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If Not Now, When?

“Not to know is bad. Not to want to know is worse. Not to hope is unthinkable. Not to care is unforgiveable.” ~ Nigerian Proverb

Getting my newspaper the other day the air chilled my skin. “Fall,” I thought. My next thought “School.” As we ramp up for whatever this new school year holds, I am equally anxious and excited. Well, not quite equally. I miss the classroom and being with my colleagues and students. We all do. Yet I am more anxious about their safety as well as my own. Until we have a vaccine that is safe and widespread, I know we won’t be really safe. I do know, however, that it will happen in the not too distant future and the pandemic will become a lesson, a footnote, a series of stories of how we lived and endured.

I am equally anxious about how we will address the lack of social justice and systemic racism in our society when we go back. I know we worry about being political and maintaining a Swiss-like neutrality. Yet I am reminded of the Nigerian proverb that graced my blackboard for a decade. We cannot unknow what we have witnessed and not to care negates the very foundation of our work as teachers.

Our cancelled May conference focused on these very issues. Equity and inclusion are vital pillars of our work. Given that, the CTCTE is crafting a series of webinars, book clubs, author talks to support our members and learning:

  • ​We will offer a “Seeing White” podcast series to mirror our work this summer as a board that prompted necessary and uncomfortable discussions which is where all growth happens.

  • In addition, we have a book club featuring Letting Go of Literary Whiteness by Carlin Borsheim-Black and Sophia Tatiana Sarigianides. This is an excellent tool for those of us seeking ways to effect changes in our instruction. We are fortunate to host Sophia Sarigianides for a webinar in September to support our learning.

  • Authors Chris Crutcher and Matt Mendes are slated for author talks this fall.

  • In the works are workshops on how we can disrupt our curriculum and instruction as well as CT teachers who were slated to present at the NCTE this fall in Denver. We look forward to providing a venue for them so we can to access their learning and expertise.

We are all at different places in this work. Our goal is to provide a variety of on ramps, as my friend Cathy Nicastro calls them, to meet our members where they are and help them forward.

So much of this work has to start with who we are as people first. It is through examining our own lens and identities as white people before we have those conversations with our students that we have the best chance of real change. A recent article in Medium magazine makes the case that racism is not a binary – racist/ not racist – but rather a continuum and accepting that we are on that continuum allows us to focus our energy on moving forward. Whether I want to admit it or not, as a white woman I am stewed in the white privilege of our society. I have not always seen the benefits it has afforded me and worse, I have assumed that all people shared in that benefit. By owning that, I can begin to focus on where that lens clouds my vision, inspect the ways I can change, lean into making my corner of the world more inclusive. In short, I can be what Mellody Hobson describes as color brave in her 2014 Ted talk.

This is necessary but challenging work. Drafting this I am struggling to find the words to move you to action, to express the urgency of this need. Instead I’ll share the NCTE Conversation session with Wes Moore, Rhodes scholar and author, where he describes his not so successful early school years and what made the difference. This video has haunted me for much of the summer. While we know we have an impact on our students, I wonder if we know how deeply our students take our words to heart? Or the lifechanging impact our seeing them has?

In the April 2014 issue Educational Leadership printed an infographic on why teachers enter the profession. A resounding 85 percent of teachers come into our profession to make a difference in the lives of students. It is our driving force. This I believe with all my heart. Let this new year and these learning opportunities be a tool to help we reach all of our students.

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