By Deborah McNemee
When we finally rang in 2021, KATE blog committee planned to post a welcome to the new year blog. And then…
Well, let’s just say this isn’t the new year post we’d planned. Once again teachers have been handed the dilemma of figuring out how to navigate what life just handed us.
Part of the mission of KATE is to provide a forum for dialogue and collegiality among Kansas teachers of English Language Arts and to provide leadership and direction for instruction. We serve all Kansas ELA teachers. ELA is for everyone. It says so on our webpage. We know, however, the challenges of teaching English language arts without touching upon controversial topics.
On Patriot’s Day, I always have some kind of memorializing activity. The motto associated with 9/11 is We Will Never Forget. I remember where I was that day. I was locked in the surreality of the rite- of - passage apple orchard field trip with my second grade daughter. She and her friends romped happily through the grounds, picking fruit and pushing each other too high on the tire swing until the teacher came over and told them to stop. It wasn’t safe. All the while, I couldn't help myself from sneaking back to my car for updates on the crumpled towers and decimated lives.
I take the 9/11 motto seriously and personally. In order to never forget, it’s the responsibility of those of us who lived through it to pass the memory on to those who weren’t even born yet. As a teacher, the responsibility weighs heavily. So, I do the Patriots Day activity. This year, I showed an inspiring video, ESPN’s The Man with the Red Bandana. The next day, a father of a Muslim student called the school to complain. He felt the subject was too controversial to bring up in class. He never actually contacted me, but when I was told of his concern, I responded with a sincere letter explaining how in AP Lang, that’s what we do. We discuss controversial topics. I apologized for any emotional discomfort and assured him that I do my absolute best to protect my students while also teaching them how to engage in difficult conversations. He must have been appeased because I never heard back. However, that weight of responsibility pressed even harder.
On January 6th, teacher social media filled up with educators wondering how to approach students the next day. As one might expect with social media, a lot of people had a lot of opinions on exactly how teachers should handle their students. The KATE Facebook page, however, was silent. At first, I wondered if someone would post something. If someone else would fire back. If the divisiveness might infiltrate our amazing group. It didn’t. But we were silent. And I wondered, too, what the silence meant.
Today, I think I have an answer. I think it means we’re okay. I think it means that we completely understand the concept that ELA is for everyone. KATE is a non-political entity, or at least I believe we try to be. Dealing with difficult discussion is an integral part of an English teacher’s job. It’s probably perfectly fine for someone to post on KATE Facebook a suggestion on how to handle the events of January 6th or 9/11 or BLM or any other controversial thing. I would hope we would be wise and open minded enough to react in the way we expect our students to react--with respect and dignity and acceptance of varying viewpoints. But you know what else, I also think it’s perfectly fine that we chose silence.
You know that feeling of gathering your warm cat into your lap and snuggling to his muffled purr while the hardness of the world melts away? I think that can be KATE, too. We’re in this together. We know that. The personal connections we make during our book clubs and meetings and conferences run deep. We know someone has our back. That’s my hope, that you know that KATE has your back. If you don’t know that, if you don’t feel you have a KATE member you can reach out to individually, here is a link to our board members. I know they would be happy and honored to offer advice, or a listening ear, or maybe even a purring cat.
ELA is for everyone.
Be strong. Be well. You are where you belong.
About the Author
Deborah McNemee teaches at Andover Central High School where a culture of reading is alive and well. She creates a culture of reading with her students by annually hosting a project based event in partnership with Big Read Wichita. She facilitates a writing culture through encouraging involvement with the NaNowriMo Young Writers Program and submitting student work to Voices of Kansas. Her favorite books to read outside of school are classics. Check out her blog about keeping classics relevant for kids at www.KeepingClassics.com.
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