Saturday, November 17, 2012

Holidays in Public Schools

I am now in one of my favorite times of the year!  Within three months, we get to celebrate Halloween, Thanksgiving, and Christmas!!  Who doesn't enjoy celebrating one or all of those holidays?

Well, the fact is, there are many kids in public schools who do not celebrate any of those holidays, likely because of their religious beliefs.  So, is it "okay" for teachers to decorate and celebrate holidays in public schools?

Many years ago, I always had decorations up for holidays!  Like I said, I'm a big fan of this holiday season!  It wasn't until several years into my teaching career that I was challenged to think about how this may impact my students who do not celebrate holidays.

If I truly feel my role as a teacher is to make all members of my learning community, even those who do not celebrate holidays, feel welcomed, included, and valued, then is "forcing" them to sit in a classroom filled with Christmas lights, a tree, and other decorations truly reflective of that belief?  I had a hard time arguing that it was.  And boy did that frustrate me at first!  

When I heard about a teacher having a student work in the hallway on a non-Christmas activity because the rest of the class was doing a fun Christmas project in the classroom (as a Jehovah's Witness, he wasn't allowed to be part of that), I knew I had to start becoming more considerate of how every single one of my students felt.  What if that was my child sitting in the hall by himself?  My job isn't to make the majority of my students feel valued, it's to make ALL of them feel valued. 

By keeping my classroom neutral around the holidays, I can ensure that no student will feel excluded, different, or uncomfortable while at school.  I had to put my own "wants" on the back burner and put the needs of my students first and foremost.  I had to realize that by not putting decorations up or doing holiday activities, I wasn't denying any student anything; however, by putting up decorations and doing holiday activities, I was risking isolating a student.  

I am now in my 10th-ish year of not celebrating holidays in school, and I have long moved past my disappointment!!  If students ever ask about doing Halloween or Christmas activities, which is extremely rare, we have the conversation about why we do not include them as part of our instruction.  The students get a diversity lesson right there about respecting everyone's beliefs and ensuring everyone in our community feels welcomed and valued!   Never has a student felt it was unfair or tried to argue that we should change that practice!

Just food for thought!  

Happy Holidays!

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