For many educators, the 2016-17 school year has been hard—really hard. As the end of the year approaches, it’s natural to look back on the challenges and changes of the last nine months. In this spirit, we asked the Teaching Tolerance Advisory Board, “If you could go back and talk to yourself at the beginning of this school year, what would you say?" Here are some of their reflections.
Amy Melik: I would tell myself that when my students have a question about the current executive order of the day, it is absolutely OK to say to them, "I don't know.” And while it's important to be an ear for my immigrant students and families when they grieve, have anger and experience confusion surrounding a political event, it's equally important for me to participate in self-care so that I can be as strong as I need to be each week. I would tell myself to buckle in for the long haul. It's going to be a marathon, so I need to take small and deliberate steps. And finally, and most important, when voices of bias and discrimination start becoming loud again, that it's my duty to confront them in order to protect the unheard voices of my students.
Kim Estelle: I would tell myself: There's going to be pain...and joy. Don't give up on the joy. People you wouldn't expect will be surprisingly hurtful. People you wouldn't expect will be surprisingly compassionate. Extend grace to both, and accept grace from all. Every obstacle is an opportunity to grow. Grow through the pain to get to the joy.
Amber Makaiau: Make sure to leave room in your curriculum for addressing current events. This year, with the election in particular, there were so many times that my students, at the beginning of class, needed to spend time debriefing what they were hearing in the news and in the community. Sometimes, as we engaged in this dialogue, I would sense myself getting nervous that we weren’t jumping right into the curriculum that I had planned out months ago. But I know that taking the time to debrief was the right choice, and if I could go back and talk to myself at the beginning of the year, I would have just told myself to make this time and space a part of the regular curriculum.
Veronica Menefee: If I could, I would go back and tell myself that you cannot do everything and you must set realistic expectations for yourself. As teachers, we want to say yes to everything that will help our students, and it can cause burnout.
Sarah Neely: Sometimes love doesn't win, and you need to find a respectful, fact-filled way to present current events to children so they can make their own opinions.
Kim Siar: You extend love to your students, parents, coworkers—now give it to those who challenge you. Remember real tolerance includes all. No exceptions. If you can learn to extend compassion even to those who hurt you and your loved ones, then you are truly the change. You were made for this. Have faith that you will become that which you are seeking. Now go practice what you preach.
Carrie Gaffney: I would remind beginning-of-the-year me to keep my social justice books at the top of my professional reading pile and to reread them every time I started to question myself.
Barbie Garayúa-Tudryn: Most definitely, I'd say: Don’t ever forget that behind all that data there is always a human being. The reason why you went into education in the first place was to humanize, to use thought and heart. And those very things that are unquantifiable—unconditional support, love and understanding—can lift and inspire both students and their families. Humanize. Otherwise you'll miss where the magic is.
What would you say if you could talk to your earlier self? Tell us via firstname.lastname@example.org.