Today is Teacher Appreciation Day and in many ways, it couldn’t come soon enough. We know it’s been a tough year. Students returned to school amidst the backdrop of Charlottesville in August, the threat to repeal DACA in September, and now, as the school year winds down, we’re ending with marches and walkouts in the aftermath of Parkland.
And though it is hard to see this while we’re all in the thick of navigating tense moments, from where I sit, I see progress. I see hope, because of your good work. You have prepared your students for these rough times.
Indeed, there has been no shortage of complex and difficult topics to address with students as they process it all. And as teachers, you must also process your own thoughts while simultaneously guiding, nurturing, and developing the young minds you see each and every day.
Throughout the year, teachers have come to Facing History seeking the support they need to answer those complicated questions from their students. You’ve asked for curriculum and pedagogical guidance around the topics that, previously too controversial for the classroom, are now front and center in everyone’s minds. The barrage of gut-punching current events have knocked the wind out of everyone. Just as we get our breath back, it seems another is upon us.
But it is too easy to lose sight of the steady and positive changes sparked not just by the everyday academic lessons, but by the social-emotional learning you as teachers make happen throughout the school year.
What has risen from Parkland’s ashes is an energized movement—led and organized by your students. They mobilized to raise their voices and be a part of what it means to live in a strong democracy: they are civically engaged.
This was not a classroom assignment. It was not something they needed to do for extra credit. It was stirred deep in themselves because they were shaken to the core one too many times by the news of another fatal school shooting. And as they were rallying together with signs, protests, and walkouts, you did not step in and tell them to get back to their desks.
You supported them. I don’t even mean you supported their message (although you very well may have). I mean you supported them in their exploration of their anger, their outrage, and their need to do something.
I have heard many speak about how poised and eloquent these students have been. I am more struck by how prepared they are.
Your students sprung into action in strategic, organized, and sophisticated ways. They are vowing to raise their voice at the voting booth—some as soon as November, when they are eligible to participate in their first election.
What good would it have done to tell them to open up their textbooks and pretend the world wasn’t happening right outside their door? Instead, you encouraged them to have conversations, to speak with each other about what is happening, to think critically about how they could make a difference and be upstanders.
Then there are our Dreamers, no less advocates for their future, even if their fate seems uncertain. They are sparking conversations, challenging stereotypes about what it means to be American, and showing just how much they contribute to their communities. They have been tireless in their efforts to be civically engaged in a time of increasing rhetoric around who belongs and who does not. This is no easy feat.
When I look at all of this activity—this energy that they possess and are using positively and peacefully—I look to you. It is clear that you as teachers have made a difference in preparing them to take on issues that even we as adults find vexing.
You prepared them. You just didn’t know you were preparing them to take action so soon.
Protests and marches eventually die down but that does not mean movements end. They carry on behind the scenes, trudging along to make steady and lasting change. I see the promise of more civically engaged young people doing just this. They are engaged to stand up—whether it is gun violence, immigration rights, or any other issue that will inspire them. But they are not sitting idly by.
As the year begins to come to an end, I urge you to see just how much progress you’ve achieved. Happy Teacher Appreciation Day. You have much to be proud of.
Facing History is always here to support teachers in the classroom. We are your partners in creating respectful, compassionate spaces where students can explore their identity and how they relate to their peers, their communities, and the world around them through the lens of history. Take a look at our upcoming summer professional development offerings to keep you engaged and inspired in the months ahead.