I have been struggling for a couple of weeks to write. My feelings about what's happening in our world right now feel so big. In a time of what should be healing and unity, it seems that every day brings more division and anger, more sadness and fear for so many Americans.
The consolation and brightness and hope I found this week at NCTE is that while times may seem dark and struggles may seem insurmountable and division may seem too deep a chasm to bridge, there are thousands of teachers across this country who are ready to advocate for students, to create safe spaces for reading and writing and dialogue, for healing. It is my job to support and encourage and love every kid that walks in my room, and I refuse to let angry, hateful rhetoric dampen the joy of learning in my classroom. I am one voice, but my voice matters. The voices of my students matter. And it is my hope that I can create an environment for them where they feel safe to speak their truths, to be themselves, to express their fear and sadness at an America that isn't giving all of them a fair deal right now.
I've tried hard in the last year to keep my opinions to myself because, as a teacher, I feel it's my job to teach students to think for themselves instead of thinking like me. I don't want to upset any balances. But my job is bigger than teaching novels and poems and writing. My job is teaching character, principles, love, acceptance, diversity, understanding. Diane Ravitch challenged teachers at the opening session of NCTE to "speak out as an advocate, quietly if you must and loudly if you can." I can't be quiet anymore, not when I think about walking into school on November 9 to the sight of two Hispanic girls embracing and crying and talking about their fear for their families, their worry of if they'll stay together. I can't stay silent when our first amendment freedoms feel more important than ever. We must stand up for kindness, for justice, for love of our fellow man.
In one session, Georgia Heard reminded us that "teaching is heart work. In a world that feels fractured, coming back to our heart work can bring us back to center." I'm inspired and challenged this week to come back to the heart work of what I do. It's not about the mechanics of a text; it's about the soul of a text. It's about valuing the unique qualities of every child and giving them wings because "hope is the thing with feathers," according to Emily Dickinson, and every. single. child. deserves the opportunity to hope in a better, more beautiful future.
I listened to so many incredible speakers at NCTE, and I left feeling challenged, not necessarily to change my pedagogy but more strongly than ever before to amplify my voice as an educator. We must teach our children that the only way to repair the fractures in the fabric of our nation is to build bridges instead of walls, to listen instead of rant, to share our personal truths instead of parroting a party line. I will be an advocate for kindness. I will be an advocate for fact-checking. I will be an advocate for empathetic listening. I will use my one voice for loud and relentless love for people. What will you do?