What follows is a reflection on issues facing teachers on a national scale, not so much a response to my local district, which (cross my fingers) has been remarkably-supportive of teachers and levelheaded regarding the aforementioned “issues.”
I recently completed my thirty-seventh year in the classroom. As has always been the case for me and with my apologies to actual mothers, I’ve been left with a feeling metaphorically-akin to postpartum. I know I should be happy to have put another year behind me and excited for the summer months that lie ahead, but I’m not, and this year I’m feeling particularly concerned regarding the job expectations for the remaining years of my career and my willingness to abide by them.
Partially due to the disruption of the traditional school day model during the two years of responding to the Covid-19 pandemic; a sudden parental, politically-motivated interest in school curriculum (Where have you been for the past thirty-seven years of parent-teacher conferences and school board meetings?); the continued proliferation of school shootings; and the desire of some to gloss over actual American history; for the first time, I’m questioning my continued devotion to the only profession I’ve ever seriously pursued or loved.
It could be that I’ve become a relic of the past, one schooled during the more liberal-minded decades of the 60s, 70s, and early 80s. In fact, most teachers my age have already retired. I entered the profession when teachers were trusted, if not always revered. We were similar to independent contractors, experts in our chosen fields of study and instruction and free from the burden of teaching to tests and onerous evaluations of competence that do more to disillusion teachers and to stifle the art of teaching than to effectively measure it.
My point being that the remainder of this essay may be the ramblings of an out-of-touch-with-reality, late stage baby boomer, who simply needs to ride off into whatever utopian-mirage of a sunset that remains. With that admission behind me, however, I’d like to make a few things clear regarding my future days in the classroom. If you choose to read on, please read to the very end.
- Should any student of mine choose to remain seated during the recitation of the “Pledge of Allegiance” or during the playing of the National Anthem, I will respect their First Amendment rights but only with the caveat that they explain to me their motivation for doing so and that their refusal to participate is not merely an act of laziness rather than subversion.
- I will continue to respect my students’ right to identify as any gender they choose, and I will refer to them by the pronoun which best suits their gender identification. This is not a concession to political correctness. Rather, it is simply being what my mother taught me to be: nice and respectful of the feelings of others.
- I will say “gay” in the identification of the not small number of canonical gay authors from whose catalogs I teach and with respect for and total acceptance of my brothers and sisters of the LGBTQ community.
- I will continue to teach from as many banned books as I can slip into my syllabus, ranging from the Bible to Beloved. My primary responsibilities as a teacher of literature include to inspire students to become readers for the joy and personal edification found in reading, to inspire them to think for themselves, to encourage them to grapple with what it means to be human in a grossly imperfect world, to help them find meaning and purpose for their existence, and to convince them to question the status quo so as to retain the good and wash out the bad. The books that regularly appear on lists of banned books are the ones that most effectively achieve those goals.
- I will never whitewash or bowdlerize American or World History in order to protect anyone’s feelings. This is especially true regarding America’s shameful treatment of Native Peoples; Africans kidnapped from their homes and enslaved here; the descendants of those Africans, subjected to heinous and often insurmountable levels of systemic racism; Japanese-Americans interred by their own government during WWII, the long line of immigrants from which every one of us is descended, and the list goes on. None of this is political. It is factual.
- I will NEVER carry a gun into my classroom (or anywhere else for that matter). I can’t even believe I need to declare this.
With all of this said, be assured that I respect and encourage students of differing opinions to express their views freely in both discussion and compositions. I do not “indoctrinate” students in any purposeful way, shape, or form. In fact, I often stray far from my personal opinions to give voice to authors and thinkers of opposite worldviews, and some of my favorite students over the many years have been those with whom I most ardently disagree and with whom I’ve had the most interesting and personal position challenging conversations.
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