The holidays can be a time of joy and celebration, but for many students it can be a time of awkwardness and exclusion. Imagine being a student who isn't Christian and doesn't celebrate Christmas having an Elf on the Shelf in their classroom. Imagine being a student who isn't allowed to participate in holiday activities coming in and seeing Christmas decor and having to skirt around holiday activities for the next month.
I am choosing to write about this now for two reasons: I am seeing a lot of Elf on the Shelf, Christmas trees, and Santa's popping up on my Instagram feed from classrooms all over the US; and that I am not a Christian and I do not celebrate any holidays during this time of year. I become acutely aware of how our students may be feeling during this time of year, because I felt the same way when I was a child and did not have the mature language skills I needed to express my feelings to my teacher. I always felt that "This is the way it is, and it isn't changing."
Last year I had a student who was a practicing Jehovah's Witness. During Meet the Teacher Night her mother was very concerned about holidays, but seemed apologetic when speaking to me about her concerns. I told her not to worry, that I rarely celebrated any holidays in my classroom, and I would run any planned activities by her. In October, we celebrated Fall. When Halloween rolled around we continued with lessons as usual. During November I taught my normal historically accurate history with articles from Newsela. During December we worked on Compliment Presents and Joy Books, both from The Thinker Builder blog. Our party was also a "Hard Work Celebration" rather than a Christmas party. In February we celebrated love rather than Saint Valentine, and I gave out non-Valentine activities. At the end of the year my student and her mother thanked me for being inclusive. My student told me every year during Halloween, December, and Valentine's Day she had to leave her other classrooms because her past teachers hadn't been inclusive.
I understand that if you are Christian being disappointed or even angry about the thought of not being able to share the joy of the season with your students, but that is NOT what I am suggesting at all! Let's discuss some alternatives to celebrating the season with your students in a way that is inclusive and fun for all!
Thank you for opening your minds and hearts to our students, and working towards being the best educators we can!
Thanksgiving is a favored time of year in America. I remember learning about it myself in school. Pilgrims from the United Kingdom sailed to the Americas in search of freedom, and found Native Peoples already living and thriving in America. Facing a harsh winter, many Pilgrims died. Starving, they reached out to the Native Peoples for food and help. Native Peoples taught the Pilgrims how to hunt, farm, and survive. In gratitude, the Pilgrims and Natives sat down together for the very first Thanksgiving feast.
The problem with this narrative is...well there are lots of problems! I am not going to go into all the problems of this tale, you can do some Googling on your own to find out where the holes are in this story, and ask people from the Tribal Nations their opinion on it.
The point of this post is to say that as educators we have a greater responsibility to our students to put forth information that is accurate and correct. Retelling this narrative time and time again, year after year, recycling the same old "Pilgrim N' Indian" craftivities (ugh hurts my heart to even type it) and sending students home with this fairytale in their minds is doing no one any good.
Before I get a bunch of angry comments and emails about the importance of this holiday, let me remind my dear readers and followers that I am an enrolled member of the Pascua Yaqui Tribe, and my point of view and opinion is just as valid, if not more so. I myself was taught this is school, year after year, and never questioned it until I was an adult! I really reflected on why I should be celebrating a holiday that brought death and misery to my ancestral peoples? Sorry to get deep, but it weighed on my heart. As a family, we decided to change the holiday into something that fit us.
Then I had to think about my students! As a teacher I never taught about Thanksgiving. I just avoided the holiday completely. I feel that many educators, regardless of their race and culture, feel uncomfortable teaching something that has the potential to land them in hot water.
So without further ado, some DO's and DON'Ts for this time of year!
I'm Mae and I am an instructional Coach, 5th Grade ELA teacher, and Thinking Maps trained.