It’s summer, and I could be spending all my time sipping cocktails on my deck while I watch the boys play outside, but so far, like most teachers, I spend much of my summer learning. I may have gone a little overboard on scheduling myself this summer, but it’s all for things that I love to do: taking awesome kids to the National Speech and Debate Tournament, learning about technology and teaching methods for my content area, and representing teachers.
As I attended all of these events, the word “advocate” came up often, both as a noun and a verb. I know a big part of my job as a teacher and a parent is to be an advocate for kids, and I’m also an advocate for my fellow teachers as a union representative. But as I watched these fantastic kids at the National Speech and Debate Tournament and listened to other teachers talk about how kids had done amazing things with technology, I realized that beyond advocating for our kids, we really need to deliberately be teaching them to advocate for themselves and for others. As a speech and debate coach, I know that the skills the students learn transfer well for the students to be advocates for so many things, and though I believe every kid should be on their school’s speech and debate team (seriously, the benefits are many), I know that’s not a reality. So it’s up to us as parents and teachers to be sure we deliberately teach all of our kids to advocate.
Teach Them to Advocate for Themselves
Of course when our kids are little, it’s part of our jobs as parents to be their advocate. We talk to doctors and teachers to be sure our children are meeting recommendations and requirements, and if things are going a little rough, we do whatever we can to stand up for our kids. We push for answers and solutions because we want our children to be successful. If our child is having problems with other children, we talk to the teachers and parents to find a solution. And we most definitely should do all of this, and some of us may need to do it a little longer for children with special needs. But as the kids grow, it’s also very important that we let the kids advocate for themselves. We need to make sure they have the skills to stand up for themselves, to speak up when something isn’t right, to ask for assistance. As a high school teacher, I do appreciate talking to parents who are trying to be sure their child is caught up and doing everything they are supposed to; however, when a student comes to me as their own advocate to ask questions or get help, whether for school or more personal situations, I know that the students will be alright in the real world. As we all know, adulting is hard, and we will need to advocate for ourselves plenty, but so many of us still find it challenging to speak up for ourselves. Help your child find their voice.
Teach Them to Advocate for Others
We hear about bullying in our schools from our kids or on the news, and yes, it is an unfortunate reality. And though bullying is not new for society, the ways that kids are able to bully today is far different than when we were in school. As a teacher, I certainly try to be aware of it, but kids are also aware of that, so too often the bullying goes unnoticed by adults because they do such a good job keeping it hidden. The students who are being bullied often are scared to tell anyone. What we need are the students who are willing to advocate for others. We need students who will use their voice to stand up to others or students who will go tell an adult about the bullying they see happening. They need to be taught to be a voice for the voiceless. Sometimes students hate someone is being bullied and are simply afraid of retaliation if they tell, but they have to learn that doing the right thing is sometimes the difficult thing. After all, many of these students will go on to be parents themselves, and like us, they will need to advocate for their own children.
Teach Them to Advocate for a Cause
I know my speech and debate kids will advocate for things they believe in. They will write their legislators and attend public forums, and make sure their voice is heard. Most of them have done this already even before they become legal adults. I love hearing the student voices rise up about gun violence and school shootings because they are fighting for a cause. You don’t have to agree with what they are saying, but hopefully you can appreciate the passion and the knowledge they have for the cause. They understand that their voice matters, and that’s exactly what we need in our society. At the National Tournament, I purchased this t-shirt because I really do believe in this message. We all should be heard.
If your child isn’t on the debate team, chances are their views can be a little one-sided. As adults, we are often passionate ourselves about issues and the kids pick up on that. You probably want your kids to believe the same things you do, but hopefully you also teach your children about different sides of the issues so they can understand why people might believe something different. Debaters have to argue all sides of an issue regardless of how they feel personally, and kids are often surprised when they do more research that their views change, or at least soften. Or their views are strengthened and now they have the facts to back it up. Help your child do their own research. Teach them to find facts from unbiased sources and to research that something is true before they share it. Only then can our kids become true advocates for the causes they believe in, and even if our kids end up with opposite views as us, we can be proud of the fact that they can support their position with facts and reasons.
So as I continue my summer full of advocacy, I know I have to be more aware of deliberately teaching my own children, as well as my students, to advocate. One day, they will take over this world, and I want to make sure they will advocate for all of us as we get set to retire. Really, the work never stops for us when we continue to advocate for others, but I know that I’ll also have to advocate for myself this summer to get a little bit of time to sit back and enjoy that cocktail on the deck.