Stories of the Undocumented

social justiceee

In the political-arena, we often hear people argue about the lives of the undocumented on television, social-media, in public forums and in our local communities. For some of these individuals, they say that ‘aliens’ and ‘illegals’ are taking ‘their jobs’. For other folks, they feel that the safety of the country is threatened. For me, stories of the undocumented are vital in understanding the nature of the global-community. Unfortunately, the rhetoric that many of us have aligned ourselves with is oversimplified and lacks substance.

Over the course of two years, I’ve worked within a school in which most of the students come from immigrant-families. And for the students, many are first or second-generation Americans. In the era of Trumpism, elementary-students came to school with a thesis paper on why Trump is a horrendous pick for presidency after he was announced as being the next President for the United States. In understanding Trump’s politics and his xenophobic, homophobic, racist, sexist and classist attitude, many families and individuals on the fringes of society, felt the same way as these young children. The replaying of soundbites flooded the internet and tension grew among Black and Brown families once he was chosen. And for the students that I saw daily, their private lives became very much public.

In the very daunting time following the elections, many students came to school with stories of deported family members. Even a student I had known for two years had told me that she would felt afraid that they will come for her family because they didn’t have papers. As days and weeks passed, the stories unraveled about the daily struggles of the students that appeared in front of the teachers at the school. For one second-grade teacher, she allowed her students to speak freely about their feelings and concerns. In a class with primarily Mexican-American students, the question of home and where it is or was became the focal point. For many of the students, America is home while their parents’ home is Mexico. In watching the reactions of students unfold, some silenced themselves, some frequently cried at random times and others became combative. For many of the students, the world around them was crumbling and coming to a complete halt. And the students would tell you that their parents came to this country to create a better life for themselves and their families.

In the lives of children, there are stories. And the stories of these children should forever compel us to think critically about our role(s) in creating space for those that are often silenced, pushed aside and marginalized. In our most intimate moments, when we are alone, when we are with family members, when we are with friends, we need to check our language and how we give power to others around us. I remember in a college-course many years ago, I was put on the spot and asked where I was from because of the scarf on my head. I was the only brown student in the class. And I was the only student asked to give a location of my birth. In this situation, I felt discriminated against and marginalized. Now imagine for a moment, your tongue doesn’t sound like those around you, your clothing doesn’t look like the other’s, your name doesn’t come out the same way upon their lips, and now you are interrogated and asked about your own humanity. For the students in front of me, I learned that we all carry stories. We all have stories that many people will never hear.

Over the course of this summer, I was given the task of observing two classes of English-Language-Learners at a high-school in Kansas City, Missouri for thirty-hours. In spending a considerable amount of time with students that are new to America, I allowed myself to simply listen. For those that knows me, I love students and I love talking. But for this assignment, I allowed the students to teach me. Day after day, I would walk into two classrooms with students that comes from: Kenya, Tanzania, Congo, Mexico, Myanmar, Thailand and Somalia. Daily, you could hear KiSwahili and Spanish being spoken among the students. Even students that didn’t speak one language or the other would learn words. For me, the two classes were very much a community. For them, it was family. In a place that is thousands of miles from home, with food that tastes differently, with clothing that isn’t the same and with a culture that isn’t yours, it can be hard and lonely.  In casual conversations and open-discussions in their classes, the students would group themselves with others like them and they would speak openly about the hardships of being in America.

For one student, an advanced English-language learner, he told me that home is back in Tanzania. As a new immigrant to America, he told me that this older brother had joined the military. For him, he told me that he would like to join the military after high-school. I asked him why he wanted to join. And the told me, “The same reason why my brother joined- for citizenship”. For the young 19 years old man in front of me, life would be easier if he had papers. He said that life has been a struggle for some time after their arrival in the United States. Similarly, his peers echoed the same sentiments. For a young Sophomore student, life is hard. With his head on the table, I asked him why he was sleepy. His brother sitting next to him answered, “he goes to work at night and doesn’t get off until 2AM”.  Why? The young man needs money.

So, for me, the stories of the undocumented is crucial. It’s a part of the field I’m in. As an educator in any capacity, your students are the reason for what you’re doing. For me, they are the life-line of the task I’ve been assigned. We can’t solve the problems of the world if we choose to disregard the narratives of those that are routinely silenced, cast aside and marginalized.

