Like so many other people, I have found myself at a loss when seeing and thinking about all the unrest that is happening in our country right now. The same question keeps repeating itself in my mind…what can I do?
I’ve reached out to friends who may have had more experience facing discrimination and have received varying opinions. After reflecting on the opinions of my peers and personal experiences throughout life, I realize that I have a platform I can use each and every day….my classroom.
Fellow educators, we can be an agent of change!
Outside of parents and family members, no one holds as much impact in shaping a child’s life than their teachers…sometimes we have the greatest impact.
Many educators unintentionally try to combat discriminative thought on a daily basis by providing a safe and secure learning environment for all students. Just imagine the impact you can have if you purposefully address the issues that have been plaguing our country for centuries!
Now I know what some of you are thinking…” he’s about to go on some left or right tangent about how to make the world a better place.” The truth is, my students right now will not only be running the country I live in but the one my daughter lives in. If I can be a part of changing things for the better, then I will be.
So as an educator, what can you do to make a purposeful impact when addressing discrimination? Without over thinking it, there are 4 things you can do on a consistent basis for your students.
One is to Listen. Our students come from all kinds of diverse backgrounds. It’s important to listen to our students and their families about their experiences. This includes listening to others who may have different opinions about discrimination than you.
A mistake many people make is surrounding themselves with like-minded people and/or conversations. It’s important to try and understand why others have differing views.
This leads to the second thing you can do as an educator…Educate Yourself. This can be more difficult than it sounds, mainly because of all the misinformation that is available in the media.
The best way to educate yourself is to simply ask people about their opinions and do so with an open mind. The best place to start is with your own friends…warning, this could be uncomfortable if not done so correctly.
For instance, I spoke to two African-American gentleman, one an engineer and the other a detective. They had some very differing opinions in relation to discrimination but also had some similar views, especially on how to combat it.
Remember, keep an open mind…think of it as an educational experience if that helps. You would be surprised how much you may learn about someone you’ve known for years by having them explain their viewpoint on a sensitive subject.
How will this help in your classroom? You can very well have a student who has a similar experience as someone you’ve spoken to and now you have a way to connect with them.
The third thing you can do for your students is Provide Meaningful Experiences. Think back to when you were in school. Many times, our fondest memories are when we did something that we didn’t even know was educational.
Field Trips, guest speakers, fun projects…these are all a few ways we were tricked into learning.
One of the great things about having guest speakers and going on field trips is that it not only exposes your students to different perspectives and real world experiences but it allows the people who they engage with to see what our future looks like and in the case of civil servants, the people they are representing.
You don’t need to have students do a project on discrimination to get them to learn about cultural differences, respect, and humanity.
Also, take part in initiatives at your school that provide students an opportunity to interact with each other and the community. Time is precious and our schedules are already full. Still, try and make a little time for other roles and responsibilities you may be able to take on.
Finally, Remain a Role Model for your students. We try and do this everyday and to be honest, it can be hard sometimes. Whether they act like it or not, students view us as authority figures. How we react to certain situations, the things we say and do, and the way we present ourselves can have a lasting impact on students.
We don’t remember the names of all our teachers. We do remember our favorites and we definitely remember those we didn’t like. Sound familiar on how you remember your former students?
Just because a student doesn’t remember your name doesn’t mean you didn’t have a positive impact. Providing students with a safe learning environment while remaining just and fair can have a huge influence on how they feel about coming to school in general.
Try your best to be that positive person in your student’s life on a daily basis. You may never know the impact you had on a kid’s life by just being there for them.
If we as a nation are striving to become better and learning to move forward in a positive direction, what better place to do so than a classroom?
And when you’re in your classroom, it’s your voice that’s heard the loudest.
People form opinions based on the things they hear and experience. As an educator, you are often with children more hours throughout the day than their own family members. Make those hours count! Make sure the lessons learned have a profound impact!