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 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.
- What’s your position on the Janus case?
- Did you know that Black teens have been speaking out on gun violence for years? Why haven’t they received the same amount of attention as the Parkland students?
- Did you know that state legislature votes in 2nd Amendment rights usually affect us more than Congressional votes?
- If you’re a registered Democrat, is your teachers’ union asking you to change your registration to Republican for the primary to try to ensure that a Scott Walker-esqe candidate doesn’t get elected? Mine is. Are you on board with that? (I’m not down with this at all. There. I just got political. Look – no one died. We can chat about it in the comments, with civility.)
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?
- Find your local school district’s social media accounts and follow them.
- Find your town’s social media accounts and follow them.
- Find your county’s social media accounts and follow them.
- Find your governor’s social media accounts and follow them.
- Find your STATE legislators’ social media accounts and follow them.
- Find your CONGRESSIONAL legislators’ social media accounts and follow them.
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.
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.”