A couple of months ago, I wrote the following statement, printed it, and posted it on the door to my classroom:
American ideals are valued and practiced in this classroom.
Regardless of your national origin, religious beliefs, racial identity, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, citizenship status, socioeconomic background, ability, or any other characteristic, you are welcome, safe, supported, respected, supported, and have a voice here.
A colleague of mine, who teaches ELL students, had the message translated in various languages, including Arabic, Spanish, and Chinese. A picture of the signs was posted on Facebook and subsequently shared widely and “liked” hundreds of times. A number of students, colleagues, and community members have since expressed their appreciation for the message. Initially, I did not expect the sentiments conveyed in the statement to resonate so strongly with so many people. I was moved by how much, for both teachers and students, this was needed. Still, given the tenor of our times, I cannot say that I am surprised.
As determined and as proud as I am to stand by these principles and to ensure that such beliefs are embraced and carried out in my classroom and school community, I am also dismayed to feel the need to proclaim it. Shouldn’t it be a given that these principles are present and actualized in our public schools and communities? Shouldn’t such an expression of our shared beliefs and the cornerstones of our democracy be understood and upheld by all? I have always felt strongly about the alignment of democratic ideals, the mission of public education, and the work we carry out as educators. This relationship is not a coincidence – public education is the central pillar of a free and fair society, and education ensures its sustainability.
In retrospect, it makes sense that so many people reacted the way they did to the signs on the door. Not only do many feel that American values are threatened in this new era, but many also believe that their individual and group attributes now make them vulnerable and subject to further injustice. These are intriguing and trying times, and our work as educators is critical at this juncture – so that our students feel welcome, safe, respected, and supported, and to assure that the fundamentals of human rights and social justice are appreciated and attained beyond the doors of the classroom. We know that education is not just the transfer of knowledge; it is the cultivation of skills and dispositions that enable individuals to achieve the promise of life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness. Why should this aspiration be available to some and not to all?
Over the many years of my teaching career, I have always felt that our work is never done. Carrying out our schools’ mission statements with fidelity should not be so difficult; yet, in many ways, this is the challenge that defines us as educators and makes this vocation ever more compelling and significant. When so many educators share similar views and a robust sense of mission carried out with passion and compassion, and when so many students look up to us and depend on us, then it is a struggle worth engaging in every day.
Booker T. Washington said, “There are two ways of exerting one’s strength: one is pushing down, the other is pulling up.” Every day, we pull our students up. Every day, we pull each other up. Continue to uplift your students, your colleagues, and your communities, and our world.