For the undocumented, you do not need to prove your humanity to anyone. For the undocumented, you do not need to hide your language. You do not need to fold up to fit into spaces that aren’t able to hold your authentic self.

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New York Edition: Exploring Another City

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For a few months, I explored the idea of moving to another place. Now, I didn’t come up with New York as my first option but it was at the top. In being at the top and really wanting to explore New York City again, I started to look into certification programs for teaching within the state. In stumbling upon a one-year certification program, I knew I had to make the move. I was quite certain that living in New York for one-year would be easy for me. Now, reality has definitely set in. It is tough.

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In coming to New York with savings and a pocketful of hope, I am trying. I am alone. I am new. I am coming to realize the importance of trusting in yourself when you have nobody else to rely on. As I travel down side-walks, into subway stations, into Ubers and alongside strangers I meet, I am asked the question, “Do you have family here?” and my answer is a dim “no”. In giving my answer, the questioner sulks. They give me a fake smile and tells me that everything will be fine. For many folks, they give me advice on how to navigate the city and what to do. In some cases, I was given personal business cards and phone-numbers in case I need help or needed an ear.

So, no, I don’t think New York is this cold place with heartless people. On the contrary, most folks have helped me tremendously. Even in passing, people would often greet me upon the sight of the headscarf. I smile. I reply. In a post 9/11 world, things like this matter. I’ve scurried upon many blocks from walking and find my eyes in utter disbelief when I see people dressed in traditional clothing, speaking their native tongue and loud. Why did I mention loud?

For me, I grew up in a family that is expressive. For many Black and Brown folks, we come from homes that are loud. We listen to loud music. We get excited and speak loud in conversation. We like to adorn ourselves in different ways that are bold. Naturally, we are like this. For many of us, we are unapologetic in this. However, in coming from Kansas (my last home of residency), things are a bit quieter. Not only quieter, but a bit boring. Now, I’m sure that folks from Kansas may disagree with that statement, but I’m very much used to loud music being blasted from stereos, young kids playing in the street, women sitting on the porch gossiping, the smell of food from the next house over, seeing young girls with barrettes in their hair, and etc.

For over a year, I lived in a place that distanced me from the little joys that I took pleasure in seeing. For me, city-life is a part of me. Yes, for many that knows me, I lived in suburban environments for a good portion of my life. For me, the suburbs have/are a hard place for me to be in. Why? Back in 2015, I traveled to a suburban area in Kansas one night to drop off a friend. In being the young-adults we were, we just decided to talk before separating for the night. However, a White-man passed us, pulled into his driveway and approached us.  He said that he noticed my Missouri license plates and wanted to know why we were in the area. He stated that he was a part of the Housing Association for the community and there’s been a string of house-robberies. Of course, we were scared and taken aback by this man’s approach. In being tired and unwilling to go through emotional labor with this man, I told him to leave us alone and go away. He didn’t. So, he started yelling and then his wife came to see what was going on. Upon reaching, the car, she started to jump in too. After seeing that we weren’t welcomed within the area of which my friend lived in, we simply separated for the night to avoid further confrontation.  For me, I was bothered. I was angry. I was on the brink of risking it all because Black and Brown people are frequently harassed and questioned for their presence within certain areas. So, I wrestle with suburban areas for the most part. I wrestle with them because of the segregation that exists throughout many American neighborhoods.

So, what does all of this have to do with New York? Everything.

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New York is interesting from my lens. Why? As I stumble upon different areas within Manhattan, I saw the difference in neighborhoods very quickly. Gentrification is a reality that has stumbled upon many urban-areas including many segments of New York. In coming from the airport, my Uber driver, Mohammad, told me that the city is becoming very gentrified as the years pass. He mentioned the unfortunate truth that Black and Brown people are being pushed into the Bronx while Harlem is becoming more expensive and unlivable for many poor, Black folks. In visiting Harlem back in August 2016, I was enthralled by the cultural and historical artifacts. I remembered reading about the Harlem Renaissance and actually wanting to see Harlem, New York in person. In coming to Harlem again and getting another snapshot of the area, it is becoming a place of gentrification. So, what does this mean? It means that people will soon get displaced from their homes in search of another home at the expense of real-estate developers.

