We want to equip ourselves to face the legislation and anti-truth movements. Building community and networking is an important way to build stamina to face the challenges of teaching in this state’s socio political context. We will continue to teach truth, with inclusivity in mind, from a place of love. Teachers need to know they’re not alone. — Lorena German

Tamara Russell, math teacher, and Lorena German, former teacher and co-founder of #DisruptTexts, co-coordinate a Teaching for Black Lives study group for Florida educators to create a “powerful resistance for truth.” German connected with Russell, who previously hosted a book club called Liberated Reader. They launched a mini social media campaign to raise awareness and pique interest. Fourteen educators signed up for the 2023–2024 school year.

In November, Jesse Hagopian, Teaching for Black Lives co-editor, and Julia Salcedo, Teaching for Black Lives study group coordinator met the group via an online community platform. 

After a warm welcome, Russell started with a prayer of lament for Palestine and a moment of silence. She grounded the group, noting the importance of holding space “to consider ways we could open our hearts to serving, to helping, to showing love” to the people of Palestine. 

German read a poem by Marwan Makhoul, a Palestinian poet. 

In order for me to write poetry that isn’t political

I must listen to the birds

and in order to hear the birds

the warplanes must be silent.

Members were asked to think through the questions: 

  • What feelings does it stir up for you?
  • How does this poem relate to issues other than Palestine?

Madison Rodriguez, high school English and literature teacher, said, “It robs the everyday people of Palestine of the opportunity from being able to discover who they could be beyond the realm of the Nakba, the Great Return, the apartheid, the warfare, the genocide. . . ”

AnnElise Acosta, elementary math, science, and social studies teacher, said, “This makes me think about how everything is political — whether we choose to participate or not, our resistance or our silence makes a difference. Until the warplanes are silent, and until we are all free, what we do is political.”

German said: 

We could use this as a mentor text and write our own poem as teachers in Florida. 

In order for me to teach in a way that isn’t political, I must . . . What should we be able to do? And in order to do that, what needs to stop or what needs to go away?

Hagopian shared his experience visiting the West Bank and East Jerusalem in the 2011 African Heritage delegation with Civil Rights Movement veterans. They were joined by a Black teacher from a small town in Mississippi named Gloria. She met with Palestinians and recounted her first day working at the newly integrated high school. Before entering the school, she was surrounded by the Ku Klux Klan on horseback with shotguns and they told her, “You’re not going to teach our kids.” 

Hagopian said:

I’m really inspired by you all who are in the belly of the belly of the beast in Florida and who are doing the same kind of work that Gloria did, that our ancestors have done forever fighting back against this horrific institutionally racist society. There have been many bleak moments in the history of the United States where people thought there wasn’t much point in fighting back. If we look at the McCarthy era when teachers were being fired by the thousands across the country for any sort of whispering, any lesson about social justice with students, without a trial, just with an accusation. That was overturned. A Civil Rights Movement occurred and it was because of that movement that McCarthyism was brought down. The collective struggle has immense power. I’m grateful to be in that struggle with you all.

German responded, 

You just helped us to historicize this moment. As a group of 12 teachers on a day-to-day basis it doesn’t feel like we’re doing much but it’s all these “little actions” that make the big thing happen. When we look back in 20 or 30 years, when students look back as adults, they’re going to ask us: What were you doing? We can say we were resisting. Being in the place with the most restrictive laws, I was doing what I could.

For the remainder of the meeting, members shared their thoughts on the selected Teaching for Black Lives readings from Section 2: “Enslavement, Civil Rights, and Black Liberation.” 

Several members read “Presidents and the Enslaved: Helping Students Find the Truth” and highlighted the lines: 

We do students a disservice when we sanitize history and sweep uncomfortable truths under the rug. We leave them less prepared to deal with the difficult issues they will face in their personal, political, and social lives. 

One participant said, 

In my school they tell us “Don’t teach social studies because you have XYZ test prep to do and there’s no time” and that’s on purpose. For our students to learn history for what it is — which is difficult, challenging, and full of struggle — equips them in their future to challenge the systems of repression that are in place. I’ve been reflecting on my own teaching and what I think I’m good at and what I’m still learning to do. That’s one reason I wanted to be in this group, to learn how to better facilitate conversations about uncomfortable truths with my students. 

In this chapter, the author described how he researched which presidents were enslavers. It was based on a question that his students came up with. I was reading this and I was like oh my goodness, if I wanted to do this in my classroom I literally wouldn’t be able to because the district would be in my room watching me teach. 

History is storytelling and our children deserve accuracy from all sides, centering all voices not just who the state of Florida wants to center and the stories they want to tell. 

Teaching for Black Lives study groups are cultivating spaces where educators can candidly talk about their teaching experiences knowing they are supported and reminded that their collective efforts are a continuation of the tradition of “fugitive pedagogy.”