Over the years, and perhaps no more so than this year, a number of national and global events have impacted the tone of our discourse, how we feel about ourselves and the world around us, and the obstacles we face as educators. In some shape or form, many of these issues have found their way into our classrooms, our households, our public spaces, and our collective consciousness. In the midst of these changes, we are witnessing seemingly inexorable threats to our principles and values. It seems that we are becoming far more influenced by the social media we consume and the material comforts we seek than the human interactions we need and the ideals we hold dear. It does not need to be this way.
Like many of you, I have struggled with how to best approach the pressing issues of today, especially in light of how they have affected some of my current and former students’ sense of self, their perspectives, their relationships, and their aspirations. As a veteran social studies teacher tasked with guiding students through controversial and complex topics, complicated and multifaceted historical and cultural dynamics, and a wide range of moral dilemmas, what has often felt overwhelming over the years now seems altogether Sisyphean. I’m sure I am not alone, as many of our family, friends, colleagues, and students have experienced the confusion, anxiety, and uncertainty of these times as well. With so many hypocrisies and absurdities defining this emergent zeitgeist, the challenges in our classrooms, schools, and communities have become more pronounced. Accordingly, what has been demanded of us as educators has become that much more imperative. If our purpose involves preparing students for college and career success, and more importantly, cultivating civic engagement, global awareness, and kindness – and we genuinely believe this – then our mission is now even more coherent and unequivocal. Sisyphus does not stop.
Regardless of where you stand politically, as educators, we have a fundamental obligation to make certain that our students always feel welcome, safe, and supported, no matter their individual circumstances. We have a responsibility to stand up to bigotry and to speak out against injustices, however subtle. Certainly, such dynamics have always existed, but they have reared their ugly heads once again. They can never become tolerated, acceptable, or normalized – and being a model of compassion and an advocate for what is right are far more important than being a pedagogical expert. As an educator, what you do goes far beyond what is in the curriculum, and it is certainly not limited to a textbook, a bell schedule, or a standardized test. We are uniquely positioned to make a difference in our students’ lives and to offer them hope and wisdom – especially when they are insular or disheartened. Education is anathema to ignorance as much as it is to despair.
There have been few times in my teaching career during which I have found it difficult to find the right words or to accentuate the positive aspects of what is undoubtedly a trying and contentious era – and will be so indefinitely. What I do know, and why I feel emboldened to continue to do such important work, is that teachers are among the most critical forces at work in our ongoing effort to ensure a better future for all of us. Despite the unpredictability and apprehension of our times, of this I am certain.