In coming from Kansas City, Missouri, many folks know about the Troost-line as being the dividing line between White and Black folks, between the ‘hood’ and the ‘good’ area. White flight was a real reality in the city. Now, as years have passed, Whites are coming back into the city which increases rent, property value and a displacement of locals. Of course, schools aren’t excluded from this political arena.

In the last two years, I’ve worked within the Kansas City Missouri Public Schools District and the school I worked in is a part of the gentrification process. In the past year, real-estate was being bought, surrounding apartments increased in value along with increase rent and the education within the school was being sold for those wanting to move into the area. Midtown is a bustling segment of Kansas City, Missouri that is conveniently located in the midst of the action of the city. However, Midtown is also very much urban and not too far east is where you meet the clash between wealth and poverty.  East of the Troost line is where you find many working-class Black folks while to the West is where you find many White folks that are middle-class.

So, yes, gentrification is real. Gentrification is a form of violence.

Now, what does this have to do with education? Absolutely everything. As an educator and social-justice advocate, it is vital that students are taught to think critically and to problem-solve. We are living in a time that demands that people and communities come together to work towards equity on all-levels.

And to this, I say, the fight is long from being over. There’s much work to be done.

My Personal Framework for Culturally-Responsive Teaching

  1. Re-Education of Educators:

Teachers and educators at all levels of the educational-system must go through intense training centered on multiculturalism with social-justice as the premise. Educators must decolonize their way(s) of thinking. In this intense training, educators will look at their own position in society and how their position impacts the way they interact and view the world. In seeing their positionality, educators will begin to start the work of understanding intersectionality. Intersectionality would look at the various identity-markers (sexuality, race, religion, gender, socio-economic class, and etc) and how it intertwines to form individuals’ lived realities. In looking at this, educators will begin to understand that individuals within society, within schools are faced with multiple oppressions just based off of their identity. In undergoing such an intense training, educators will look at equitable ways to: restructure a school including school culture, creating equitable lessons within classroom, equitable disciplinary action and etc.

In the words of Paulo Freire’s  Pedagogy of the Oppressed, ““[T]he more radical the person is, the more fully he or she enters into reality so that, knowing it better, he or she can transform it. This individual is not afraid to confront, to listen, to see the world unveiled. This person is not afraid to meet the people or to enter into a dialogue with them. This person does not consider himself or herself the proprietor of history or of all people, or the liberator of the oppressed; but he or she does commit himself or herself, within history, to fight at their side.”
2. Re-Structuring of Curriculum: Districts will work with diversity-committees and/or groups to ensure that curriculum is based in multiculturalism. Within curriculum, teachers are taught how to implement multiculturalism in lessons that will based in social-justice as the aim. Professional-development throughout the year will help teachers learn how to implement teaching strategies and equitable assessment to ensure that students of all backgrounds are given quality education that is critical in thinking and problem-solving. Within the curriculum, students are action-researchers and given the tools needed to go out into the world to solve problems within their own communities and afar.“The classroom remains the most radical space of possibility in the academy”
― bell hooksTeaching to Transgress: Education as the Practice of Freedom

  1. Classroom Environment: Within the classroom setting, teachers are not givers of knowledge, but facilitators. Students are given the role to actively ask questions and seek out answers. Students are taught the tools needed to be critical in the analysis of the world. Students are ongoing researchers that are given access to tools need to solve problems within the content-area or interdisciplinary. The teacher urges students to bring prior knowledge to the classroom to discuss issues pertaining to: race, gender, socio-economic class, religion, culture, and etc. The teacher will help students connect these identity markers to multicultural issues that are present within the world. Furthermore, students are taught to reflect on the knowledge they gain and create. Students will understand that change will not come until reflection is done.

“Any situation in which some men prevent others from engaging in the process of inquiry is one of violence;… to alienate humans from their own decision making is to change them into objects.”
― Paulo Freire

The Poverty Paradigm: Resisting This Narrative

I can’t tell you how many educators I have heard say that poor, Black kids can’t learn and that poverty is their deficiency. On top of that, poor, black parents/guardians do not care about the education of their children.

Full stop.

I, for one, grew up as a poor, Black kid.

I learned.

I, for one, see how poor, Black kids can, will and have always excelled academically. See, it takes educators that are there to teach with high expectations that will push all of his or her students, no matter the background.

Being poor doesn’t make you deficient.
Being poor doesn’t make you deficient.

