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Educational Activism
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Megan Horsley

Grade 12 student (2008-2009)
Toronto District School Board

Teacher activism, to me, occurs when educators enthusiastically involve themselves in their school communities to better the well-being of students.  This includes taking a strong stance against classism, racism, sexism, and many other isms in the classroom as well as in the larger educational context.  Teacher activists know the importance of providing for their students in methods beyond teaching the necessary curriculum.  They also understand that students do not fit into moulds; each student is different with their own unique needs, goals, and history.  

Prior to this year (grade twelve), the concept of teacher activism would not have meant anything to me in the way that it does now.  One of the first times I experienced teacher activism was at the end of grade eleven.  It was brought to my attention by one of my teachers that all students, because they were so different from each other, needed to have role models to guide them through their high school career. And, more importantly, that I would be an ideal person to be one of those role models. This comment surprised me a great deal as it had never occurred to me that I could be a role model to someone else. Despite my initial reaction, I was asked to serve on the coordinating team for the school’s first annual grade nine orientation program, where the primary purpose was to help our in-coming students navigate through the challenging transition to high school.  Organizing grade 9 orientation was but one example that provided me a window of insight on how diverse my school community really is – and how much we need to have a critical eye of the space around us. This one event at the beginning of this year has since led to other opportunities for me to take on other leadership roles at my school, such as leading the school wide holiday food drive for the Daily Bread Food Bank.  These subsequent new roles and responsibilities have since forced me to take notice of the various social issues that exist in the education system and in our society in general. Being engaged in the holiday food drive, I witnessed first hand that making a difference is possible when teacher activists are driven and are passionate about working alongside their students.  After spending countless hours working on all of the projects this year, I feel that I am now a transformed person – one that is hooked on being a real student activist. 

I think it is crucial for new teachers and other educators to understand the importance of having an open mind when you are teaching.  In this regard, teachers need to be especially aware of different opinions, sensitivities, family backgrounds, among other things. Having this awareness will greatly affect how one teaches so that you do not exclude the morals and upbringing of any one student.  For example, one student may be poor and have old ratty clothes, while another may have expensive well-tailored clothes.  In either case, both students are equal in their human value and both deserve the same level of and approach to education.  The point is that you do have a variety of students, and you must challenge yourself to teach in a way that includes all of them.  I believe that when one becomes a teacher (and an activist for that matter), there is an unofficial vow that is taken in which the teacher understands that it is their responsibility to teach every student to be a better person – to be a more engaged person – not just those who are wealthy, or those who share similar values and beliefs as you do. 

By being an activist, you give yourself a purpose; a real value to your occupation.  This purpose is an amazing opportunity to change who you are and how you think about the world just by getting involved in activities such as organizing a food drive, or taking a stance against a racist/classist/sexist/homophobic comment.  In my case, having the chance to help improve the lives of those around me has made me feel inspired, motivated, and empowered.  I imagine that these are probably amongst the best feelings a person can have – to know that they can help others by challenging existing ideas or policies; by making change where change is needed.  However, although proud sentiments are felt, it is also disheartening when the realization kicks in that you can’t tackle every issue that you see around you.  Nevertheless, with a little guidance and the helping hand of a strong activist educator, it IS possible for students to tackle social issues and to undertake the risks in doing so.

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