When I think of celebrating holidays the first one that comes to my mind is Christmas. It is my favorite holiday. A big part of it has to do with how "magical" my family made it during this time of year. It still is a big celebration within my family, but it has always centered around religion, traditions and family. In the classroom, so often I wanted to create the same excitement and magic for my students around this time of year; however, I had to be mindful that I was an educator in a public school, not a Christian school, so my thinking had to shift.
Maybe you are like me and you have gone through feelings that range from: we should celebrate holidays, to we should not celebrate ANY holidays, to we NEED to celebrate holidays but need to look at the approach we are taking to do so. This article which discusses three common pitfalls to avoid with holidays is a great way to start the conversation . It shares how some teachers may really hit holidays hard in December and try to teach about Christmas around the world and the different traditions or "versions" of Christmas. With a quick Google search you’ll find that Hanukkah is not an equivalent holiday to Christmas. Instead Rosh Hashanah and Passover are holidays that would be the more important holidays within the Jewish community. And we must, of course, consider students at our school who are Jehovah’s Witnesses and talk with them about how they feel in regards to their beliefs/practices too.
“…teachers believe they are doing a good job of treating holidays equally, but there are still problems, usually arising from lack of awareness or information.”
I know a common theme that occurs before and after break is asking students what they want for Christmas or what they received for Christmas. I would be lying if I said I had never done this or asked students to tell me about all of the exciting things they’d be doing/had done over their break. I did this my first years teaching, and quickly learned that I would not do it again. I had some students who had long extravagant lists and received every item on the list. I had other students who had high hopes & received very minimal items. Break from school for some students is an exciting time of traveling, celebrating, and doing fun activities with the family. Other students' breaks may look a little differently and their break may cause them anxiety for reasons known or unknown to us.
To help support you with holidays: I have shared a few ideas below to help you through the month of December and all year long:
"Help students understand that although not everyone celebrates the same events, all holidays are equally valuable. There are no right or wrong holidays.”
Finally, remember to always center students around the 4 anti-bias goals.
These goals are:
1. Nurture each students' self-identity within a context of a group identity.
2. Promote each students' comfortable interaction with people who are different from them.
3. Foster each students' ability to think critically about bias.
4. Cultivate each students' ability to be an activist and to stand up for himself or herself and for others in the face of bias.
Have you heard of the term, “School to Prison Pipeline”? It is a phenomenon that pushes students, disproportionately minority students and students with disabilities, along with LGBTQ students, out of the classroom and into the criminal justice system at alarming rates—it favors incarceration over education.
When I first started teaching 16 years ago, students were suspended all.the.time, every single day. Administrators and teachers (myself included) never really thought twice, it seemed, about sending students home for the day or even for days on end. Ask anyone that's been in DMPS for a long time and they’ll tell you too how “times have changed” with discipline and suspensions. I can imagine, even if you’re a few years into this career, you’re already seeing how things have evolved. Truth be told, at first it was really difficult for me to understand why administrators didn't just send kids home, but eventually, after digging a little deeper into statistics and the negative effects of suspension and the benefits of restorative justice, I’ve been able to make a shift in my thinking.
This article, Race, Discipline and Safety in U.S. Public Schools explains how it is not only systemic policies harming our students. It is the biases and practices enacted in individual classrooms, and it begins as early as pre-school.
"In 2010, more than 3 million students [in the US] were suspended from school, or double the level of suspensions in the 1970s. Meanwhile, more than a quarter-million were 'referred' to police officers for misdemeanor tickets, very often for offenses that once would have elicited a stern talking-to." Not only do children miss out on learning when they are at home, but a suspension can be life altering. Did you know suspension is the number-one predictor— more than poverty—of whether children will drop out of school, and walk down a road that includes greater likelihood of unemployment, reliance on social-welfare programs, and imprisonment?
“For many young people, our schools are increasingly a gateway to the criminal justice system- a direct consequence of a culture of zero tolerance that is widespread in our schools and is depriving many children of their fundamental right to an education.”
Zero-tolerance policies may seem like the answer to bad behavior in the heat of the moment, but they're not; This short-term fix is based on fear. It focuses only on the rule that was broken and the punishment deserved. Instead of trying to make things right, it responds to the original harm with an additional harm. It doesn't get at root causes, doesn't try to repair the damage to relationships, and fails to prevent recurrence. “The apparent expediency of a punitive approach is typically attractive to teachers and school administrators. In fact, it makes our schools neither safer nor smarter, and has a disproportionately negative impact on students of color.”
So how do we get to root causes? One place to start is restorative justice, which might look like reentry circles/conversations after a suspension did take place or "circle groups" to problem-solve to avoid a suspension. Restorative justice empowers students to create a safe and respectful space to talk through concerns instead of fighting through differences. Adults can share power with youth and recognize the opportunities where youth can work in authentic partnership with adult allies to improve the effectiveness of the school's restorative justice initiative. The goal is to elevate youth voice!
To learn more about working being done locally with restorative justice as an alternative to punishment, check out these links. You’ll notice DMPS’ beloved, Mary Decker quoted on THIS PAGE. The same organization has created a video sharing the “Let’s Talk” program. (At minute 4:40 you’ll see Hoyt's very own, Mr. Goodhue): LET'S TALK VIDEO
In addition, access this toolkit for combating the school to prison pipeline: TOOLKIT
Finally, take a few moments to watch this spoken word poem, "Simon Says". It's a pretty heavy poem about the school to prison pipeline. See if this doesn't do something to your teacher-heart and minds. Every time I watch it, I get goosebumps. *Warning: there is one profane word