Unwrapping the Holidays: Reflections on a Difficult First Year
By: Dale Weiss
As new teachers, it is incredibly hard to not only prepare for the year ahead, but also to know what to expect in regards to the students, the classroom, the environment and culture, and the colleagues. I feel that it is extremely important as teachers to be open minded, and diverse in everything they do – whether that be in regards to race, culture, gender, religion, or any other social justice concern. Dale Weiss article “Unwrapping the Holidays: Reflections on a Difficult First Year” brings up many different, and interesting points, on becoming a new teacher while educating for social justice.
Something that really resonated with me was the letter that read “Rights for Homosexuals next?”. I could not believe that providing a suggestion as to make the school more culturally diverse would produce homophobic comments. As an upcoming future educator, I feel it is imperative that we all be open to LGBTQ Rights. Further than that, whether we as teachers agree or disagree with any social justice issue, such as LGBTQ rights, should be irrelevant and we should focus more on the students’ needs rather than that of our own view points, perspectives, values, and opinions. In Mary Cowhey’s article “Heather’s Mom Got Married”, it shows that even at a young age, children are capable of understanding anything, including diversity or social justice. Developing openness within the classroom is a huge part of education and learning. Deciding what to teach based on personal views is, in a way, similar to the refusal to extend equal rights to anyone – both send an implicit message that somehow one group of people is inferior to the other group of people and therefore not important.
Beyond just being open-minded, it is important to be knowledgeable in not only the subjects you teach, but in other cultures, beliefs, Treaties, the list is endless. The statement made by one of the teachers in Weiss’s article, “I just don’t feel comfortable teaching about something I just don’t know much about”, is a reality that many teachers face daily. The important thing to take from this statement is not the fact that we might not know much about a certain topic – which is in it crucial to succumb to – but instead, that we need to acknowledge we don’t always know everything and therefore should expand our knowledge and educate ourselves in other aspects. In this case, the particular teacher was commenting on other cultural practices during December.
Curriculum is everything, both spoken and unspoken, and like we see with Weiss’s article, even though the decorations in the school do not at first appear to be curriculum, it is implicitly implying certain perspectives and values which can create a binary effect where one group of individuals could be superior to the other groups of individuals. Further than just the decorations placed on the wall, curriculum can be any and all interactions. As Rita Tenorio notes in her interview, curriculum can be the “attitudes, feelings, interactions” in which children are faced with. In Weiss’s article, it is explicitly shown that if students feel safe, motivated, encouraged, they will learn. If the security elements are not present, students can feel disrespected, neglected, and casted as outsiders, in a developing social world.
As a future educator, it is extremely important to get to know, understand, and work alongside other staff and colleagues – supporting and helping each other, regardless of different opinions. It is important, moreover, to always put the student’s best interests first when planning any activity. When Weiss opened the article, he explained that with the strike at the beginning of the school year, he had thought that many of his colleagues and him had bonded. As soon as a comment was made in a staff meeting to be more inclusive in their educational practices, much of the staff blatantly disregarded and, at times, isolated him. It is important to note, here, that as a new teacher not only getting to know the area, culture, and colleagues is important, but also to understand other beliefs. I do find that Weiss was in the right to question his colleague’s actions, but I do think he went about it in the wrong way. As a future teacher, I would have asked around before coming to the conclusion that what the other teachers were doing was wrong and needed to be changed. Instead, I would suggest to make the school a more inclusive and multicultural environment.
With that being said, I do think that it is imperative to create allies as teachers. As noted in Gregory Michie’s work “Teaching in the Undertow”, it is incredibly easy to begin drifting away from your personal beliefs and values into a more ‘conventional’ or ‘accepted’ way of teaching, deemed by Eurocentric views and ways of knowing. He goes further to state that one of the best things to do as new teachers is to create allies – both within the school as well as within the broader community of educators. Teachers whose philosophy and political viewpoints are similar should be deemed extremely valuable emotional and social supports for the battle faced ahead. As a becoming teacher, it will be hard to find the border line that exists between doing what is right in regards to social justice, multicultural inclusionary perspectives, and pedagogical ways, over what to conform to as deemed acceptable with the community of teachers, students, and parents.
From reading the articles, I have come to the conclusion that teaching and educating students in regards to social justice will never be easy. I do think that starting, even if in a small way, is more beneficial to both you as the individual as well as the students in helping shape their perspectives and broadening their understanding as to the world they live in. Given everything we have learned so far, there is no set way to implementing social change. As future educators, we should definitely strive for social justice, even if it is starting with the posters we put up in our classroom, or implementing it into our lessons, at least it is a start to a better future.