Our Work Is Unfinished

After Election Day, this educator remains committed to making room for hope and action in his classroom.

Editor’s note: Today, we are posting two educators’ reflections on the presidential election and its immediate aftermath. Find the other blog post here.

The fight for an equitable and inclusive society does not end after the final tally of a presidential election. It is understandable to be disheartened with the results of an election, but it is not acceptable to be deterred from our goal as educators to create a more democratic and just society. And although it has been said before, it bears repeating that the work of teaching is not linear, nor does it often conclude with one action, one unit or one lesson. 

In addition to satisfying the needs of the state through mandated tests and top-down standardization, we must also be models of proper civic engagement and kindness for our students. Despite teaching for five years, I still find that task daunting on some days. It felt especially hard on November 9, a day on which I had few answers to the very real questions my students were asking me.

On said daunting days, I turn to the words of Brazilian education theorist Paulo Freire. Education, to Freire, represented a constant process of becoming: We are incomplete beings whose answers don’t fully address the questions of life and learning. Our current realities do not exist without the potential to change. Freire mused, “Wherever there is life, there is unfinishedness.” In recognizing the unfinished nature of our work as teachers, we also find the room for hope and action to create progress. It is easy to lose sight of the power of unfinishedness on days like November 9, but I am more certain than ever that our work as teachers has the possibility for creating change. And the actions of my students remind me of this potential.

I’m encouraged by my students who face overwhelming realities and challenges each day and continue to commit themselves to justice and kindness. I have witnessed my former and current students work on presenting information to our guidance department about helping first-generation college students from immigrant families. I have watched our Gay-Straight Alliance rally together to support our transgender students in this time of fear and uncertainty. I have seen students hug and remind each other how much they love one another.

My students inspire me because, despite the current political landscape, they continue to work against racism, misogyny, homophobia, transphobia, ableism, nativism, classism and any other form of discrimination that exists in our society. My students recognize the road ahead will not be easy or ideal, and they still wake up each day and continue to push our society toward progress. I will never have the finished answer, but I will stand with my students as we exist in our unfinishedness.  

Freire said that “unfinishedness makes us responsible beings.” As teachers, we are responsible for cultivating the next generation of citizens. The work of a teacher is constant. The work is difficult. But the work is valuable and necessary. As a teacher and a citizen, I am sad. I am mad. I am confused. But I am not hopeless. Freire also once declared, “I am a teacher full of the spirit of hope, in spite of all the signs to the contrary.” I feel the spirit of hope within my classroom; may we move forward in our work with love and solidarity in order to be a step closer to an equitable and just society while knowing the work is never finished.  

Miller teaches ninth-grade English language arts at P.K. Yonge Developmental Research School, the University of Florida’s affiliated K-12 laboratory school. He is also a recipient of the 2016 Teaching Tolerance Award for Excellence in Teaching.

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