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Becoming a Social Justice Teacher

I've been writing this blog for just over a year and a half now and am rather humbled that it gets a decent number of hits (any thing over 10 hits is decent right?). Though recently, in a conversation with some folks in my local community who have read my blog, it has got me wondering if I'm really giving a clear perspective of who I am as a teacher and what it is that I'm trying to achieve within my profession and in my classroom.

Often times, we want to tell people about our triumphs and successes. It's really easy and fun to write a blog about a lesson plan that really engaged students or about the process of achieving a professional goal within the profession. However, we need to remember that as important as it is to share our successes with our colleagues, we also need to be vocal about those times when our lesson plans didn't work, when our "classroom management" was a complete failure, and when we felt like giving up.

In my short 6 years of teaching, I have seen way too many new teachers enter the profession with the expectation that they must be perfect teachers the first day they come into the classroom. I've seen veteran colleagues put an overwhelming set of expectations on pre-service and new teachers that they must know exactly how and what to teach from the day they start. Now I can't speak for all teachers, but I know that in my short time being a teacher, I still don't know the best way to do anything.

At the beginning of my career, I found that many of the expectations placed on me to know my content and how to "control" student behaviour was a way of controlling what type of teacher I was going to be. I felt immense pressure to never show any weakness to a student and that I had to have complete silence and obedience from students or else I was perceived as a lousy teacher who was unable to "make it" in the teaching world.

Fortunately, I have always survived challenging times by going back to my days as a struggling student. I decided that I wanted to be a different type of teacher who would be willing to demonstrate to students that it is alright to make mistakes sometimes. In fact, our mistakes often lead to our greatest moments of learning where we can grow as individuals and within our communities. I wanted students to be aware that I would always be learning alongside them as I was not a "master of knowledge" but that together, as a community of learners, we could investigate some of the most interesting issues of the past and current world. That is what school is all about.

This framework is what guided me towards becoming a social justice teacher. Our schools are like "mini-societies". If we want our students to participate in democracy, then how can we act like authoritarians in the classroom? Schools should be places where students and teachers learn in cooperation with each other and engage in dialogue about issues that are important to them. Instead of being told what rules to follow and how to behave, why shouldn't students have a voice in deciding the rules and expectations in which they have to follow? We end up crippling our communities and the larger society as teachers when we attempt to control students to be obedient and conforming people. That's not the type of citizen we should be aiming for in a democracy.

The point of telling this story is that the process of myself becoming a teacher has been a long struggle. I have fallen down time and time again and continue to do so. I make mistakes every single day in the classroom. However, as a teacher who makes a personal and public commitment towards social justice education, I can never let the fear of failure or the attempt at being the "perfect teacher" interfere with my most important objective of working with my students to ultimately make the world a better place.

A social justice teacher must embrace how the intersection of race, class, gender, sexuality, (dis)ability, and colonialism impact students, classrooms, communities, and the larger world. I firmly believe that the ultimate purpose of education is to make the world a more just, equitable and democratic place. If we don't start modelling that with our students in our classrooms then how can we ever expect to see the change we wish to see?

I encourage all teachers, regardless of discipline, to embrace a social justice approach in your classroom and school. It doesn't matter if you feel knowledgeable about these issues or not. The point is to explore and learn about them WITH your students. Engage in dialogue and learning together and talk about how we all can make a difference in our schools, community and world. Any missteps or mistakes will serve as a larger learning opportunity for you to grow as a teacher and become a better role model for your students.

Comments

  1. Love this post! I too have embraced teaching my subject areas (English,History,Art & Drama) through social justice. And like you after 12 years I still learn something about the job every day. I don't expect that I will ever know "the best" way to do anything - because that would mean I would stop trying to improve.

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