Now that Thanksgiving is over, we are well into the holiday season for the majority of teachers in the United States. One thing that I frequently hear from people year after year is that they don’t know how to talk about their values and holiday culture while in the classroom. There is a mass of confusion brought about from school districts having different, open ended policies, Supreme Court cases involving the first amendment, and a large collection of rumors. I am not an authority figure in the world of education. But I can share some insights I have learned over the past couple of years through 3 rules to follow when considering sharing personal values in the classroom.
Rule #1: Know yourself
Rule #2: Know your students
The biggest thing I have learned over the years is that everything is situational, including what you should or shouldn’t do on or around holidays. Therefor, knowing your students and their families is paramount. And also knowing that if you cross a line, offend a student, or cause distress, you will need to connect with those students and families and work it out. Knowing your students, their cultures, their family values and traditions, etc. will help you mitigate these culture bumps and let you know what topics and images are taboo to them. If you would respect a parents right to not having their child learn sex ed, then we should also accept the parents right to not expose their child to specific behaviors. Which leads me to my next rule.
Rule #3: If you’re going in-depth and teaching it, have a reason
You need to ask yourself why you want to share the information you want to share about the holiday or tradition. Why do you need to wear what you are going to wear? One of our jobs as teachers is to teach specific norms, customs, and traditions of the United States. This includes character education, civics, history, and yes, holidays. In this context, you should feel fairly comfortable teaching students about holidays that pertain to our collective culture. This also means that you can, when appropriate, dress for the occasion and possibly add in a salutation to those who celebrate the holiday. Maybe you could even teach your students how to greet and return a greet that is holiday specific, which would give them a connection with other students they may not have had.
Another piece to this rule I feel I need to address due to the number of times I have heard this is about the teachers who say, “But the student’s need to know about x holiday tradition.” To that I ask, do they really need to know about Halloween to be college and career ready? Is it a matter of survival to know about Santa Clause? Or are you pushing your traditions and beliefs on the students?
All things considered
As long as you are not asking your students to celebrate against their wishes or ostracizing them for not participating, there shouldn’t be a problem. If you are respecting your students and their beliefs, then the respect should be returned. My personal rule of thumb is that if I can’t answer to either of these rules, then I go full normal.