Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Youth Voice

The more teachers act like authoritarians in the classroom, the less likely our students will be able to uphold our democracy.

How we treat and relate to youth in our schools is directly related to the type of society we strive for. Within the world of education, teachers often promote "student-centred" classrooms and ensuring that our practice has the best interests of students in mind. But what we fail to realize with this approach is that we often fail to truly incorporate student voice in decision making within our classrooms, schools and education system.

Too often, school is just something that happens to students. They go through the motions and learn how to jump through hoops of the structures that we have put in place. Rarely do students get to take part in actual acts of democracy by having their voices heard, considered and accessed as a valuable tool in our classrooms and schools.

Canada has a thorough history of folks from various groups and communities standing up for their rights and fighting for a more just and equitable world. Although these stories don't often make it into our textbooks, perhaps these stories can serve as a catalyst for students wanting a different type of education where they can have their voices heard over what happens to them in schools. Democracy is fragile, and if we fail to equip our students with the values of democracy, equity and justice then we cannot expect our society to uphold theses values.

When we ignore, tokenize and neglect the voice of students then we utterly fail in preparing them to take up their roles in a democratic society. It is my belief that as teachers, we have a responsibility to be allies of our students in ensuring they receive the best educational experience possible. That means our pedagogy must reflect democratic processes, students voices are heard, and all students feel safe, respected and cared for in our classrooms. In other words, we must teach for social justice.

We don't choose the students who walk into our classrooms. In my time at Inner City High I have had the privilege of working with so many brilliant and remarkable youth who have faced impossible barriers and gone through horrible experiences in schools. It is with this experience, and in solidarity with the youth that I teach, that I feel it is important to declare that as I teacher I stand with all those youth who feel invisible, left out, marginalized, and oppressed. I will never stop learning from the youth I serve on how I can be a better teacher and ally.

Until the voices of these students can be heard in our classrooms and schools, we will not have true democracy in our society.

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