Most days I say I’m OK. The truth is I’m now struggling to do my work from home—even as I recognize the extreme privilege of doing so—while I support my fourth grader in her virtual schoolwork. I’m concerned about the health of my parents and grandparents, whom I haven’t seen all year. The quality of my sleep has been all over the map. And the news cycle is a dumpster fire.
As Dr. Neal A. Lester wrote for Teaching Tolerance this summer, “I am not OK, and I am not alone in not being OK.”
I know you’re not OK when you’ve been forced to return to a school building while fearing for your safety and that of your family, your students, your colleagues and all their families. I know you’re not OK when you have to figure out how to get work done and help your own children with their virtual assignments—or worry about them while you go off to work and send them to school or daycare. I know you’re not OK when you’ve made the gut-wrenching decision to resign for one of these reasons and more.
In 2020, I think most of us are struggling to say we’re OK when COVID-19 continues to tear through our nation, disproportionately ravaging BIPOC communities. So many of us struggle to say we’re OK when police continue to senselessly kill unarmed Black people—and when our relatives or coworkers refuse to utter something that should go without saying: Black Lives Matter.
“The truth is that we have to work together to save ourselves politically, save ourselves spiritually and save ourselves physically.” —The Reverend C.T. Vivian
It’s hard to be OK when, in a physical or virtual school setting, white educators don’t recognize that the racist confrontations that make videos go viral each week play out against Black students every day. As TT Staff Writer Coshandra Dillard writes in “The Weaponization of Whiteness in Schools,” that pattern, which starts with entitlement and ends with fragility, is commonplace and takes the entire school community to end.
It’s hard to be OK when, as a young person, you realize that people in positions of power deliberately put barriers in place to keep you from voting, especially if you’re Black or Latinx. Yet, as School-based Programs and Grants Manager Jey Ehrenhalt writes in “Uplifting the Student Vote,” educators can play an important role in fighting this status quo.
Part of that work must involve teaching an accurate history of our civil rights struggles, including organizations and people who have fought injustice. In “We Still Haven’t Learned From This,” TT Senior Writer Cory Collins details the work of educators introducing the undertaught history of Japanese American incarceration and the stories of those who pushed for justice. And in this issue’s excerpt of Understanding and Teaching the Civil Rights Movement, journalist, educator and former SNCC organizer Charles E. Cobb Jr. explains what an accurate history of our civil rights struggles, specifically voting rights, might entail. Our Future Voters Project can help you with this work, too.
People all over are working to flip one unjust status quo after another, and we at TT are heartened by this work. As Collins writes in “School as Sanctuary,” schools and districts around the nation are working to ensure that they remain safe spaces for undocumented students. This feature explains how your school and district can do the same.
We’re encouraged by the work of educators like Tiffany Jewell, author of This Book Is Anti-Racist, who graciously shared with us the inspiration behind this book for young people and her hope that every school commits to anti-racism.
And we’re inspired by the five winners of our 2020 Award for Excellence in Teaching, who are using their classrooms to teach the significance of loving oneself, being in community and speaking up against injustice. TT Editorial Assistant Anya Malley explains how they’re doing this creative and critical work from elementary through high school and from English class to chemistry class.
I think we can say collectively that we’re not OK. Our nation and our world are not OK. But so many of us are working on it. TT is here to support you in the work of righting persistent wrongs and backing your students as they do the same. As you read this issue, I hope you feel that support and are moved to take action in