What Trevor Noah Can Teach America About Teachers

ByGeraldine R. Pleasant

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Like many teachers, I have had to take a long, hard look at whether or not I had the capacity to stay in education. The past few years have tested my dedication to education more than any in my twenty-plus career. As we embark on yet another Teacher Appreciation Month, I ask America to also take a long, hard look at the treatment of teachers. To aid us, we might learn from Trevor Noah’s closing remarks at the White House Correspondents’ Dinner. Much of what Noah says about journalists is also true of teachers.

In America, you have the right to seek the truth and speak the truth, even if it makes people in power uncomfortable. Even if it makes viewers or readers uncomfortable. You understand how amazing that is?

As educators, we also speak the truth even when it makes people in power uncomfortable. As teachers, we create unique opportunities to help students seek out many truths from various perspectives. We encourage them to use their voices and to understand the power they hold to impact the world. We also help them learn through dialogues and discussions to become comfortable with discomfort.

Noah goes on in his discussion about what Russian journalists are going through these days.

If they had the freedom to write any words, to show any stories, or to ask any questions, if they had, basically, what you have, would they be using it in the same way that you do?

As teachers, we sometimes have the freedom to write our curriculum. If we do not, we always find ways to infuse critical thinking into the mandated curriculum. We look deeper into the stories that we are supposed to teach and find hidden lessons. We find ways to provoke the important questions our students have to learn to ask while developing their beliefs, ideals, and opinions about life. We do not take our freedoms or responsibilities lightly. We use the impact we have on young minds to teach them how to think for themselves.

Ask yourself that question every day because you have one of the most important roles in the world.

Trevor Noah was addressing journalists and politicians and speaking about “giving voice to those who otherwise wouldn’t have one.” I believe that teachers are also “bastions of democracy.” Teachers also preserve and protect the freedoms America holds so dear. We should also not “doubt [teachers’] responsibilities” nor “doubt how meaningful [teaching] is.” But teachers need society to speak out against those who attempt to silence us. Speak out against laws and policies that seek to stop our efforts to instill critical thinking skills that young people need to be successful in education and in life.

During this Teacher Appreciation Month, I am asking America to wake up to the reality of how much you need teachers. There is so much more to genuine appreciation than just a month-long acknowledgment. I strongly urge anyone planning to give teachers fleeting recognition or tangible gifts to think about giving teachers much more: honor, respect, and trust. Honor those who persevered through the most trying and difficult times in their careers. Respect the hard work and dedication of teachers. During the pandemic many of us sacrificed time, money, and our personal lives, sometimes at the expense of our mental and physical health. We did so to ensure your children received the education they needed and deserved. And last but certainly not least, trust us to do exactly what we signed up to do: teach.

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