Let me tell you, my parents never thought I was deficient. They never sent me to school saying I was an inadequate black kid because of poverty. They always told me that I can do whatever I put my mind to. I can succeed in anything if I had the will to believe. We were broke and struggled at times, but that never stopped me from going to school and excelling. Sure, you may have been through some dark times but my parents didn’t want to see no bad grades. They weren’t about to have me sitting up in a school and not learn.

Let me tell you, my folks made sure to read to us. They made sure to see if I had homework and if I needed additional help. So, please dismiss yourself if you have the belief that poor folks, especially black and Latino folks can’t learn.

Let me tell you, most of us poor folk are serious about our education. We set high expectations for ourselves and the kids around us. In the words of my black mama, “I ain’t raising no dummies”. There you have it.

So, the next person that I hear saying that poor black kids can’t learn than we about to have some problems.

Let me tell you something else, these black and brown babies are pushing hard in these classrooms. They are pushing hard against the social-inequities within their lives. They are pushing against the oppressions that face them just because they are poor and black.

Let me tell you something else, if my black and brown students want to beat-box on the table, braid their hair back in cornrows, dab on it and everything else that screams “Black and brown” then go ahead. There’s too many people that wish to police them. There’s too many people seeking to silence them. There’s too many people that wants to see them fail.

We are not deficient. We are not going to silence ourselves. We are not going to fail.

Children and the Disruption of Rape-Culture

In society, rape-culture is often perpetuated and uninterrupted. Rape-culture is the environment in which rape is encouraged through social-attitudes and behaviors trivializing and downplaying the seriousness of the crime. In defining this term, it is important that we dig into this problematic issue and how children can become victims and/or perpetrators of rape-culture. How are we teaching our children and students to be safe through our words and actions?

In reflecting on rape-culture, there was an incident that occurred within a group of second-graders that would make any person shiver. In the event of a discussion at lunch, a boy told a girl that he would take her to the bathroom and rip her pants. In hearing about this problematic situation, I knew a few things would be necessary to deal with this problem. In the mindset of a second-grade student, one could ask where and how such an idea could present itself to a young child. Additionally, one could ask about the healing that is necessary for this young child. In the case of both students, they are victims. They are victims. Both are victims of patriarchy. In patriarchy, girls and women are dominated by men and boys. They are often taught to be violent in their interaction(s) with girls and women. Socially, girls and women are often socialized to accept this behavior and silenced.

In the case of these two children, a serious discussion need to be had. We can’t expect for children to simply understand rape-culture by proxy. We have to consistently teach them how to interact with each other that is wholesome, loving, respectful and non-violent. In the world that we live in, information is readily available and social-behaviors that perpetuate rape-culture is ever-present. We can’t afford to sit around and ignore the far-cries of children that are silenced after such a verbal assault. We can’t allow young boys to internalize a language that assaults, disregards and damages the hearts and minds of girls. In this unfortunate reality, the young boys are victims. Young boys are becoming players within a system that is devoid of love. It strips them of their own humanity.

In becoming radical in the way that we think about love and education, it is vital that we stop and think about the language that we use. It is vital that we are cognizant of our actions and the things that we are watching. We can’t ignore problematic speech. We can’t ignore verbal assaults and call it ‘childish’ or ‘boy’ish’. We can’t. We can’t afford to ignore what is violent and dead wrong.

Rape-culture starts with us. Rape-culture can only be perpetuated by us. Rape-culture can only be stopped by us.

My Letter to Victims of Domestic Violence

Dear Survivors,

You are not the violence you have received. You are not the frustrations that your perpetrator may have placed upon your body. You are going to survive this moment of your life and understand that it is not your fault. I don’t care what he or she said before, during or after the incident(s). You are not to be blamed. You are not to be violated in any way. I will not ask why he or she was provoked to abuse you in any form (emotionally, financially, psychologically, mentally or physically). There is never a reason to hurt someone. You do not hurt the person that you love. Yes, people may say that this is unrealistic but it is the truth.

As a survivor and witness to domestic violence, I am calling out those that have hurt us. I will not place shame on us for what they did. We are not to feel shame for what they have done. We must share our stories. We must learn that healing happens and can happen and will happen. It is so hard to walk away from the person that you believe loves you, but love doesn’t hurt. I don’t know how many times I’ve heard people say this. People always say that love shouldn’t hurt and it shouldn’t.

