Dear Fellow Educators,
In many ways, I have felt that there are no words for what occurred in Orlando. How could there be anything but grief, horror and immense sadness?
Yet, we must try to find words or share the words of others. We do not have the luxury of silence. We can’t turn away or not take action for fear of offending others, saying the wrong things or stumbling into something “controversial.” I don’t mean to invalidate your fears—there can be consequences to speaking truth. But the fact of the matter is that, in a world where violence, hatred and systemic oppression continue to have tangible consequences, speaking up is not just a political act. It is a life-or-death act.
I understand you might be scared and I know it might be hard, but now is the time to act. We, as educators, are uniquely situated to do more than others because we have a rare gift: the opportunity to touch the lives and speak to the hearts of the next generation. Every. Single. Day.
With that gift, though, comes a huge responsibility. We owe it to our students to give them skills to cope with horrific tragedies like Orlando, but equipping them with coping mechanisms is not enough. We must also instill in students the knowledge and empathy that will empower them to eventually take down the oppressive systems that allow these tragedies to happen in the first place.
Members of the LGBT and Muslim communities continue to be targets of hatred, as do members of other marginalized groups. As educators, we can and should stand as allies with these communities and teach our students to do the same. Education is a key way that we will dismantle prejudices and biases within our systems, ourselves and our students.
That dismantling will not happen if we stay silent. That can’t occur if we run away from the issues.
Here are a few resources to begin the conversation:
- Navigating the Orlando Tragedy in School Communities, a “list of crisis response and emotional support resources” via the New York City Department of Education
- #PulseOrlandoSyllabus, a thorough collection of books, articles, websites and other resources compiled by librarians and teachers
- 11 Small Ways to Feel Less Helpless This Week, From a Trained Therapist, self-care advice from Upworthy
- Best Practices: Creating an LGBT-inclusive School Climate, a detailed Teaching Tolerance guide for school leaders
I urge you: Don’t run. Now is the time to fight, and for many of us, that can start in our classrooms.
Torres is a seventh- and ninth-grade English teacher in Honolulu, Hawaii.