As elementary schools have just passed the mid-point of the school year, I’ve taken some time to reflect on the first half of the year. Schools are part of a larger educational system. However, our classrooms are also a microcosm of society; a community of members with jobs to do, and rules, norms and expectations, which members are expected to follow. But, as we are too well aware, within the larger society, we encounter issues of unfairness and injustice. I’ve been questioning my practice and asking myself: Does my classroom parallel the oppressions of our society? Am I reinforcing and reproducing what is happening in the larger society in my classroom?
Two years ago, I was offered a few teaching positions at different schools after having a number of interviews within my board. One of these was at Nelson Mandela Park PS, an inner city school in Regent Park in downtown Toronto. After a little debate and reflection, I knew in my heart, I wanted to be part of a school whose namesake was one of the greatest political leaders of our time, a man whom I regarded as one of my personal heroes. It was also a homecoming for me as I did my student teaching and also volunteered in the Regent Park community. I knew choosing to teach at a school named after Nelson Mandela was an honour, and that my teaching practice would have to reflect the values of this great man.
We know that it's not easy to teach about the Holocaust and genocide. For many the topic is very difficult and many students cannot wrap their heads around the scope and magnitude of how these mass murders could occur, particularly about the idea of how an entire nation could allow horrific events like this to happen. Creating that safe, caring classroom is essential in being able to have these difficult lessons. In a middle school classroom, these are essential conversations, as students at this age care and have a strong sense of fairness and justice.