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Teacher’s Views on Activism

It is no secret that a hallmark of this school year has been student run initiatives and a general sense of excitement toward discussion and thought. Action both inside and outside the classroom has shaped the path that this school year has taken, and as a result, students responsible have made great achievements and have taken their activism to new heights. Yet in a school environment, it is impossible for these efforts to be carried out and for teachers, another large part of the community, to remain entirely uninvolved. Another unique characteristic of this year has been the way in which teachers and students have worked together, and to many, it feels as if this rise of student leadership has altered the student-teacher relationship for the better.

“Students decide what needs to be done, and then they do it on their own,” said Maria Stutt, a math teacher, mother, and supervisor of the Girls and Sex book club. “It’s not like teachers are deciding something and leading students. We are all working together. For example, when I go to the forums, I feel like I’m in a room full of women. I don’t feel like I’m a teacher in a room full of students.”

“I’ve found this to be the most exciting year I’ve ever taught,” she continued. “While things have bubbled up in the past, this year, so much has happened in a way that has felt very different from before. When problems come up, they actually seem to stay with us when we are addressing them. There seems to be a level of interest in wanting to actually do something about issues that I haven’t seen before.”

Sameer Shah, another teacher in the math department, shared similar observations to Ms. Stutt about the way in which students have maintained discussion throughout this year.

“Often in the past, I’ve seen Packer students talk the talk, but they haven’t always walked the walk. This year, I have seen so many students do more than just talk, and on so many issues that are near and dear to them. In my eleven years at Packer, this is a totally unique year in that respect.” he reflected.

A reason why students may be more inclined to ‘talk the talk’ this year may be grounded in the fact that most of these efforts have included students leading students. By seeing their peers taking initiative, other students become inspired to follow in their footsteps, or to challenge what they have already discovered.

“While it can be great for a bunch of grown ups to plan and to lead these discussions, when students lead the adults can step back, listen, and serve more as a guide than setting the agenda. That creates ownership for students and leads to  more authentic conversation and action, which is why I think students have had the success that you have. We’ve been having these conversations for some time, but because students are at the front, they’ve been much more powerful,” shared Allison Bishop, dean of student life.

Overall, teachers have been impressed and moved by the milestones that students have reached.

“I really think I have the best job in the world. As difficult as this year has been – we’ve really been put through the ringer as a community – the fact that we are at this point is pretty remarkable. I challenge you to find a school that is having these conversations, is creating space for students to engage the way we have, that has students like ours, that has students who are as activated as you, and a community that, while not perfect, keeps trying to get it right,” Ms. Bishop continued.

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