By now, those of you in the classroom have taken down your bulletin boards, finalized your grades and ushered your last students out the door for their commencement ceremonies or their summer vacations.
Vacation is a word we associate with a period of suspension of work or study, usually used for rest, relaxation and fun. But, while students will be taking a vacation from their schoolwork, they will not get a respite from exposure to the intolerance, exclusionary behaviors and outright bigotry that currently exist in our world, and sadly seem to be dominating it at times.
Like you, I awoke on the morning of June 12 to the shock and horror of the 49 lives cut short in the senseless nightclub shooting in Orlando. Like you, I was sickened. Men and women, who only a few short years ago could have been our students, were murdered; they became targets because of their choice to freely and joyously live their lives, and because of who they loved.
Such brutal acts of violence and hate are horrifying, and leave me saddened and concerned.
At the same time, when lawmakers in North Carolina and Mississippi create intolerant laws that send us back to an era of regressive policies; or when a presidential candidate attacks women, condemns immigrants and profiles Americans based on their religious beliefs; these acts of political violence and legislative brutality also leave me deeply saddened and concerned — for our students and for the future of our country.
Today's students need more than a beach towel and sunscreen to protect themselves this summer. Discriminatory behaviors and crimes of hate and terror have only one protection — knowledge. And that is why I am able to find comfort and hope; it's because I know the impact you have on your students every day through the miraculous work you do.
Public education is the great equalizer and knowledge is the perfect tool to build a more tolerant, welcoming society. Because of the work that goes on in our schools throughout the year, students leave for the summer with the tools they need to build a just and fair society. They take with them the sense of community each of you has created in your classrooms.
Carrying the lessons of tolerance, understanding, fairness, equality and inclusion, they are prepared to make a difference; to move our world to a kinder, more accepting place, where inequality, intolerance, and bias will not be abided, but hopefully — finally — eradicated.
The summer months often see the return of that old canard that educators make too much and work too little. The m o d e r n poet, Taylor Mali, ably addresses the issue of what teachers "make." In his monologue, "What Teachers Make," Mali concludes that "teachers make a difference." Sisters and brothers, you truly make a difference … not only in each of your students' lives, but more so in how our world will behave — today, tomorrow and for generations to come.
And for that, I hope that you do indeed get a day or two of vacation.
In the wake of the Orlando tragedy, NYSUT members show their support.
New Hartford English teacher Elizabeth Cissi.
New Hartford Spanish teacher Natasha Homa with her partner, Marian Thompson, also a union member.