As a young girl, I saw domestic violence in the physical and psychological form. I didn’t understand what was happening because mama and papa would always express their love for their children, but so often I would doubt the love they had for each other. I didn’t know if love was supposed to be so hurtful at times. I would see the sadness in the face of my mother and my father. As a child, a young girl-child, I began to equate the painful love that I saw with the type of love that I would later accept. My parents would often argue with one another, mostly about money. Other times, my father would get upset at my mother for wanting to go out by herself. For my mother, her time was mostly spent working and coming home to tend to household responsibilities.  In seeking to find some time for herself,  she would be stopped, reprimanded and made to feel guilty for wanting to step outside of the home. For wanting time for herself. For wanting to seek out self-care.

In coming to the realization that violence is cyclical in my family, I am learning to heal from the pain. The pain can be unbearable. It can be tragic. It can sometimes ruin us. And even in the midst of healing, we sometimes blame ourselves for the pain we have undergone. We have flashbacks. We have internal conversations. We have guilt. We have sympathy for our abuser. We have love for our abuser. We have hate for them too. We have shouldered the burden of the pain.

However, in the midst of all of it, sometimes we forgive. We forgive them. We forgive them. We forgive them. We cry. We cry for them. For them that chose to hurt us. And sometimes the hurt they imposed upon us is the hurt they feel themselves.

And here we are, learning how to be whole again. Wholeness becomes our priority.

And this is for us, for surviving.

Sincerely,

Lauren Anderson, Survivor

 

What is Your Purpose?

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As time passes, I often as myself the question, “What is my purpose?”.  In working with elementary-aged students for the last year, I’ve observed and experienced many things. I found myself in joy from working with them and seeing them progress socially and academically. However, I’ve seen the amount of work and dedication it takes to become and remain a teacher. In Education, you have to know if students are a part of your purpose. For me, children will always be a part of my purpose. In Urban-schools, you will often find poverty, trauma, struggle and creativity. In this creativity, students often find ways to cope with their own pain. In this creativity, you will find that you’re able to learn a lot about your students. However, if this is your purpose then you will find ways to connect to your students. The question is, “What is your purpose?”.

Why is this question important? It’s important because it forces you to re-evaluate your choice. After a year of instructing students, I’ve realized that my heart became attached to these little people. You become a part of their lives. They become a part of your life. They will look to you for guidance, love, and attention. The end of the school-year is hard for me. I’m realizing how tough teaching can be for a teacher. A teacher doesn’t only teach, but he/she counsels and parents, as well. A teacher wears many hats within the daily routine of school. However, all these hats include the ability to deal with political issues within the school and surrounding the school.

In the wearing of many hats, the teacher is truly an amazing person. They can give students the ability to dream and to believe in those dreams. Why is this important? Well, in my experience, dreams can be everything for a student. In the lives of many inner-city students, the reality of trauma and struggle is ever-present. Instability may be the order of the day. I’ve seen kids come to school with dirty clothes, hungry, shoes with holes, no coats during the winter,  and etc. So, if an educator is able to give students the ability to believe and to achieve, this give students something to yearn for. This give students something to hunger for. In my opinion, many parents care. If not parents, guardians of the student want the best for their child. However, many parents/ guardians are struggling themselves to keep food and a roof over their family’s head. Let’s not begin to talk about structural oppression that occurs to people of color. Sometimes we find that people argue that ‘these’ people do not work hard enough, but this claim doesn’t hold water. In the history of America, structural oppression has always been ever-present in the lives of people of color.

So, it is important to think about all of these aspects when thinking about the purpose of why we do what we do. We may not be educators. But our purpose is important. Our purpose usually gives some feeling of satisfaction or contentment in living life. Our purpose isn’t always black and white. However, our purpose should bring some happiness to our daily lives. Being an instructor has taught me a lot about purpose. It has taught me a lot about caring for others. It has taught me a lot about social justice in our country. It has taught me to never give up on what you truly enjoy and find important in the sustainability of your personal happiness.

Where Have I Been?

