I listened to stories from children that hold worlds inside themselves. Worlds that are forever unfolding and adding depth to their own knowledge of the world. They cry. They laugh. They hold themselves. They hold each other. They hold nothing. There is nothing to hold but hopes and dreams. On many days, I sit with students in classrooms, along stairwells, by the buses, on the way to lunch, coming from their support-classes and in hallways to listen to their stories. To listen to their voices. To teach them to speak. To teach myself that I have much to learn about humanity. In working with young students, I have learned the importance of creating space for healing within the lives of students. To be an educator means to stand for social-justice. this is what I believe, but is this always the case?
I watch and listen to teachers, staff members and administrators on a daily basis. I mentally take note of my philosophy on education and ask myself if I am truly practicing what I preach. Am I standing up for what is right? Am I practicing ethics in my decision-making? Am I taking my task of being an educator seriously? Am I serving the students that I teach? These questions are important. They are asked in Education programs. They are posed to us in articles. They are there to be examined. However, are we aligning ourselves with these social-justice questions? In “Narratives of Social-Justice Teaching” by sj Miller, Laura Beliveau, Todd DeStigter, David Kirkland, and Peggy Rice, a teacher named Judith said that “The university is idealistic and doesn’t teach prospective teachers how to deal with tough issues that just aren’t solvable. I learned some starting points for curriculum in the program but not strategies for the complex situations that we find ourselves in” (p.XVII). In real-world context, educators have to deal with themselves. We have to deal with our own issues internally.
In working with students, we have to constantly ask if we are aligning ourselves with social-justice. In one of the classes that I had today, one of the students wanted to give up on a grammar problem that I assigned for them to answer. She stood at the board, became frustrated and told me that she gives up. Once she said that, a class of hands shot up in the air. However, I knew that this student didn’t need a pass. No, she needed someone to push her. Someone to tell her that she could do it. In working through the sentence as a class, she soon figured out the answer. As a class, we learned that giving up is never an option. We must not give up on others or ourselves. We must always push each other no matter the problems that we may encounter.
I remember when I was in the sixth grade, there was a student in my Social-Studies’ class that was called on to read. In waiting for him to begin his section of reading, we soon realized that he couldn’t read. In looking back on the moment, I can’t remember the teacher helping the student in facing this moment of slight embarrassment. My peer wasn’t helped nor encouraged to work through the words in front of him. In that moment, I’m sure the student would’ve liked for someone to help him. However, he never got that. He was there drowning. Sinking. I would hate for any student of mine to encounter this kind of embarrassment. Yes, some teacher failed this student. Yes, someone must be accounted for this. However, what do we do when we see a student is struggling? Do we simply let them take a pass or do we help them work through the tough stuff? Is simply giving a pass the way to help them achieve their ultimate success?
Today, I visited the library at my university and found a PhD candidate doing his usual research on the computer. In a story he told me, I learned about his experiences with education and the act of passing students. In his story, I saw myself asking the questions that I raised above. As an absent father for a good period of his son’s schooling, he told me that his son’s teachers consistently passed his son with F’s year after year. These teachers told him that they didn’t want to prevent him from going on due to his home-life, so they passed him. However, he wasn’t appeased by this answer. He said that he felt that is was a disgrace to not prepare a student for life. He felt it was a disgrace to see that educators wouldn’t think about the bigger picture. However, he didn’t want think it was simply due to his son’s home-life that he was passed with failing grades. He felt that his son’s racial-background allowed teachers to simply give up and not see the potential in this student.
So, I asked myself the question, “What biases and stereotypes do I hold that will prevent me from pushing a student towards their ultimate success?”. In this father’s story, I felt speechless. I was speechless. I was humbled by his story. We can judge this father’s action of being absent, but it doesn’t explain his son’s years of passing with failing grades. However, what should an educator do? Is it ethical or morally acceptable to fail a student, allow them to continue onto the next grade without mastering or grasping the content? This is a question that one may want to ask. We are consistently faced with hard questions that may not have an immediate answer. However, we must work through these questions because no one can answer these but ourselves.
Social-justice is about action. It’s about putting into reality what we pass across our lips. Sometimes we allow ourselves to teach without practicing what we preach. We give our students lectures without giving ourselves these lectures first. In preparing students to be conscious in their words and deeds, we must awaken ourselves from our slumber. In the eloquent words of Ruth Vinz,”Part of preparing teachers is to help them learn to negotiate ways to disrupt, critique, and challenge accepted practices and beliefs rather than simply trying to survive the school day or assuming the curriculum will engage students in social justice understandings and practices”.