As each school day begins, my colleague, Christine, stands at the door of her classroom , coffee cup in hand, greeting every student by name as they walk in. Sometimes the greeting includes a query about their well-being or a comment on how well they did on an assignment. Sometimes it’s just a huge smile and a “Good morning”.
When I walk past her classroom before the school day begins, it is always filled with kids. None of them her current students. Most of them had been her students when they were in Grade 8 but even though they’re now in Grades 11 or 12, they still go to her classroom every morning.
At lunch her room is filled with even more kids as she hosts a “movie club” which is really a safe space for kids who do not easily “fit” into any stereotypical group in a high school. What must it mean for those students to have such a space where they can feel at home?
How many classrooms had you been in at the end of your 13 years of schooling? If your experience is typical, that number should be about 48. In how many of those classrooms did you feel welcome and safe? Like you belonged, like you mattered?
Faced with yet another barrage of cuts to our education budget, I’ve wondered why there is no widespread public outrage. Why is there no massive public anger about the lack of resources, the overcrowded classrooms in schools? Why no parents marching in the streets all throughout the province to restore funding for a public education system that everyone agrees is fundamentally important in a democracy?
It is not as if there is no precedent for parent protest if one considers what happens when a beloved local school is threatened with closure.
But why the silence when the public education system as a whole is under enormous threat?
Is it perhaps because, if we think about those 48 classrooms we sat in, most of what we remember is feeling bored or unwelcome or unsafe?
The pupils of today are going to be the voting public of tomorrow. Each school day, we teachers create the ingredients for the memories each student will take with them when they enter adulthood and their roles as voters.
If we create spaces in our classrooms and in our schools that are socially inviting, emotionally safe and intellectually stimulating, not only will our students have better learning experiences (as neuroscience research is proving) but when those students become voters, they will be more likely to fight to defend an education system for which they have fond memories.
And that would also ensure that teachers could keep teaching in public schools.
Everyone would win if more classrooms were more inviting despite egregious cuts to school district budgets during the current political climate.
And yes, this can be done. I will share, in future posts, examples from my time as a teacher in Apartheid -era South Africa as well as in an under-funded school in Canada. I also suggest my post Jugaad Education.
When a local municipality recently threatened to push a road through a popular park, people took to the streets, motivated by all their memories of time spent in the park and wanting to ensure that their children had those memories too. Let’s create classroom spaces that would be as powerful a motivation to defend public education.