Gender & Identity, Life

Teaching in the Trump era isn’t easy, and it’s not getting easier

Learning social justice is important for students.

My background is in journalism. Teaching was Plan B. But, since life has a funny way of working out, my fallback career has paid the bills the past few years. This is my second year teaching at the junior and high school level. It’s been quite an experience. I’ve been fortunate to teach at private schools, so I haven’t been burned out from all the bureaucracy and standardized testing. English and history are the two main subjects that took me from San Diego to the Dominican Republic and returned me to Arizona (this is where bae and I live now).

Because I teach history and English, I discuss politics in my classes. But sometimes students complain, or rather made it a point to discuss, in class that they don’t care about current events and that my teaching style is “too political.” I don’t care. My style is influenced by Howard Zinn. They’ll care once they experience discrimination, but at least they’ll be prepared to handle such injustice.

Teachers shouldn’t allow their students to be indifferent. This is no time in the United States to be ignorant, especially when the youth is our future. Every class I teach includes the need for current events. Students must make connections to their life whether we are discussing books, lyrics, history, or the news.

The whole point of an education is to be able to think critically. A person should be able to think for oneself. I try to make them understand that it’s okay to think differently. Not everyone will agree, and that’s acceptable and encouraged. Question, analyze, and say something.

It’s inspiring to witness a student become active in an underserved community based on your class discussions and lectures. Change starts from within.

I’m still teaching at a private school, but it’s an alternative school. There are small classes which offer a better opportunity to work closely with students. There are no grades. And no assigned homework. Whatever work doesn’t get finished during class time, students are supposed to complete during their free time. They also get to choose their schedule, similar to college. They just need to take the basic core classes and then the option is theirs. This has allowed for me to co-teach Social Justice.

Recognizing differences and learning tolerance are crucial for our youth to learn. Race, gender, sexuality is what one identifies as human. And to be apathetic to an identity can be detrimental. Social justice teaches students to be understanding and to think critically. This year high school English had the theme of banned books. This means that every book we read in class was at some point on a banned books list in the United States.

One of the most influential and impactful books that we read was The Handmaid’s Tale. To prepare for the novel, we discussed history. We researched what influenced author Margaret Atwood to write. This revealed a handful of events that led her to create the dystopian future of the United States, aka The Republic of Gilead. As we read, I asked students to make connections to real life. It wasn’t an easy task for them.

They had to write a research paper where they found three articles about women abroad and connect them to the novel. It just happened to be around the time of the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women (IWD). Students learned about the significance of the day. Based on their current events, students made connections to the novel and IWD by coming up with their own research question. This forced them to think, investigate the lives of women or girls in another country, and bring it back to the novel. They did critical thinking and analysis. This was the first time any of those students were forced to write and research such topics. It blew my mind. It opened some eyes. And it annoyed certain students that didn’t understand how any of this had anything to do with their English class. You can’t expect to reach everyone. It’s the ones you do reach that make it worth the effort.

The school year is almost over and it fills my heart with joy to see students improve their writing, learn tolerance, and become active members of the community. At this school, we are encouraged to partake in rallies, marches, and protests. One student who was extremely shy is now a student leader and organizer for the #NationalSchoolWalkout. Another student who has experienced a lot in her life, but has never really had her voice heard has been given the space to say something. She speaks up in class if she doesn’t agree or understand. She makes art for a cause. Social Justice keeps her connected to her community. To see these students take on roles of influence for a greater cause is the reason to teach such classes like Social Justice.

As a teacher, I get the freedom to teach classes without worrying about standardized testing and common core crap. It’s a dream teaching job.

Teachers, don’t lose faith in education. There are schools that do care about the students. We, as teachers, need to be strong and show students how to care and be woke.