We need teachers today.
When I was a senior in high school, I thought the coolest job would be to serve as a member of Congress.
I was lucky to be part of an amazing course (in a public school, might I add!) called Government and Law-Related Experiences, affectionately known as GALRE.
Our teacher, Doug Martin, a hero of mine, is a Vietnam veteran who continued to serve his country by educating thousands of students about their civic rights and duties, in honor of his friend who didn’t make it home from the war.
He taught us to be good citizens, but more importantly, he modeled for us how to be good people and to enjoy life in the process.
We had frequent guest speakers in the course — GALRE alumni, community leaders, and elected officials on all levels — who would come talk to us and answer our questions.
We also had to complete “outside experiences,” where we immersed ourselves in the local community and political scene. I was canvassing and registering voters before I was old enough to vote myself.
The class culminated in a three-day, whirlwind trip to Washington, DC, where we got to see the federal government operate in real life.
GALRE inspired me to pursue a degree in Political Science and spend my career in service of others and the common good.
As I watched the horrific news of the insurgence of white supremacist domestic terrorists on the nation’s Capitol yesterday, I found myself thinking back to our trip to DC, sitting on the steps of the Capitol building with my classmates, imagining working there one day.
More importantly, I keep thinking how safe I felt being with a teacher like Mr. Martin during times of national (9-11 occurred when I was a sophomore) and even personal times of crisis.
That level of security — that my teachers could help me process what was happening and reassure me that, by learning from history, we would pull through any challenge — is something I wish for all students.
Mr. Martin was a huge inspiration for me when I became a Social Studies teacher in Baltimore.
I brought in guest speakers, helped my students participate in a civics education competition, and took them on field trips to see where history happened in their local communities. Following the guidance of a veteran teacher at my school, I tried my best to teach my students the “real” version of early U.S. history and impart the lessons I learned from Mr. Martin.
As I watched yesterday’s events unfold, I kept thinking about today’s generation of students and all the challenges they have faced over the past year.
I worry about the quality of social studies education they are receiving.
Are they receiving the white-washed, textbook version of history that will only perpetuate the bigoted culture that we’re seeing on display?
Or are they learning about the suffering and triumph of people from all racial and ethnic groups, the truth about how government has perpetuated inequity, and how they can play a role in making things better?
Worse, are they learning about history at all?
Most of all, I find myself wondering if they have a Mr. Martin in their lives to help them feel safe and make sense of what’s tearing our country apart during this scary time.
I may not be a social studies teacher anymore, but the lessons I learned in G.A.L.R.E. and my time in the classroom have informed my work today.
I truly believe that we can all begin chipping away at the ills of our society through our own actions: how we support others, how we engage and empower children and families, and how we ensure that everyone gets what they need to thrive.
To all the social studies (or other!) teachers having difficult conversations with their students today and making them feel safe in an increasingly unstable world, thank you. You are making a difference.