Thank a Teacher: Encouraging Advocacy

It’s May, which means it’s Teacher Appreciation Month! To honor the incredible work of our teachers, members of The Fund team are guest authoring posts to #thankateacher who has impacted their life. Today, Rachel is writing about a teacher who shaped her core beliefs. 


The remarkable teachers, mentors, and professors I’ve had the privilege to learn from are from an array of backgrounds. From Ms. Harding in the sixth grade who taught me to love myself for who I was and the young woman I was becoming, to my current graduate school professors pushing my thinking beyond the textbooks, there is one teacher who will remain near and dear to my core beliefs.

I remember sitting in his class like it was yesterday, in the third to last row next to the window. It was my junior year of high school, and I was in Mr. Smith’s Holocaust Literature course. The content of the class may have seemed obvious, but our discussions offered so much more. As a mix of junior and senior students, we spent part of the semester exploring the historical and political aspects of the Holocaust. To our surprise though, the course offered much more than that.

One day, our lesson quickly shifted toward learning about the bystander effect; a topic most of us were familiar with, but at the time, we were unsure how it fit into the greater theme of the course. That day, Mr. Smith challenged us to think about the scenarios, instances, or even quarrels we had been witness to but did not choose to participate in. Why hadn’t we stood up for those around us? What were our reasons or circumstances for passing by? What would it take for us to not be a bystander anymore?

As I look back on Mr. Smith and the insightful discussions with my classmates, I realize my own interest in advocacy flourished during this time. Not only did I become a participant in issues I felt passionate for at the time, but Mr. Smith’s class fostered an enduring love for ensuring the community I an a part of has a relevant, active and non-passive voice at the table.

It was Mr. Smith’s class that taught me being a witness to history is different than creating history, and that being a part of a more impactful conversation toward change takes more than passing by. As I continue to advocate for students and their families, I will always remember Mr. Smith’s wisdom and values. Thank you, Mr. Smith, and to all the teachers working to push their students to become better versions of themselves.

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