Shout-out to every student who walked out of their classroom today. Shoutout to the kids of Montgomery Blair High School (so proud of you, Blazers!) and other D.C. area students who got on the Metro with their signs and their voices to bring their protest directly to the doorstep of the lawmakers and the lobbyists and the power-class of America. My tear-filled, loving hope to the students of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High, who inspired this mass-movement of student activism through their sorrow, their fear, their rage, and also, their powerfully articulated grace. Shout out to the parents who have given and continue to give so that these young people, our children, have a shot at succeeding where we have sometimes failed. Shout-out to those who amplified their call to action, through all the means necessary, and brought their message of #enough to every corner of the vast, wide populous. And shout-out to the reflective leaders who have reminded these students that there is a wider story to be told, and multiple stakeholders who are raising their voices in a powerful chorus: like Black Lives Matter (and the breadth of Black activist organizations that have been advocating for comprehensive gun reform forever), Sandy Hook Promise, Mothers Against Gun Violence, the Women’s March (and its EMPOWER branch), and so many others. God bless the activists who choose to change this democracy with their feet, their backs, their raised arms and united voices.
But in this post, I want to give a special shout out to the teachers. Every single teacher. Kindergarten to senior AP Physics, west coast to east. If you are or ever have been a teacher, I hope you watched the protests and felt all of the pride you can possibly feel. Teachers made today possible.
We forget that teachers lay down the brick and mortar of this democratic society. Every time a teacher asks a student to speak up, to defend their position, to write out their thoughts with clarity, to work with others in a group, to pay attention to the details, to learn the levels of government, to figure out how to get the information from multiple sources, to write letters, etc etc etc… a teacher is preparing a person for civil participation. We don’t always get to see that in action because all of the lessons feel so small, or separate, or disconnected, but they do all pool into a larger body of work, a body of potential, a body of engagement. That body of lessons, if activated in the right way, can turn into what you’ve seen today: democracy in action at the hands of our present and our future.
Every single lesson ever taught in a classroom was applied today for those students who walked out of their classrooms with their signs, with their peers, with their fears of discipline (some of them), with their resolve to stand in demand of change (all of them). The Walkout was the application of a culmination of all the lessons they’ve ever learned, in all subjects, not just history and civics but every single one that has asked them to take what they know and turn that knowledge into something new. Each of those lessons were delivered by teachers. Teams of dedicated men and women who, day after day, helm the classrooms that are the incubators for leadership, progression and the future we’re all going to inherit. It sounds lofty, but it’s true. There is a reason why we’ve dedicated so much time, money and infrastructure to our schools. This isn’t just about individual outcomes. It’s about the whole of us, who we are now, and who we want to be in the future.
Every time I saw a young person in front of a microphone today–all colors, all ages, all locations, all creeds–I saw a team of teachers behind them. Teachers matter. What they give matters.
We really should congratulate these young people. I am especially grateful to the juniors and seniors who spoke about standing as inspiration for the younger students. Students of voting age are talking to students who aren’t about how to talk to their parents and influence their vote. Older students are talking about their continued activism and plans to stay involved through college and beyond. Reporters and folk are speaking of these students and using terms like “future leaders,” “future law-makers,” “future decision-makers,” etc etc. Because that sort of service is sexy. We are always encouraging these bright young people to aspire to the service attached to power.
But I want someone to encourage these young people to aspire to service attached to the good, to the just, to the health and well-being of the body politic. I want someone to say, “I see future teachers in this crowd, and I see future priests. I see future public advocates. I see future food-bank founders and sustainable food farmers. I see the great civil servants of tomorrow. I see the great contributors we desperately need.”
I hope that some college students and young teachers, especially, will stand as the next wave of inspiration in what should be a long line of people doing the work of change. Tell these young people: when you juniors and seniors enter the college of your choice (if that is your path in life), dedicate part of your studies to getting a teaching certificate. Teaching is service. Teaching is the service that has a direct hand in building the future you want. When you stop and dedicate yourself to standing at the helm of a classroom, you are making a bold declaration of just how much this country and its future means to you. It’s not just a summer job. You can’t learn how to teach from some binder given to you by some organization with an agenda. It takes time and skill. It takes dedication of your who heart and mind. Give this, as others have given to you, so that you may inspire the next great wave of civic participants.
Congratulate the students. Tweet your encouragement, print out pictures of their protest and send them to your lawmaker with a message of support and a demand for change.
Hug (or thank) a teacher: Send a favorite teacher an email today! Seriously!
Encourage the aspiring teachers: if you have the means, maybe contribute to a scholarship at a local college? Even a scholarship that covers a semester of books makes a major difference in the life of an education students!
Inspire the next generation of teachers: tell the young people in your life about why teaching matters.
If you’re encouraged by today, remember: today was made possible by years and years of empowering teachers in the lives of the students who organized and participated in the walkout today. Today wouldn’t not have been possible without excellent teachers. Tomorrow won’t be possible without them, either.
Teaching matters. Today and every day.