6 Things Every Teacher Should Know About Social Justice and Teaching

  1. Look at your classroom critically. Analyze everything you ask your students to do or bring. Analyze the signs you have. Analyze the way you speak. Now, change any part that makes a student feel marginalized. This happens continuously. You will never be perfect but being aware is a step in the right direction.
  2. When looking at your school’s policies, ask yourself “to what extent does this put more burdens on some families rather than others? Some policies have a tendency to outcast certain kids. My school has a dress code of sorts (collared shirts, no rips in jeans, no navy blue or red, no patterns or brands on shirts, etc) and I have noticed that some of my students notice when a student only has a small rotation of clothing. Having these dress code standards puts pressure on some families rather than others. At a certain time, it was necessary for our school to have a dress code to help move away from gangs at school, but is it still necessary? Just because it had worked in the past doesn’t mean we still need it. Social justice advocates bring these difficult questions up for the good of their students.
  3. Find your allies. Standing up for social justice is difficult work and you can’t do it alone. You need people who will fight with you. The teacher next door or a Facebook group maybe. I am lucky, I have my fellow teachers and my Mount Holyoke Masters in Teacher Leadership (MATL) cohort. Go team compost! These are the people I turn to when I face setbacks or have crazy ideas. These are the people that have my back and I have theirs. This is the trick, you have to have each other’s backs. You need to create a partnership with them where you are willing to take risks with them and they are willing to take risks with you.
  4. Paul Gorski, coauthor of Case Studies on Diversity and Social Justice Education, once told my MATL cohort, “do as much as you can do without getting fired, and you gotta find where that sweet spot is, and that sweet spot is different for everybody.” Our jobs matter. We can push the limits to our heart’s desire, but we can do far more work for social justice in the classroom than out of it. Once you push the boundaries once, you can push them a little farther the next time and a little farther after that.
  5. Be a bridge to social justice, not a door. With a door, you are either in or out. With a bridge, you have a spectrum and it signifies that you are on a journey. A bridge is also a tool that helps people access something that they previously couldn’t. It accesses something that may have been scary to get to before. With your help, the path seems less scary.
  6. Follow the critical race scholars. There are so many incredible people out there. I can recommend following Jemellah Coas @GeorgiaTOTY2014, Ruthanne Buck @ruthabuckPaul Gorski @pgorski, Michael Dumas @MichaelDumasPRO, Christine Sleeter @csleeter, and Kevin Kumashiro@kevinkumashiroand so many others that I couldn’t possibly name in one post. These are movers and shakers in the world of social justice Edu reform. Since following these scholars I have been flooded with new ideas and inspiration. Their tweets lead you on journeys through the internet filled with resources, chats, and everything you could ever dream of.

Bonus Tip: Never stop trying and never give up. You are making a difference. Your work matters. You are doing the right thing.

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