Change Begins with “Me”
As a middle-aged white man, I have presumed that no one needs to hear what I have to say regarding #BlackLivesMatter. Demographically, I’m in the part of the equation that is the problem, not the solution. This is a time for me to be a listener, supporter, and ally.
But I realized that as an educator, I have a responsibility to my students. This includes helping them learn about the importance of recognizing that white should not be the default for authors or characters. The more we broaden our view of the world, the more beauty we can see. And if I don’t say that Black Lives Matter, then by omission, I am saying they don’t.
Developing Our Minds
We make a big deal about professional development for teachers–and rightly so. But we also should consider the social development of our faculty and our students. Lifelong learning is not just a catchphrase; it’s a statement of the human condition. At this time, it’s incredibly important that we support and foster growth and learning, a broadening of perspectives.
It was with these ideas in mind that my friend and colleague, English teacher Melissa Caliendo, and I collaborated on a resource.
The Ongoing Nature of Learning
Learning doesn’t start and stop because of a bell or a calendar. Learning is always happening, all the time, for our whole lives. After-school hours and summer vacation are a great chance to engage in learning about the things that matter the most to us personally.
They’re also the times when we can expand our horizons beyond curriculum. Curriculum can often limit what we pursue, both for students and teachers. We have the ability–and perhaps a moral obligation–to provide students and staff with chances to advance their learning and broaden their view of the world.
Collaborating on a Resource
Melissa and I work in a grade 7-8 middle school. The district is affluent. Its students and faculty are mostly white, supplemented by a relatively large Asian population. Most parents there default to “classics” when selecting their kids’ reading material. Although we’ve made a little progress in recent years, our curricular titles tend to be by and about white folks.
We wanted to give both our teachers and our middle school students some assistance in moving beyond their usual reading choices.
Expanding Our Horizons
Our resource is called “Connecting Our Reading Lives to the World.” It provides links to lots of books (and some other resources) that are meant to help expand students’ and teachers’ perspectives. It’s accessible through the link above, or via bit.ly/expandingperspectives.
The main idea is to help our folks encounter and engage with works by and featuring black, indigenous, people of Color (BIPOC).
Many of the titles are “just books” by and/or featuring BIPOC (and here’s a great article author Nic Stone recently penned on why that’s very important, in case you missed it). There are lots of great, high-interest reads across many different genres, arranged from more middle-grade-ish to more-YA-ish.
There is also a section of titles specifically related to the Black Lives Matter and anti-racism movements. There are both nonfiction and fiction titles, some of which will definitely look familiar.
It ends with some additional sources to explore if viewers would like more ideas or information, including book lists, as well as podcast and viewing suggestions.
We were fortunate enough to get administrative support for this effort. The English department supervisor posted links to it on the Summer Reading website for our middle school.
We also e-mailed the presentation to our English teachers. In our e-mail, we said, “We hope this will be a useful Summer Reading (and anytime reading) resource for all our kids!” And we closed with, “We hope you will share this resource with your students, explore it, and maybe even pick out some titles to check out for yourselves this summer!”
If our resource seems like it would work for your students and/or educators, please use it!
I hope it will, at the least, encourage school librarians and teacher to assemble their own lists to help expand the horizons of their communities of learners. After all: The more we broaden our view of the world, the more beauty we can see.
Author: Steve Tetreault
Steve has been teaching middle school English for 20 years, has several degrees in education, and recently finished his last semester as a school library media specialist student. He is certified as a teacher, school library media specialist, supervisor, and administrator. He is an old dog constantly learning new tricks!