What Are We Willing to Lose So Our Kids Can Gain?

Jul 11, 2023 1:30:30 PM


“I’m scared.”

These were two words an elementary teacher uttered after a professional development “lunch-and-learn” I facilitated a couple of years ago for an elementary school. The topic was connecting with students by being inclusive of who they are as people. And while this thesis might seem overly simplistic to some, educators have a long and proven history of silencing student voices in the classroom.    

Kids ARE people. Educators must develop the whole child by empowering them to share their voices. Sometimes, parents and educators forget this fact and overlook their needs. Their input matters. They are not people to control. Instead, they are people we are supposed to help grow. How can we do this without ensuring they can see themselves, their culture, and their interests in the classroom, curriculum, or school building?

Many educators know that we must incorporate students’ wants and desires into the curriculum, but they are now afraid to implement best practices because they fear retaliation or getting in trouble.

Last year, a teacher in Tulsa, Oklahoma, resigned after a few parents became upset that the teacher provided a link for students to access banned books. This year, the OSDE filed for revoking the teacher’s license.

In Fort Wayne, Indiana, a play previously approved by Carroll High School administration was canceled. WFYI reported that the play, ‘Marian: The True Tale of Robinhood,’ was canceled “following a few calls from parents concerned about certain aspects of the play — such as a non-binary character and a same-sex couple.” The students raised over $84,000 to put on the play independently of the school. Should they have been forced to do that?

Children are the most vulnerable population anywhere. Although the COVID-19 pandemic is behind us, students still struggle with mental health, academic gaps, and behavior.

We should be willing to sacrifice for them to make school a place they want to be and a place where they all thrive. 

Unfortunately, a few people's voices in districts nationwide heavily influence school directives. Parents have a right to ask what’s happening in their kids’ schools. However, these inquiries must be based on what their children need. We don’t hear much about what the children of the loud few have to say. It seems some parents are pushing an agenda not rooted in truly honoring all children’s voices. The pandemic created a perfect storm for all parents to see what was really happening. Politics aside; people on both sides had issues.

When parents started asking questions, many school leaders and teachers responded harshly and were even offended by these inquiries.

Parents have rights… but so do teachers. 

Teachers should respond and share what they are doing, but parents also need to understand there must be limits or a process for change that cannot be based on a few parents dictating their views on others.

Let’s look at Florida. This state is constantly in the news for education foolery. A 5th-grade teacher, Jenna Barbee, is under investigation because she showed the Disney movie “Strange World,” which has a gay character. On social media, she detailed how one parent’s actions led to the investigation.

I hate that this happened to Barbee, a first-year teacher, but she did what good teachers do. She found engaging content and tied it to her lesson. In particular, this movie was tied to an earth science lesson. The focus was not a lesson about gay people. Sexuality is not contagious. Students are not going to become gay because of a movie. However, gay students might feel more included. Inclusion should be one of our educational goals. But even the word inclusion has become a dirty word

Writing engaging lesson plans is time-consuming. Teachers should stop editing content they think might offend some parents somewhere and focus on doing what’s best for kids. They are the experts in education and need full support and understanding from parents and administrators alike.

Administrators must support teachers — full stop. Teachers must be assured they won’t be thrown under the bus or abandoned because a parent has concerns.

Yes, we should listen to concerns. But when will we collectively push back and truly put ourselves on the line for our children?

Useful Scripts for Teachers

When parents question teachers, teachers should always begin the response by making it clear that they want to work with parents.

“Thank you for reaching out. Let’s schedule a time to discuss your concerns further.”

Administrators should clarify to parents that parents cannot circumvent teachers and go right to them.

“Thanks for reaching out. Have you spoken to the teacher yet? Let’s start there. Feel free to reach out again if you have any further concerns after speaking to the teacher.”

We’re All Pro-Kid

Administrators, teachers, and parents may not always agree on the best methods to support students; however, students get hurt when we are unwilling to work together in a way that does not cause harm. Finding common ground (i.e., the student's best interests) has to always be at the forefront of the conversation, no matter how different opinions, personalities, or worldviews may be.

Shawnta S. Barnes

Shawnta (Shawn-tay) S. Barnes, also known as Educator Barnes, is a married mother of identical twin boys. She navigates education from not only the educator’s perspective but also the parent’s perspective. She has been an educator for nearly two decades. Shawnta works with K-12 schools, universities, & education adjacent organizations through her education consulting business Blazing Brilliance. She is an adjunct college professor, supervises student teachers, Indy Kids Winning Editor-in-Chief, Brave Brothers Books Co-founder, & CEO, and Brazen Education Podcast host. She holds five education licenses: English/language arts 5-12, English to speakers of other languages P-12, library/media P-12, reading P-12, and school administration P-12, and she has held a job in every licensed area. Previously, she has served as a school administrator, English teacher, English learners teacher, literacy coach, and librarian. She won the 2019 Indiana Black Expo Excellence in Education Journalism Award. In 2023, she completed her doctorate in Literacy, Culture, and Language Education with a minor in Learning Sciences. She is an urban gardener in her spare time and writes about her harvest-to-table journey at gardenershicole.com. To learn more about Shawnta, visit educatorbarnes.com.

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