Amid nationwide book bans, teachers face scrutiny around classroom materials like never before. An innocently intended material landed me a seat in my principal’s office. Fortunately, I was off the hook with some context and background, but not every educator gets this response. I connected with teachers across the country and collected a series of anonymous testimonials about this exact issue.
“My classroom is a reflection of me. From the windows to the walls, it’s all me. My identity is reflected in various materials and teaching practices, and my BLM poster is just as valid as any other sign, poster, or anchor chart in the school. I’m proud to represent myself and support my students’ identities—especially now. I have no regrets.”
—Anonymous middle school teacher in Chicago
In the wake of the Black Lives Matter movement, this seventh grade ELA teacher demonstrated his support by displaying the iconic BLM symbol in poster form in his classroom. His administration approached him preemptively with concern for parental backlash, and the conversation turned hostile. Ultimately, this educator resigned from his position and started fresh at a school that welcomed him, poster and all. This teacher remains steadfast in representing his own identity and supporting his students in theirs.
Gender-Neutral Bathroom Passes
“I’ve been using gender-neutral bathroom passes in my room for years. It’s my small contribution to our school’s increasing LGBTQ+ student population, and all of my students for that matter. I was totally disgusted when a problematic parent complained that the passes violated the school’s gendered bathroom policy. They cited the student code of conduct and everything.”
—Anonymous middle school English teacher in Columbus, Ohio
This tenured teacher set her emotion aside and took a calm yet armored response. She shared the communication with her school’s administration, and together they firmly reinforced that the gender-neutral passes did not directly reflect the school’s bathroom policy and were therefore acceptable in the classroom. The exchange was, fortunately, enough to rest the case.
Title IX Flyer
“I take Title IX very seriously. You can’t be too careful these days, and I want my students to be well informed. I share Title IX policy resources with all of my students at the beginning of the year, and I have an informative flyer from the district hanging in my room. I’ve never had an issue with it until last year; a parent took issue with the word ‘rape’ in (very) fine print on the bottom of the flyer.”
—Anonymous fourth grade teacher in Stafford, Texas
Since the district supplied the Title IX material, which addresses sex-based discrimination, the veteran teacher wasted no time in immediately involving her administration. After some back-and-forth, the parent requested that the teacher remove the flyer from the classroom, which the teacher and her administration refuted. The team could have easily modified the material, but they felt strongly about the principle of transparency. The parent attempted to take the matter to the school board, at which point the superintendent stepped in and shut it down. The district’s Title IX flyer remains a resource for everyone, and the teacher continues supplying her students with the vital safety information they deserve.
“I don’t teach my students about Christopher Columbus, and that really bothers some people. I’ve been accused of robbing my students of proper education, and I’ve had a parent claim that I’m indoctrinating them.”
—Anonymous fourth grade teacher in Peoria, Arizona
The challenges of teaching colonization are steep. This elementary school honors the facts and omits Christopher Columbus’ controversial contribution to American history. For two years running, parents have expressed concerns about the absence of the historical figure on their children’s study materials. In both instances, the veteran teacher kept her cool and turned the tables. She invited the parents to do their own homework and to supply her administrative team with undeniable evidence supporting their claims with the understanding that they would scrutinize parents’ findings to ensure alignment with curriculum guidelines. Needless to say, the issues are both resolved on their own … rather quietly.
Evolution in Science Class
“I was shocked when I received a scathing email about our unit on evolution. I mean, this parent went as far as citing the Bible. I teach in a public school where biology is an essential science standard. … I just really thought we were past the days of book burning.”
—Anonymous fourth grade science teacher in Kalamazoo, Michigan
Despite minimal experience with this type of backlash, the new teacher stood her ground. She invited the parents to connect with the district’s Instructional Materials Committee, where they could review the material for biases and developmental appropriateness. She provided the committee’s contact information along with the state standard that the lesson in question satisfied. Her rebuttal was strong (or deterring) enough to put the issue to rest.
These testimonials cover a range of issues, but it’s clear that politics are charging the climate in schools. As a result, teachers are required to tiptoe around a maze of red tape, filtering our materials to remain diplomatic and unbiased.
Teaching looks more different today than ever before. Support is key, and relationships are crucial. If you have good ties with your administration, use them to your advantage! With administrators as leverage, parents might think twice before instigating issues with their child’s principal. Additionally, complainers don’t like legwork. A simple invitation to do some heavy lifting will not only alleviate the pressure from your shoulders, but will likely silence the other end as well.
If all else fails, remember that showing up each day as your authentic self and exercising good judgment is the best way to inspire your students to do the same.