Teachers Need to Prepare for the 2018–19 School Year. Here’s How.
Not only did I spend the first 10 years as a classroom teacher during my education career but I was department chair for a while, too. That may seem insignificant (and it comes with a very small stipend for all the work they do) but it was critical for me to be, however I could be, in ‘charge’.
My mother spent the better part of my early years admonishing me with this saying: Kelly, you can either be bossy or be the boss. You choose. She meant to tell me that I spent too much time telling other people what to do and there was wisdom in her words. What she also taught me was that I had better do things differently if I ever planned to lead.
Leadership is such a loaded word in education and you can list 5 leaders who all do it well but have very different approaches and qualities they impart to those they lead. When I became the Language Arts Department Chair at the tender age of 25 I knew I wanted to change one huge thing: the content of our curriculum.
All those dusty books in the dreaded, damp book room proved to me we hadn’t updated in years. The same stories I read as a child were available on those shelves and, harmful as it is, too many teachers want to re-create their own reading from childhood without critically thinking about the needs of their students.
A full 83% of American teachers are white. They have, for decades, upheld the white institutions in which they work even when their classrooms no longer look like the ones they inhabited in their youth. I cannot stress enough how dangerous this is in the year 2018. We need a big change in what we teach. I work, daily, at de-colonizing my mind. I have years to undo with all the Eurocentric history and the (omg, so much repetition) of American History from my own classes. I can name several concentration camps because my own teachers taught the Holocaust with incredible depth. Imagine my surprise, then, when I learned of King Leopold II long after high school.
Like a lot of people who find themselves incredulous of the missed history our schools didn’t teach us, I exclaimed, “HOW DID I NOT KNOW OF THIS MONSTER?” How did my teachers, year after year, fail to mention this king of the Belgians who killed 10 million people in the Congo?
TEN. MILLION. PEOPLE.
Luckily, in college, I got my hands on a copy of James Loewen’s Lies My Teacher Told Me.
Then, it all changed.
Nothing was as it seemed. All my historical education felt like propaganda and I felt like I had a lifetime of history to catch up on. I could name the kings and queens of European nations but not a single African one. I had no idea about the true story of Matoaka, only the sanitized, faux-love story version of a woman my teachers told me who was called Pocahontas. What I didn’t know could…well, it could fill every library in the entire world.
We have to do things differently this fall, dear teachers. I don’t mean to preach to the small choir of incredibly astute and brilliant educators whom I follow through social media so this is for those who have never once considered the words of Lerone Bennett, Jr:
An educator in a system of oppression is either a revolutionary or an oppressor.
With that as a base, here are resources for any teacher this summer who is wringing their hands at what to do as they watch this nation fall to pieces in ways many of us have warned about for quite some time. I’m glad you’re here, but you need to get to work.
- FIRST, go sign up for all the social media you can get from @ZinnEdProject. Zinn Education Project is an amazing resource. You’ll get daily On This Day material but you’ll also get teaching materials, the ability to search by time period or theme, and you can also donate. DON’T forget to donate.
- Zinn’s What Happened to the Civil Rights Movement After 1965? Don’t Ask Your Textbook is a good place to start. On that, Adam Sanchez writes: “Most U.S. History textbooks teach a narrative that the Civil Rights Movement began with the Supreme Court Brown v. Board decision in 1954 and abruptly ended in 1965 with the passage of federal legislation. Not only does this narrative tell students that politicians and judges are more important than activists and organizers, it reinforces the myth that structural racism is a relic of the past and the United States is on an unstoppable path of progress.”
- Next stop: go get some of the goodness of Teaching Tolerance. Follow them on Twitter. Maybe you, dear teacher, have been worried about diversity, equity, and justice. Maybe those are buzz words to you. That’s unfortunate, but you can start correcting that course right now. You’re in luck. Teaching Tolerance is devoted to this work and has done the heavy lifting for you to be the best teacher you can be. You need lesson plans? I THOUGHT YOU’D NEVE ASK. Here you go.
- Jennifer Gonzalez writes at Cult of Pedagogy. (see how I’m sneaking in some Educationese here? I speak your language.) Look here. Jennifer has done the work for you with this Collection of Resources for Teaching Social Justice. Send this link to your team of teachers. Are you a parent or concerned citizen? GREAT. Drop this in an email and follow up after a week with the dept chair of your fave discipline. They need the follow up. Teachers have a lot on their plates so, yes, I’m adding this but let me give you permission to take off some of that old, musty curriculum, ok?
- A note (side story?) about all the responsibility teachers have. I had a teacher in my building who cultivated her unit on a part of European history. Every year she added something new, taking the unit into another week because that happened to be her favorite part of history. She took way too long to teach this unit because it was comfortable for her. RESIST THAT URGE. We already know our history is top heavy on whiteness.
- How do you know if you’re materials are heavy on whiteness? Do inventory. Glance over your units and figure out what percentage of your teaching is in ensuring that all your students know the history of white people. Is it over 50%? 75%? That’s a problem. What does your classroom look like? Investigate your demographics. You know what? Even if you teach in a majority white school DO THIS ANYWAY.
- So, where do you work, teachers? I mean, what is the institution which you’ve chosen as a profession? Do you know the history of it? Do you happen to be up on the history of your personal district or the town or city in which you live? We’re complicit in so much when we ignore how our systems came to be. The History of Institutional Racism in U.S. Public Schools is a really good PLC activity for you to start right now. Understanding the SCOTUS cases is imperative here.
- I have another book study for you: Teaching for Black Lives edited By Dyan Watson, Jesse Hagopian, Wayne Au from Rethinking Schools is the one you need. Rethinking Schools is a non-profit magazine & book publisher dedicated to sustaining & strengthening public education through social justice teaching and education activism. WHAT A MOUTHFUL. I KNOW. You can donate here.
- Join the EduColor movement and forge relationships with teachers across the globe so you can be supported as you do this work. Read For White Folks Who Teach in the Hood by Dr. Christopher Emdin. Join us at Being Black at School, a non-profit where we advocate for Black students in schools, look at policy, and share equity reports & tips for parents with Black children. I promise you: we’re out here doing this work to be resources. Full disclosure: I operate BBAS and we function on donations to further our work. Donate here. We’re all united in addressing the complexities of being a Black student in the American education system.
- Finally, you have to ask the Good Questions to make school systems be accountable to their stakeholders (that’s you, American citizen!). Here are a few you can put in your back pocket: (a) What are you doing to be accountable to students of color? (b) Do you have an Equity Plan for the district and how do you know it’s working? (c) What’s the history of the discipline plans you use in our schools and how do you know it’s working? (d) Is there a Diversity Council headed up by a person of color in this district and how can I support them? (e) Tell me about how choices are made for curriculum in our district. Are the members diverse? Do you allow parents to join?
Trust me when I say that educators need to prepare for a radical change in how we operate during this upcoming school year. We can’t maintain status quo in 2018–19. Our children are hurting, violence increased towards Latinx and Muslim and Black students in the last year at our schools. This is where the work is so whether you’re a parent or teacher who hasn’t yet been engaged this is where we need your voices.
It’s already too late.