I live a very privileged life where I am lucky enough to have a profession that I honestly love to do. Teaching means more to me than I can simply put into words. I love the challenge and difficulty of the job as I chase what it means to be a good teacher and continue my evolution of becoming the type of teacher I imagine I can be. However, just because I love teaching doesn’t mean that I don’t struggle at it or have challenging days. I very much feel that I have more failures than successes as a teacher but it is those failures that keeps me in a perpetual state of learning that I just can’t get enough of.

What keeps me motivated is the work ethic I picked up through my love of punk rock music. As a teacher who is ingrained in equity and social justice education I have often found that there is no blueprint or recipe for how to incorporate this into your lessons and pedagogy. Instead, I’ve had to figure it out the hard way of how I can use social justice as a framework for how I teach and bring the stories of marginalized folks to life in my classroom.

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Fortunately for me, one of the biggest lessons I learned from punk rock was a DIY (do it yourself) attitude to just create and do something instead of just following things the way they have always been. You see, for me punk rock was all about learning to think critically, to ask questions of authority and to offer alternatives to the way things have always been. I also learned the value of making authentic relationships with people and creating a sense of community with those who need it the most. All of these lessons of my youth have served me well as a teacher over the last ten years in trying to create an alternative classroom to the more traditional approach I had experienced as a student.

My professional career in teaching has taken me to schools to work with what we often call our “most challenging” students. Within these schools, I have never had textbooks or other learning resources to use. Technology has been extremely limited so I started out in a place to have to create my own resources to get these “challenging” students excited about learning. Instead of depending on mainstream resources to get students learning, students and myself started writing our own curriculum and resources. I learned to use music, dialogue, democratic decision making and many other strategies in place of more traditional resources. Embracing the DIY attitude into my teaching allowed me the opportunity to really learn what it would take to get the most difficult students excited about learning.

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And now, after ten years of embracing social justice and a punk rock pedagogy, I’m turning my eye more and more to the larger systemic issues that our education system faces. I strongly believe that when you sign up to be a teacher you sign up to be an advocate for your students. It’s important that we start to have conversations around large systemic issues such as standardized testing, academic streaming and other issues where research has shown our most marginalized students are most negatively impacted. A punk rock pedagogy challenges us to have dialogue within our profession to ask the hard questions about educational structures that although are widely accepted by most teachers, need to be challenged in order to work towards a more equitable system for all students.

A punk rock pedagogy helped me become the teacher I am today and will continue to push me further down this road I’m on. We can’t take anything for granted in education and can never assume that what we’re doing works for all students. The only way to create a more equitable and just education system is through asking hard questions, creating dialogue and conversation with our colleagues and providing alternatives for long standing policies. A pedagogy ingrained in punk rock and social justice is the only way I know how to operate and I’m looking forward to the journey ahead.

A teacher working for equity and social justice.