It occurs to me that in 2020, our society has moved from one fear to another, each seeming to outpace and eclipse the previous one.
The US was on course for war with Iran in January. By the end of February, we were nervously watching the DOW slide and wondering when this flu running through Asia and Seattle would make it to West Virginia. In March, COVID-19 arrived in full force and the country effectively shut down. People lost jobs and security and all sense of normalcy. April consoled with handwashing and mask-making. In May we learned of a vicious February murder in Georgia, a woman who weaponized a bird-watcher’s skin color in Central Park, an innocent Louisville woman shot in her own bed, and then we watched as a Minnesota man died slowly on the street under the knee of a police officer. Peaceful protests were hijacked by anarchists and troublemakers, and soldiers in riot gear were mobilized.
So, to sum up, fear follows fear follows fear follows fear.
And it’s only June. When people post memes about the thunderstorm actually being Godzilla or the murder hornets carrying machetes, they’re not really joking. Fear is the currency of the day.
As I looked forward into summer three months ago, I planned to work on how grade writing more effectively and more efficiently.
Two months ago, I found out that I will be teaching AP Literature next year, so I planned to wrap my head around that intimidating yet exciting prep.
And now, finally finished with the official school year, I recognize that I need to take more action in my own self and my own classroom. Although I don’t tolerate racism in the halls or in the room, although I host a Black History Month Read-In every spring, although I work very hard to build and maintain a positive rapport with all my students, although, although, although…it’s not enough.
It seems to me that all of my goals are worthy, and all of them are necessary. I firmly believe that the way to push through fear is to learn. Once you have knowledge, you can gain wisdom. And for me, wisdom is the ultimate goal.
So, in the interest of developing wisdom and pushing through the Year of Fear, I’ll share some quick, powerful ideas and tools.
I would first encourage you to take a look at your implicit biases. Here’s a link to an ongoing project at Harvard for you peek at what’s underneath your assumptions.
Here’s a short YouTube video that may shine a light on privilege.
Next, I would ask around (the internet or colleagues) for ideas about books to read. Try any or all of these on Twitter: @ProjectLITComm @NCTE #antiracism #blm
Here’s a reading list about anti-racism.
This article, “Educators Must Realize That There Is No Neutral Position on Issues of Racial Justice,” lists some actionable steps and is part of a larger series.
Finally, I would encourage you to consider crafting your own mission statement for your classroom. I use a mission statement as a way for seniors to begin their final year of high school, but it need not be relegated to a student-only activity. As an example, I will point to the powerful words of a former student of mine, who I’m proud to say is now a colleague in my English department. Marissa Pulice writes, in part:
1. I don’t want to avoid the hard talks about race anymore. I shy from conflict and that is not productive at best and its own sort of mental brutality towards my students at worst. Racism will not end if we do not give our kids a space to talk about it and work through faulty or fallacious thinking.…
2. I will diversify what I teach. My kids deserve to read works by and about people from a variety of backgrounds, and I need to do a better job of seeking those things out. If you read something you wish you’d read in high school because it broadens your perspective, send it to me…
3. This is not a moment or a one-time thing. It’s not a unit plan. It’s something that needs repeatedly revisited with historical context about how power can and has corrupted in so many arenas of American history…
Does this fix everything? Absolutely not. Does it do something? Hopefully. Will I strive to be better for my students and my own eventual children? Always.
This work will be hard.
But you’re used to that. You just taught through a global pandemic.
This work will take effort.
But you’re used to that, too. You’ve worked and studied to get where you are today.
This work will be valuable.
You’re used to that, too. You have (in my opinion) one of the most important jobs in the world. Yes, #BlackLivesMatter And, more so, they are valued and beloved.
So, teacher friend, I implore you to fill your cup this summer. Take some time and rest every week. Do life with family and friends. Shake off your school-end malaise and get to work. Clean out your cabinets. Donate. Live more simply and more intentionally.
And study. Read. Discuss. Make investments in yourself, your students, in your school climate, and in your society.
Courage, dear heart.
WVCTE wants you to contribute to the conversation. What texts or ideas do you have for combating social injustice? What can you offer about teaching AP Lit? Or assessing writing? I want to hear it all! Leave us a question or comment, Tweet us your thoughts @WVCTE, or connect with us on Facebook.
Adrin Fisher is a contributing blogger for WVCTE. She wishes you light and courage. She’s a National Board Certified Teacher who just finished the weirdest school-year on record and is starting to prep for the new year already. When she’s not planning her next career as a YouTuber, you can find her calling “Hello!” to strangers, tree bathing in the woods with her kids, or writing in drips and drabs. You can follow her on Twitter @fisheradrin