Category Archives: Race

A Challenge: An Open Letter To Fellow Teachers

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Dear Fellow Teachers,

Fired up about the latest mass murder in an American school?  Great.  Me, too.  And if I see one more well-meaning teacher on a social media post ask for advice while trying not to be “political”,  I’m going to snap my very favorite purple pen in half.   And you know that means business when a teacher vows to destroy a favorite pen. So, fellow teachers…

STOP SAYING “NOT TO BE POLITICAL, BUT…”

STOP IT NOW.

OUR JOBS ARE POLITICAL.

Everything we do is legislated by the state or federal government or decided upon by a school board.  From the backless, toeless shoes we’re not supposed to wear in my district to the funding we receive as a Title 1 school, EVERYTHING IS POLITICAL.

Saying you’re not political is political. 

It places you firmly in your privilege, siding with the status quo.

Your non-voice, your silence, emboldens others to tell you what to teach, how to teach it, and how much you’ll be paid to shut up and fake-it-to-make it.

I’m not saying your classroom is the place to indoctrinate your students with your views on abortion or 2nd Amendment rights. As a professional, your job is to helps students explore all points of view. What I’m saying is that you need to educate yourself and take a social media stand on issues that impact the four walls you teach in every single day.

For example:

If you can’t talk about these topics with a modicum of insight, it’s time to stop grading and read about them.

You can still use social media to ask for advice and share your favorite activities, but please get out of your Pinterest stupor and GET INFORMED.  What can you do?

  1. Find your local school district’s social media accounts  and follow them.
  2. Find your town’s social media accounts and follow them.
  3. Find your county’s social media accounts and follow them.
  4. Find your governor’s social media accounts and follow them.
  5. Find your STATE legislators’ social media accounts and follow them.
  6. Find your CONGRESSIONAL legislators’ social media accounts and follow them.

THEN

7) “Like” what you agree with a write a comment telling them why.

8) If you disagree with what your elected official posted, tell them why.

9) Do both professionally and diplomatically. No name calling, no sweeping generalizations. Keep it positive.

10) And when someone in your social circle posts something  you know is factually dubious (because you’re informed), TELL THEM ABOUT IT and add a credible link. Do not engage with a back and forth and be ridiculous.  Use your teacher voice.  Then get on with your life.

“But Heather, it’s JUST social media!”

It’s never JUST anything when it concerns our students.

Quick story:

In the mid 2000’s I was at a National Writing Project Annual Meeting and chose a session about supporting LBGTQ students, back when it was still precarious professionally to do so openly.  The hotel conference room was packed with teachers from all over the country, wanting to make a difference without losing their jobs.  One man said, “Listen. Even if all you can do is tell a student ‘That’s so gay is not OK in this classroom,’ you have done something. You have made your classroom safer for the closeted student in the back row or for another student whose uncle just came out.”

Those two sentences changed me.  Since that November afternoon  years ago, my classroom has never been the same.  Some people might consider it a political act that I stand up so openly for my LGBTQ students. I long to live in a culture where treating everyone with dignity and respect is a norm, not a political leaning. So until then, the rainbow  drawing on my classroom door is political. I can live with that.

I believe that every student has the right to feel safe in every classroom across our great, complicated, bruised country.   And they will never feel totally safe until we, as teachers, stop being afraid of being called “political.”

 

With love,

Heather

 

An Invitation To Listen: A New Podcast

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episode-one-coverbThe Penn State Lehigh Valley Writing Project has been my happy place as a teacher since 2004.  It’s provided me opportunities to learn, lead, write, make mistakes, develop friendships, and more. Because life is about the sweet and the bitter, he horrific events in Charlottesville this summer were the catalyst for an LVWP bucket list initiative: our own podcast.

Thanks to the our fearless site director, Doug Antonioli, I am now part of Open Mic, a monthly podcast exploring the intersections of education and social justice.  Enjoy our first episode: Teaching In The Wake of Charlottesville.

Our next episode is about supporting transgender students. Stay tuned.

 

 

 

From The White Lady At The Front Of The Classroom: The Black Lives Matter Syllabus

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If you are looking for more information about Black Lives Matter, to dive deeper, to lean into the discomfort, to  open your eyes and heart a little more, here is a comprehensive list of movies, videos, books, articles, poems and more for you.

I wish I could take this course in person, but geography makes it impossible.   Luckily, the age of social media makes information like this easy to disseminate: I share with you The Black Lives Matter Syllabus, Fall 2016.

Much respect and admiration to Frank Leon Roberts for sharing this so freely with fellow educators and the world.

I’ll post more as I dive into these resources myself.

 

 

 

Compilation of Junot Diaz Stories!

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Junot Diaz‘s writing has strong voice that never, ever shakes.  If you’ve never read him, now’s your chance.  Enjoy these free stories in print and in audio.  These are perfect for any reader and especially English teachers.  His language might be a little dicey for the classroom at times, but his characters speak the way teenagers speak, so find a school leadership ally and ask for support in bringing an authentic Dominican voice to your classroom.

A huge thank you to Josh Jones for putting this list together. Whydontcha give him a follow?

 

#SmarterSunday: Two Harts Beating For Social Justice

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“It was just a normal day” is the beginning of many stories, often sad.

September 11th, 2001.

The day my Uncle Harvey died.

But not this time. This time, this normal day became a revelation.

It was my first day volunteering with Meals on Wheels of Lehigh County, so I was going on an orientation delivery.  I helped Bill and Evelyn Hart load their car with the coolers and we started our route.  We made small talk and when we started talking about my job as a teacher, Evelyn said in passing that she taught in an underground literacy program in Alabama during the 196o’s.  As a teacher, I was fascinated and inspired by her story.

That February, Evelyn spoke at my school’s Black History Night about her experience as this “secret teacher.”  One of our students asked if she’d ever contacted her maid and Evelyn said she hadn’t. That made Evelyn think…

The rest is in this article written by the talented Margie Peterson.

Enjoy!