A Seat at the Table for All Students
Langston Hughes said it best when he expressed his feelings in the masterpiece, “I, too”:
I’ll be at the table
When company comes.
Say to me,
“Eat in the kitchen,”
They’ll see how beautiful I am
And be ashamed—
I, too, am America.
Too many of our children (and many people in our society) feel that they don’t have a place at the table. The injustice that is wrapped in our daily lives cannot be ignored by educators, and the feeling of a lack of a voice has become my driving force to make a change in my classroom. I received the opportunity of doing one of the most important jobs as a teacher, which is making my students into activists to change the world as a whole. With a new experience this school year, I was able to share how all teachers all can create activist within their classrooms so that one day all of their students can “sit at the table.”
This fall, I received the opportunity to work with individuals from Michigan State University’s Red Cedar Writing Project in creating inspirational activities for children around the country to become an activist. The work has a connection with the actions of Youth Voices and LRNG, and this was the first time that I was involved in sharing educational ideas and curriculum outside of my classroom and building.
At the beginning of the process, I was quite intimidated. I was assigned to work with highly motivated and intelligent people, which lead me to question myself as a teacher. Me? This teacher writing curriculum to be shared anywhere around the world? What had I gotten myself involved in now?
Many of these individuals had cooperatively written books and articles on education, and this was my first attempt to create something that would see outside of my district. At first, I felt that I wouldn’t keep up with the ideas and concepts, but after one special day of processing the information from the training and having conversations with the beautiful people of my group, things moved quite quickly in a positive direction.
The one area that I didn’t struggle with was thinking of the field of focus that I wanted to share with others. I am from Flint, Michigan, a place trapped in a human-made disaster known as the Flint Water Crisis. It had been three years since the city has been provided clean water from its pipes, yet, it is an issue that has disappeared from the limelight of the media and many politicians focus. I wanted people around the world to speak up on the Flint Water Crisis and felt passionately about this issue. I wanted others to help to make a difference.
I felt a sense of empowerment when I had the experience of teachers from around the country giving feedback on my concept. Despite the fear, I found that having others giving insight was one of the best things that I could experience as a teacher. Often we get feedback from our co-workers, but not from others in our profession. I felt that hearing people give suggestions for my work was building me up. My favorite moment of the whole experience was hearing a teacher I had never met before say, “Right on to this idea, Jessyca.” That statement alone has built up my confidence, and I’m excited to be part of this project with LRNG and Youth Voices.
There is an excitement is seeing what is to come next for me at this time. Now that I have established that I am worthy of doing such work, I hope to empower others. In working with LNRG and Youth Voices, we can focus our students on the most important lesson that we should be giving them, that they need to stand up for what is right and be good people. With the development of activism skills for students in the use of LRNG and Youth Voices, educators will be able to make sure to develop a sense of empathy, understanding, and empowerment for all of our kids to be able to “eat at the table” as they grow older.