Like many teachers, my school is on the precipice of winter break. The tension is palpable-- not because students are upset, but because the stress and fatigue of the first semester are consistently at odds with the bounce-off-the-walls energy resonating through my students’ bodies. The idea that vacation is coming! Vacation is coming! vibrates to their entire beings and, thus, the entire building.
It’s an amusing energy to try and reign in (like cats! who are tired! but surrounded by catnip!) but, as many teachers would agree, the break is a much-needed respite from the work we do.
A colleague of mine, upon reading news of the LAUSD school closures shook his head solemnly and said, “These are dark days.” I nodded in agreement, but then he looked up at me and continued, “but we continue to our work with a song in our hearts!” He smiled at me and then walked down to listen to what the Senior class had written for their narrative music papers.
My colleague, far from promoting blind ignorance of current events, gave a powerful reminder: we continue the work, and the voices and stories from our students propel us forward. My colleague discussed everything from anti-Muslim sentiment to the bomb threats with his students in class later that day easily because he understands a fundamental truth I’m now seeing: when you internalize concepts of justice and an understanding of cultural competence, your internal compass can begin to guide the work. It is not an easy process, nor is it ever truly finished, but once I set the concept of “justice” as my north star, the direction of my work took a considerable turn-- mostly asking “What does that mean?” and “What does it look like?”
Still, like all things, compasses need to be calibrated. We need to reread maps and figure out where the heck we’re going and if it’s the right direction at all. This winter break, I’m committing time to retune and recalibrate my focus as an educator, with the hope that I ground it even more deeply in social justice with and for my students. I’m excited (and eager!) to sleep in late and spend time with my loved ones, as well as finally have the time to look at some articles I didn’t have enough time with during the semester. Here are some resources I’m planning to dig into, and encourage others to do the same:
Here are some pieces I’m planning to dig into:
- Get Inspired. Often times, we want to spend the break doing anything but think more about teaching. It’s important to disconnect from the job a bit, but when it’s time to refocus, I combat fatigue with articles like these that leave me invigorated and challenged.
- Molly Tansey, an MAT candidate at UGA, recently shared an amazing hip-hop inspired unit plan about Hurricane Katrina and its effects. Not only is it beautifully designed, but it inspired me to rethink some of my own upcoming unit plans.
- Larissa Pahomov wrote about taking Harvard’s Implicit Attitude Test to measure bias... in front of her students. Not only was her vulnerability and courage the model of a dedicated educator, but it inspired me to push my own practice to the places I may have been fearful of before.
- Gregory Michie‘s used political cartoons to discuss recent events surrounding police brutality in Chicago, and the voices of his students challenged me to consider what my own kids are thinking about.
- Teaching Tolerance put together a “Best of 2015” round-up that’s sure to inspire some great reflection and ideas.
- Get Educated. I’m definitely guilty of breezing through education policy pieces or stories about national issues, having reactions, and then letting those feelings go to get back to the kids in front of me. That’s understandable, but willful ignorance of larger issues is only acceptable for so long. I’m planning on taking the break to dig deep into some education policy stories I’ve spent too little time with.
- José Vilson‘s recent piece on non-profit funding and education writing (including a look at my former employer, Teach For America) sparked some spirited and necessary debate.
- Xian Franzinger Barrett’s in-depth piece about Chicago education for The Progressive also points to wider implications for education policy overall.
- Melinda Anderson‘s work in The Atlantic this year has covered everything from corporal punishment in classrooms to preschool suspension rates to high school activism.
- Get Challenged. It’s good to relax over the break. It’s officially a way to stay in the job long-term, according to The Guardian. If you find yourself compelled to think about school, though, perhaps refocus your thoughts from lesson plans to the internal work: “Where can I get better? How do I need to unpack my own issues?” There have been some great pieces circulating this year that challenged my own beliefs and biases as a teacher and human.
- Melissa Katz and Molly Tansey‘s “Teaching While White” is... just so good. It’s powerful and difficult. It demands you to look yourself in the mirror, no matter your race or gender.
- Greg Curran always provides in-depth interviews, chats, and articles around Social Justice at his site, “Pushing the Edge.” There’s always something new or interesting for me to read.
- For those of us interested in EdTech, Rusul Alrubail and Thomas Murray recently dug deep and discussed what it will take to ensure ‘Future Ready’ programs address essential issues around inclusivity.
We may enter the winter break feeling murky and unsure of what the new year will bring. After a semester of hard work, it’s natural to feel a little like we’ve gotten off track. If we take some time to read, reflect, and rejuvenate, I believe we can find our way towards truth and the beauty of that journey-- even when the path seems hidden.
PS: Did I miss anything? Have anything you’re excited to read over break? Please feel free to share in the comments or on Twitter!
The opinions expressed in The Intersection: Culture and Race in Schools are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.