My students compel me to act - to take action

Why I’m Compelled to Take Action as a Teacher

With a new president and a rise in hate-related crimes, I found myself wondering why I’m compelled to take action for social justice

Trigger Warning: This post discusses human rights abuses.

Dedication: To that fearful boy who looked into the future and saw no hope, no love, and no friendship. 

It’s a new day, in a new President world.

My students, a colleague and I can’t quite grasp the enormity of it all. We’re in shock.

Though we’re far away, the ripples are being felt in our domestic policies that have long distanced themselves from human rights or social justice concerns.

As we discuss the frightening ramifications –  of the new political order – someone says:

Well we can’t do much about it.

It horrifies me.

My response (to my students) is quick and sharp, almost exploding from within me:

Yes we can. Don’t ever believe you can’t do anything. You can.

Surprised by the force, by the sheer bloody determination and instinctiveness of my response, my mind wanders over the next few days…

…with stories of hate, violence, political corruption and nepotism continuing to mount….

…I wonder:

Where the X#%!! did my response in class come from?

Why am I so drawn back to learning more – to knowing what’s happening – to seeking hope, inspiration and positive ways forward –

  • when I know it leads to me being so head-up, jam-packed with a myriad of swirling emotions?

Why am I compelled to take action?

Why don’t I just switch off – just let it go?

And my mind takes me back to my classrooms – over the years…

To the women who tearfully recall being spat on and abused – in front of their children;

To that tough little boy who wouldn’t think twice about telling me or other teachers to f### off, encountering an escalator for the first time and being too fearful to step on it;

To that incredibly proud man who broke down as he recalled his loss of hope and dignity living in detention;

To the students – who put aside hostilities and differences from their home countries – to work together in their new classroom;

To the students writing stories of torture, trauma and other unspeakable acts of violence under tyrannical governments;

To the co-ordinator who fired me because I refused to stop challenging racism within my pre-service teacher education classes;

To the kids, peering out the bus windows in awe, as they cross our city’s main bridge for the first time in their lives;

To the gay and lesbian students out to no-one, bravely stepping forward to secretly share their lives with me;

To the co-ordinators and co-teachers who thought silence was best in LGBTI-related matters;

To the students who recognise me many years later – bailing me up in the street to thank me for teaching them;

To the students telling desperate tales of escape;

To the students who lavish praise on Australian political leaders for giving them (and their families) the chance of a new life, a life of freedom

To my students today:

  • who from nervous faltering beginnings, step up again and again, seeking to break through;
  • who, over time, begin to find their voice (and confidence) through their life stories;

…stories of humanity, community, the mundanity of life and the utter preciousness of it.

THIS is why I teach.

This is why social justice is inextricably woven into the fabric of my being.

This is why I’m compelled to investigate and engage, seeking out alternative voices, pushing myself beyond what’s known and familiar to me.

This is why I can’t let go – I have to take action.

Why I'm compelled to Take Action

What about you?

Action Resources

Here are the podcasts that nourish me and fire me up for action: NPR’s Code Switch, Slate’s Represent,  The Times’ Still ProcessingTom Ballard’s Like I’m a Six Year Old.

Listen to my podcast, Pushing The Edge with Greg CurranI chat to innovative educators who challenge the business as usual in education.

If you’re unsure of what to say or do, here’s some ideas and inspiration.

Here’s my collection of Social Justice-related resources. Just click on the images below.