FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONs
Why is this even important right now?
Addressing this in the classroom is acknowledging an important current events topic. Bringing issues of racial justice into the classroom not only affirms the identities of our students but is crucial to fostering engagement with the world.
How does this relate to Common Core?
Close Reading of Informational Texts and critical writing of Argumentative and Informational texts are important parts of the Common Core standards. The lessons provided will lend themselves to analytical reading and critical writing.
How do I explain to my department why I am participating?
Start by sharing this FAQ and curriculum ideas. Explain to them, from your heart and mind, why making room for learning about Black Lives Matter this week is important to you and your students. Create a space where you can listen and talk, as a group or in pairs.
What if my principal tells me to take off the shirt or button and not teach this to my students?
The goal of BLM at schools is awareness and discussion, not political agitation. You are the best judge of your school environment and what, if anything, needs to be put in front of your administration ahead of time. As you plan your week with fellow educators, use your collective knowledge of the climate in your building to figure out what actions will encourage engagement without pushing people away. You will have the support of educators around the city. In New York City, the UFT has (finally!) endorsed the Black Lives Matter at school week of action, following other major teachers' unions across the country.
What place does Black lives matter have in my daily curriculum?
The integration into your daily curriculum of culturally diverse opinions allows students to gain a deeper understanding of pertinent issues affecting our students and their classmates. The lessons and activities that we are offering for teachers to use are aligned with Common Core standards and also fit into Chancellor's Initiatives including Equity for All and Respect for All. You know best what material will be accessible and engaging for your students, and what content you have scaffolded for them throughout the year; you may wish to design a full project-based unit exploring the 13 guiding principles of BLM, or to focus on just one or two that connect to a unit you were already planning.
Is this age-appropriate for my students?
Issues of equity and fairness are important in all aspects of all of our lives, and in each of our classrooms. Having students of all ages discuss and process these deep issues at their own level, using grade-appropriate materials, strengthens their critical thinking abilities, and provides them with the opportunity to be fully-engaged learners.
I’m an elementary teacher and I’m not used to openly raising issues of race in my classroom. What are some actions I can take and what kinds of materials can be helpful?
Does your classroom have students of more than one race?
Do your instructional materials include people of different races?
Are you a different race than some (or all) of your students?
Are you and your students mostly the same race, even though the racial makeup of the city is diverse?
Issues of race are already present in your classroom. You can raise awareness about this omnipresent aspect of our society without triggering conflict or anxiety in your students – take a look at some of our elementary-specific resources to find a lesson that suits your environment.
For some language to use with young children about the thirteen principles, check out this guide: Talking to Young Children about the Movement for Black Lives
What is one small thing I can do?
There are many small, manageable ways to get involved - from wearing a button or t-shirt to Warm-Up journal prompts and discussions to class period-length lessons to planning a school-wide event that invites in students, educators, and families.
How can I integrate this into my teaching beyond the week?
We encourage you to use these materials, resources, and ideas throughout the school year. The National Black Lives Matter at Schools group has resources for ongoing anti-racist education, called the Year of Purpose
How can I get my colleagues and school community on board?
The best way to get anyone on board is through conversation - encourage all parties to ask/answer questions. When talking with colleagues, encourage them to consider that these are issues that affect the majority of our students on a daily basis. Reach out to parent networks in your school and let them know what your building is planning. Consider an informational picket on a morning before school to speak to parents directly if many drop off their children.
What are my rights when teaching materials parents might find inappropriate?
Many items that teachers include in their curriculum are considered to be controversial. That is one of our jobs as educators: to raise our students’ awareness of issues that affect the world around them and to consider potential solutions. If you are not sure about whether or not parents will object to a topic you will be teaching, then write a letter home and explain your goals in teaching the material.
Use responses from this FAQ to help jump start your letter.
How can I prepare young students and their families for discussion of sensitive topics?
Think of writing a letter that you will send home to parents. Inform them of the topics you will be discussing and the reasons why they will be included in the curriculum.
What are some open-ended questions I could ask my students to think about so they can prepare for our activities?
I teach math and science. How can I integrate this into my teaching?
There are a lot of ways to integrate justice driven curriculum into science and math lessons. Science and math are based in problem-solving, research, and the use of numbers to understand the world. Ways to incorporate this content into math pedagogy can be found in the text Rethinking Mathematics. You can use numbers and maps to look at the impacts of housing discrimination, low minimum wage, and the school to prison pipeline. You can ask your students to think about ways to solve deep social problems:
How can we reduce the number of losses of life to police violence?
What are the ways to end poverty?
What questions do students have about healthcare?
What are the innovations and inventions that we can design?