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The spring 2016 semester has started up. I am finally back in the classroom again -at the university. I am in my last year of my Master’s program and life couldn’t be more hectic. In the time I have been away from my blog, I’ve experienced so many life-lessons that could last a life-time. As a paraprofessional at a local school in Kansas City, I have grown so much in my outlook on education. It really is vital to get first-hand experience in any career you are seeking to go in. I highly encourage a person to dive headfirst in whatever they seek in life. Life is filled with so many opportunities.

As a female of color, I have seen the importance of being in the classroom. I understand the importance of having presence and making a positive impact. In many ways, being a person of color within the inner-city school I work in, I am able to relate to the students. In return, students are able to feel a level of familiarity with you. Culture is very important. In my college courses, we often discuss the importance of diversity. However, diversity is such a big concept that can encompass many things. Diversity transcends racial groups. Diversity includes: languages, lifestyles, cultures, religions, classes and etc. You will encounter students from various backgrounds that will need your understanding and love. For some people, this can be challenging. And sometimes, it can be.

The classroom at a university is different than a classroom you will encounter in a school. You are given theoretical outlooks and then you are given reality once you step outside of your college campus. I am forever grateful for the job that I have because I can experience the daily lives of teachers. You have to be proactive in many ways. You have to be self-confident in the choices that you make. You have to be creative. You have to be a critical thinker. You have to be open to change. The classroom is forever changing as time goes by.  Your classroom may force you to rethink your own personal values and beliefs. Are you ready for that?

In order to be an effective educator, you need heart. You need the kind of heart that remains constant in the battle to give your best each and everyday to every student that you teach. You have to dig deep everyday and touch that part of yourself. Look yourself in the mirror and tell yourself why you are an educator. Never forget your purpose. You are a very special person. You have a heart that will influence students to be all that they aspire to be. You have to keep this mentality. Every morning, I wake up with my purpose in mind. I go to sleep with my students in mind. I keep my ‘why’ in mind. Why am I doing this? Why is this important to me? Why are the students important? Why? Why am I in a classroom? You have to know your why.

 

Education: Upholding Domination in Schools

Everyday I think about my role as an educator. Is it enough to simply deliver instruction? Is it enough to simply manage a classroom of students? The question is no. The question is absolutely not. However, educators sometimes believe that this is the secret of teaching. If you’re able to deliver your content and manage your students then you’re doing a fabulous job of teaching. I’m sorry to say that this is not the case. In seeing the beautiful smiles and sometimes frowns of students, I ask about my relation to them as an authority figure.

In my daily life as a paraprofessional, I am able to see teaching upfront.  I am able to see the good, great and despicable. I am able to see students’ responses to their peers, teacher(s) and various authority-figures within the school. On the otherhand, I am able to see teacher’s and their way of teaching. In seeing these important aspects of education, I question myself about my future self. As a preservice teacher, I am constantly going back and forth with my personal motives for going into education. Am I ready to deal with the everyday happenings of a school’s system? The school is a system. It’s a system that may or may not support your stance on social-justice. As a staunch supporter of social justice, I am often faced with myself as an authority-figure and as an advocate. Do I use my power of an authority figure to correct the injustices that I see or do I simply accept a school’s blind eye to them? In the classroom, do I simply yield to domination in order to manage students? Or will I see to create an atmosphere of love and healing for students?

In unlocking my own anger that often drowns me daily, I juggle questions internally that I think teachers may ask themselves. What is more important- money or justice? Could you have both? Sure. However, I believe that it is sometimes one or the other. I absolutely love my job, but I am constantly faced with questions of ethics. What is my philosophy on education? What is my role as an advocate for social-justice? In a system that is often structured around domination, you are often called to yield to schools that reinforces: racism, sexism, homophobia, classism and etc. It is unreal how you will find yourself hearing sexist, racist, homophobic, and classist speech from individuals that are supposedly leading the way for students. For any educator, it takes strength, dedication, loyalty and heart to stand up for the wrong that you see. You have to remember that students are often looking up to you for guidance. Your curriculum and your daily-living should embody the values that you seek to teach. Your personal life should not be disconnected from your work life. Sometimes we believe that it is okay to be different in our personal and professional life. No, it is not okay. If we preach tolerance in classrooms, tolerance should be a personal practice that we observe in our personal life. However, this may not always be the case. So, we need to work on ourselves. We need to practice decolonization. We need to practice truth.

Social-Justice in the Classroom: Practicing What You Preach

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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”.