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"Wake Up Everybody": Time to Think Ahead

image of a coffee cup that says "black lives matter at schools" next to a laptop on top of a desk

I woke up this Saturday morning to a crisp 27 degrees outside, with about 8 inches of snow on the ground—a winter storm warning popping up on my phone as I sipped my coffee and reflected as I do every morning.

I realized that, in a few short weeks, we will acknowledge a full year of living in pandemic restrictions. This month, we honor and celebrate Black History. Last month, we celebrated the changing of national elected leadership, by virtually watching the inauguration of President Joe Biden and Madame Vice-President Kamala Harris. That in itself is a lot to reflect on—so much to unpack in those few observations.

As I poured my second cup, a revised version of “Wake Up Everybody” by Harold Melvin & the Blue Notes ft. Teddy Pendergrass came on my Spotify, this one by Tobe Nwigwe. You may not have heard of Tobe Nwige, but his voice, to me, is one of familiarity and comfort. 

"Wake up, everybody
No more sleepin’ in bed
No more backward thinkin’
Time for thinkin’ ahead
The world has changed
So very much
From what it used to be
There is so much hatred
War and poverty."

Does that not seem to summarize 2020 and really our most recent history?

The world has changed; we have seen the catalyzation and promotion of white supremacy climaxing in a domestic terrorist attack. We have seen people placed in cages and Black people murdered across the country in vile acts of hate and ignorance. We have witnessed a silent war on Transgendered people as they are murdered at increasingly higher rates. We have shut down our economy, schools, and way of life due to a pandemic. We have watched, mostly via camera or through windows, our loved ones get sick and die alone due to the pandemic. Our hearts are heavy, our minds are tired, our bodies are tense with stress and fear.

But in this song, we begin to see the way to a new life:
"No more sleepin’ in bed
No more backward thinkin’
Time for thinkin’ ahead"

The song continues:
"Wake up, all you teachers
Time to teach a new way
Maybe then they'll listen
To what you have to say
'Cause they're the ones who's coming up
And the world is in their hands
So when you teach the children
Teach 'em the vеry best you can"

As exceptional education professionals, parents, and students—this is our call to action.

We need to resist the natural urge to return to normalcy. Why? Because normalcy relied on standardized tests to qualify students as "good" or "bad." Normalcy was a curriculum with half-truths about BIPOC, if they were included at all, and nearly entirely absent of LGBTQ+ individuals. Normalcy promoted oppression and colonization. Normalcy mandated IDEA without full funding, support, or implementation. Normalcy, in a word...sucked.

But how? How do we move from normalcy to greatness? And how do we do that when we aren’t sure about the safety of the educational environment in a pandemic and are battling a media complex that is positioning most educators as lazy, fearful, and unwilling to do our jobs? How do we change the narrative in the media, government, and the dinner table across America?

We use our beloved teacher voice and command control of the narrative. Use your outlets to raise awareness of your lived experiences. Elevate the voices of the hushed and ignored. Build PLCs in your building to review and change curriculum or instructional materials. Engage in your local, state, and federal leaders. 

As teachers, we are often very resistant to trouble. I mean...PBIS, right? But sometimes, you have to—as the beloved John Lewis often said and reminded us before he became ancestor—get in 'good trouble’. I urge you, I give you permission, to get in 'good trouble.' "No more sleepin' in bed." Stop backward thinking by interrogating your own biases and the biases in how and what we teach. Collaborate and build within your school and beyond.

It is OK to be tired and scared. It is not OK to lay in fatigue and fear. Move, and move now! You don’t have to run a mile; a quarter inch will build into a cultural and world shift. Together, we can, should, and will return not to normalcy, but with a better education system resulting in a better nation and world.

Do it for your students and their families; do it for the now and the future. Whatever your reason, do it and do it now.

Posted:  25 February, 2021
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Author: Richard Williams

Richard Williams is a special education teacher for students with emotional and behavioral disorders (EBD). Williams has worked in general education schools in self-contained EBD classrooms and two...

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