16 March 2018

The Important Lesson I Learned When I Stayed Inside to Teach During the Student Walkout

am sometimes known for being outspoken on issues that matter to me, and without a doubt I am a huge supporter of students’ voices being heard in education. So, when I learned that I would be one of the teachers at my school to stay inside and teach during the student walkout earlier this week, I’ll have to admit I was initially disappointed. I wanted to be outside to see students exercise their rights to peaceful assembly and their rights to freedom of speech. I wanted to see students lead the program honoring lives lost to senseless gun violence. I wanted to be part of a program I believe in--to stand in solidarity on issues that matter to me.

But, of course, I followed the plans provided by our leaders. Thank goodness they knew what to expect from our community, and they planned for scenarios where people would oppose the student walkout—that was hard me to imagine, but it turned out to be true.

Since I teach during the time of the planned walkout, I wasn't one of the 2nd block teachers who headed outside into the below freezing weather to monitor students and attend the eventRather, I showed up to my 2nd block class wondering if I’d have any students or if they’d all be outside. I thought about how I, too, would be able to go outside if all of my students went out. Slowly, a handful of students trickled into the classroom. They were quiet and waiting to learn what we would be doing while most of the others were outside. 

I watched their faces and tried not to pry for reasons why they chose to stay inside. Some students were vocal, telling me without my asking that they chose to stay inside for political reasons. A couple more chimed in saying it was too cold outside, and two others kept their eyes down and pulled out their journals. I took my cue from them. At that moment when I wanted so desperately to discuss what was going on outside, I refrained. 

Instead, as I do each block, I wrote the journal prompt (related to the texts we’re reading) on the board and told students we’d proceed without interrupting our normal routine. They wrote silently in their journals because that’s what we do at the start of every class. We’re developing habits of disciplined writers, and clearly, the routine writing practice is working because they know to expect it and they keep producing thoughts and insights. 

On Wednesday morning when I looked at the faces of my students, I realized those were the faces that mattered to me at that moment. Those were the tentative-feeling teens waiting to see how their teacher would carry on. Those were the students who were expecting the adult in the room to set the tone. Those were the students who selected to exercise their freedom of choice not to participate in the walkout. Their rights were important too.

This morning as I wrote in my journal and reflected on Wednesday's events, I thought about the slogan the students at our school developed for the walkout--Love Generally--a play on our school's mascot The Generals. I also contemplated a quote in my morning reading and meditation time, a quote from Henri Nouwen: “In love there is no room for fear.” 

My hope is that I love a little harder and fear a little less.