It's also possible to take time out of math and science class to talk about how students are doing and feeling about the world around them. If we view students as humans first, and learners second, it's possible to see value in carving out the necessary time to engage with our kids around the work of social change, organizing, and building power in the world that we live in.
In my classroom, students are from different communities and racial backgrounds. How should I approach this?
No lesson we teach will ever fully encompass the personal experiences of all of our students. Instead, our goal as educators should be to choose content that is relevant, meaningful, important, and thought-provoking for our students. The Black Lives Matter movement meets these criteria. It is a major current events issue with roots throughout American history, a topic many students have been exposed to, often without context, and a defining social movement of our time. It is also an opportunity to introduce vital conversations around topics such as empathy, discrimination, activism, privilege, and public policy.
Isn’t it my job to expose students to different viewpoints, not take sides in the classroom?
Indeed! This is a great opportunity to design lessons that encourage thoughtful discussion and the formation of informed opinions. We also want to point out that not addressing these issues in the classroom is a political statement, one that students are able to pick up on. Recognizing the full humanity of Black people is not a matter of varying viewpoints that can be argued, it is a moral imperative.
What do the Chancellor's Regulations or the UFT contract say about promoting political movements during class?
Chancellor’s Regulations prohibit campaigning for candidates for office. Black Lives Matter is a human rights movement. This is an endorsement of the values inherent in #BlackLivesMatter. Our role as educators is to get our students to think critically, not to promote one way of thinking. The UFT has (finally!) endorsed the Black Lives Matter week of action.
I do not feel like my principal would be okay with me participating, but I'm totally down with this cause. What are other ways I can get involved?
If you do not feel safe to participate fully in this campaign, there is an incredible amount of important work to do. Finding time to have conversations around racial justice, the Black Lives Matter movement, and other issues with your coworkers is invaluable. Building strong relationships and organizing in your building can be very helpful in dealing with a tough principal. You can also get in touch with us at BLMeduNY@gmail.com to help out behind the scenes or in city-wide work.
I’m afraid of retribution from parents and/or administration. How can I explain what we’re doing in a way that they won’t feel threatened and will be supportive?
Let your students, families, and administrators know that you are doing this to encourage critical thinking and awareness of current event issues that are directly impacting us as New Yorkers. Also, allow them to voice their concerns and ask them plenty of questions. Read through this page, many of the FAQs can be helpful.
Isn’t this too emotionally stressful for students? Can we really open up a sensitive conversation even though we can’t devote legitimate time to this issue?
Students are confronting these issues on a daily basis in the world at large. It’s our obligation and role as teachers to create safe environments for our students to process tough issues. Helping students begin the conversation by framing their feelings and questions is the first step toward them identifying their own values and worldview regarding these tough issues. It's true that teaching about Black people only in the contexts of violence and oppression will do further harm, so please remember to center Black excellence and Black joy!
As a teacher who is married to a police officer, I am not down with Black Lives Matter. Isn’t this just about black rage at the police?
The police are also victims of our society’s push towards mass incarceration and under-funded schools and social services. What we’re all dealing with is a systemic breakdown that leads to increased violence across the system. Policing is just a tiny part of what we’re talking about–so let’s start the discussion. Check out all 13 guiding principles of Black Lives Matter, as a starting point.
Isn’t Black Lives Matter racist against white people?
No. Black Lives Matter helps us to analyze the quality of life for marginalized groups in our society–who happen to make up the majority of our New York City students. Though these conversations can sometimes be provocative, bringing up these conversations strengthens our community. Relationships deepen and hidden truths become sites of understanding. As a starting point, check out our resource list for adults to learn more about the movement.
As a white teacher, I feel like it's not my place to have conversations around BLM/police shootings/etc. in my classroom with students of color.
This is a conversation for everyone. Everyone has a right to understand the historical context that has led to this moment. If this is something you would want your own child to know, then your students, too, will understand that this comes from an authentic place. And remember - choosing not to have these conversations is also taking a stance. If you’re not ready to wear a shirt or teach a lesson at this point, that’s OK. However, we are asking you to be willing to engage in this important conversation about racial justice. As a starting point, check out our resource list for adults to learn more about the movement.
The Black Lives Matter message is embedded in the way I teach already–everyone is valued. So why set aside time for one group of people and not others?
That’s so important! But this is not about respect and kindness. This is about unpacking race with students, which will help them understand their own identities and how that shapes our society. Relying on colorblind rhetoric around kindness and tolerance only perpetuates the issues at hand and does nothing to challenge structural racism and white supremacy. It's great to have "kindness day" and "respect for all week," but those events do not teach anti-racism and should NOT be a replacement for celebrating Black Lives Matter at school!