Teaching Is an Act of Social Justice - National Council of Teachers of English
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Teaching Is an Act of Social Justice

This blog post is written by NCTE member Lorena Germán.

lorena german-2-2 (2)I may be the only Dominican American, immigrant, non–native English speaking, urban-raised, R&B- and salsa-loving English teacher my white students will ever have. My perspective is unique and my way of seeing the world is different from my students’. My perspective offers them an opportunity to consider other ways to become involved with the written word and the real world. My goal is to open their eyes to see beyond their own experiences and thus to inspire them to compassion and competence.

I have learned about the need for providing white students with a direct, social justice–oriented curriculum. It’s essential for them and for me. It allows me to be all of who I am with them, and that, in turn, keeps them engaged and connected, both with the content and with each other. My approach can be summarized through these main strategies:

Redefine text: I spend time going over the definition of text and making it clear that, in addition to traditional printed text, we will also consider video, artwork, graffiti, tattoos, signs, and more as text. Once the door for text is open, we can move into a different understanding and acceptance of all the types of texts written by many different types of people.

Racial, ethnic, and cultural diversity in content: This is an essential part of my curriculum design. I make sure that all of my courses incorporate authors and characters of color. If a work only features minor characters of color, then I make it a point to spend time either discussing that fact or intentionally analyzing those minor characters. Reading any text offers an opportunity to address a social justice issue. The absence of diverse characters, for example, is an issue in itself.

Multiple voices and perspectives: I achieve this through the anchor texts, but also by pairing other texts (and here I am using a broad definition of text, as I mentioned above). For example, I will have guest speakers that address a recurring theme or a topic that we glossed over in the text but did not address explicitly. I don’t claim to be an expert in everything, so I bring in people who have a deeper understanding of the topic we are discussing.

Writing experiences in which students can explore ideas and express themselves: Most of my writing assignments and prompts have a two-fold goal: to address a specific skill and to discuss a larger unit-based concept. Often students complete two to four paragraphs of extended responses instead of short answers or single paragraphs. Student choice of writing topic is a priority.

Teaching is an act of social justice, whether or not you think you are having that effect on your students. When we don’t help our students to be critical thinkers, especially in a socially just way, we are failing them and our future.

Born in Dominican Republic and raised in Lawrence, Massachusetts, Lorena became a high school instructor in the field of English because she felt the need to be the teacher she never had. Today, Lorena teaches young people English literature at The Khabele School in Austin, Texas. @nenagerman