I grew up in a family of teachers. After long days of teaching, my parents would put dinner on the table and discuss their classes, faculty meetings, and new ideas they were passionate about. When I was in elementary school, I sometimes couldn’t tell the difference between dinner table conversation and a classroom discussion, so I frequently found myself raising my hand to contribute. Even though their discussions were way beyond my Super Mario Brothers-loving brain, my parents always welcomed me into their conversation. As I grew up, I learned the value of having a voice and the importance of expressing your beliefs – and I stopped raising my hand at the dinner table.
Now that I’m a teacher, I realize that it’s easy to let my voice languish underneath the emails, ungraded papers and long to-do lists. I know what I believe in and value, but I needed a way to speak my voice again. More importantly, I wanted to help my students find their voices. I started working with our Gay/Straight Alliance, founded and maintained by a veteran faculty member for whom I have the utmost respect, and quickly realized how much work there was to do.
There are lots of conversations in any given school day. In my classroom, I teach students how to analyze the relationship of Gene and Phineas in A Separate Peace. In faculty meetings, my colleagues and I discuss ways to keep our students safe and make our school stronger. In IEP meetings, the team discusses goals for the student’s progress. But when do we get kids talking about what they believe? How do we enable and encourage them to become active members in their community and speak out for those who can’t? My learning disabled students are uniquely qualified to understand the experience of being marginalized, silenced, underestimated, and misunderstood. When they’re invited into a conversation, they can arrive at powerful insights and profound empathy – they just need a chance to contribute.
Our Gay/Straight Alliance (GSA) sponsors a variety of activities including the recent Day of Silence (check out www.glsen.org for more information). These events are a chance for teachers to model what it means to be a supportive member of a community, for kids to discover what they believe in, and for all of us to learn how to accept other points of view. The goal in any GSA event isn’t to get 100% participation or support (though we certainly wouldn’t be disappointed by that), but to educate our students about a particular issue and challenge them to develop a point of view. We’re not advocating a particular political perspective, but we are working to create a community that accepts and welcomes diversity – rather than just tolerating it. By engaging our students in conversation, we’re better preparing them for a life lived in a world full of different ideas, behaviors, and abilities. Although these conversations may sometimes feel like just another task for their iPhone loving brains, I believe they’ll benefit from developing and sharing their voice – whether or not they raise their hand.
Submitted by Ariel Martin-Cone, Landmark High School Faculty Member