The other day we celebrated Indigenous People Day, formally Columbus Day. I think rebranding that day is a small step in the direction we need to be heading: honoring and respecting people from all backgrounds.
Back when I was in the classroom, I was one of those teachers that has bins and bins of picture books all neatly labeled and organized by different themes and holidays (if you know me, that shouldn’t surprise you). I was also fortunate enough to have a large closet in my classroom where I housed all of those seasonal and holiday books. They would live in my closet until the specific holiday rolled around. Then, I would pull my bucket of themed books out and proudly display them for my students to read.
As soon as the specific holiday or remembrance day ended, I neatly packed my books up and put them right back into the closet for the next 365 days. I felt like such a great teacher. I was exposing my students to different holidays and cultures, all while recognizing the many great leaders that paved the way for others. There was no way I was ever going to stop sharing my different themed books with students….
However, looking back at that practice now, I find myself cringing with embarrassment. Walking into classrooms, or seeing teachers online that have buckets they pull out for certain days, makes my heart ache. Over the past few months, I’ve done some deep reflecting on myself as an educator and one of my biggest realizations has been “why are we only displaying these books for a couple days, or at most, a month?” What a disservice we’re doing to our students, especially the ones that identify with these holidays. What do they think when they see their teachers putting the “black history books” away? That they only get to celebrate their background during February?? That was my privilege before; I had never stopped and thought about what the message was to our students, both black and white.
Indigenous People Day
Black History Month
Civil Rights Day
Martin Luther King Jr. Day
Women’s History Month
Students deserve to be able to read and learn about people from different cultures and races all year long. Why should black history books only be displayed for the month of February? Why should only LGBTQ books be out in June? Why can’t we read books about indigenous people, or written by indigenous authors, on days other than October 12th? These books should be a permanent part of classroom libraries where students can read them anytime and they help foster a sense of inclusion within the classroom.
If I ever end up back in the classroom, I’ve already thought about how I’m arranging my books. I will have all of my books, featuring characters from all different races, mixed together. Each day, I’ll pick new ones to display that feature great people in history or different cultures around the world. And, this time when black history month rolls around, I won’t have to pull a tub from the closet…they’ll already be out and part of our classroom culture.