once again confronted by a justice system that feels anything but just. It forced many educators, though still not enough, to think about the ways that we deal with justice and punishments and discipline in our own classrooms and how, so often, it feels anything but just. And educators made promises to do better.
This summer, the transgender military ban hit so many of us so hard right in the middle of our hearts. With the attempted erasure of an entire group of people from the military, many educators. though still not enough, were forced to think about the erasure of this same group of people from their own classrooms. And educators made promises to do better.
This summer, we watched an apologetic and regretful response from a police department after a black police officer shot and killed a white woman that was heartbreakingly different than the typical dismissive, defensive and dehumanizing response that we are used to seeing when a white police officer shoots and kills a black man or woman. And many educators, though still not enough, were forced to think about the ways that we unfairly and unjustly respond differently to students and families in our schools because of their race or culture or language or country of origin. And educators made promises to do better.
This summer, we saw portions of the immigration ban go into effect, we saw families deal with threats of being ripped apart because people who have lived in this country for years now faced deportation, we saw children and parents rounded up on their way to school or to prom and many educators, though still not enough, were forced to think about who felt welcome not just in this country, but in their own classrooms. And educators made promises to do better.
This summer, we have seen a lot of injustice and so many of us, though still not enough, have made commitments to do better. We have made commitments to social justice. We have made commitments and promises to teach in a better way, that will do better for more students, that will do better for this world.
And what I am hoping for now is that we will remember these promises.
I hope we will remember them when we are confronted by and overwhelmed with all of the content that we are supposed to teach.
I hope we will remember them when we get that first parent phone call questioning a text we read or a statement we made or a conversation that we had in class.
I hope we will remember them when our colleagues ask us how we are supposed to find time to teach “all of this” when we already have so much on our plates.
I hope we will remember them when our children don’t say the perfect things at first because no one has ever trusted them with these kinds of conversations before.
I hope we will remember them when start to feel the discomfort of not knowing the exact right words to use or the exact right things to say.
I hope we will remember them when conversations don’t go as planned and no resolutions are reached.
I hope we will remember them when we are questioned by administrators because what we are doing makes people uncomfortable.
Because this work, these promises, this commitment to social justice. It. Is. Hard. What is easy is to react to crisis with promises to do better. What is easy is to sit behind your computer and write about how you are going to do better. What is hard is the actual doing of that work. Because it is messy and uncomfortable and there never, ever, seem to be the exact right words.
And to do this work, you have to rethink everything you know about the way that you teach. You have to seek out the voices of others who know more and do more than you do. You have to admit that you have not been doing enough. You have to take the time to learn to do better and plan to do better. And you cannot expect others to do the work for you. And as the brilliant Dr. Dana Stachowiak said in one of the most powerful blog posts I have read this summer, we cannot wait for a crisis in order to commit to the work of social justice.
And there is not a whole lot of glory in this work. Not a whole lot of people say thank you for it.
But what you do end up with, is something much better than glory. You end up being a part of a classroom community that is doing the work that is going to one day change this world. You get to stand hand in hand with kids and lean into discomfort in a way that makes all of you stronger and better and more qualified to fight the good fight. But you have to remember the promises that you are making and take them into the school year with you.
So in this moment, in these precious days before the next school year starts, I suggest that you find some time to sit with the feelings of injustice that you have felt this summer. And then write down the ways that you actually want to do better in your own schools and classrooms. Write them down just for yourself or write them down in a blog post and share them with the world. What are you going to do better this year? What do you need to teach your children so that they can go out and change the world? Write them down so that you can look at them later and find ways to weave them into your daily instruction. When the deadlines are approaching, when the grades are due to be submitted, when the parents are calling, when the administrators are questioning, write them down so that you can look back and remember why you are committing to this work and what, exactly, you are committing to do.
I plan to do this myself and I will share my list in an upcoming blog post. I encourage you to share your lists as well. Online or with a coworker or with an administrator or even with your own students, somewhere so that you can hold yourself accountable. Because it is so easy to make promises on your computer, during the summer, but now we need to take those promises and turn them into the hard work that will actually change our world.
I’ve had the honor of sitting alongside hundreds of teens as they try to put words to new thoughts and emotions and experiences, so often not getting the words “right” as they try to express what they mean. What you wrote: “I hope we will remember them when our children don’t say the perfect things at first because no one has ever trusted them with these kinds of conversations before” changes lives. Listening that honestly doesn’t just change their lives; it changes yours.
What perfect timing on a post. I was just getting ready to write goals for my classroom and self for this next school year. Can’t wait to share it when I get started!
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