sign language

Sign of the times: Teacher whose classroom-door sign went viral explains his message

PHOTO: Eric Eisenstadt
The sign posted on science teacher Eric Eisenstadt's door.

Eric Eisenstadt doesn’t consider himself a flame-thrower. A physics and biology teacher at Manhattan Hunter Science High School, he says teachers shouldn’t “proselytize their own views” in the classroom. But he doesn’t think bias belongs in the classroom either — and after the presidential election, he wanted to make sure his students knew that.

So, on Monday, Nov. 14, nearly a week after Donald Trump’s upset victory, he posted a sign to his door proclaiming his affection for his students. All of his students.

“I love my Muslim students. I love my black students. I love my Hispanic students. I love my gay students. I love my disabled students. I love my poor students. I love all of my students and I will fight for you, not matter what,” he wrote in multi-colored marker. “And if he, or anyone else builds that wall, or any wall between us, I will teach my students how to tear it down.”

The sign didn’t get noticed much at first, he said, but then a friend posted a photo of it on Twitter and it attracted more attention, both inside and outside the school. Other teachers across the country have posted similar messages of love and encouragement, but Eisenstadt’s had a particularly wide reach. The photo has now been liked or retweeted nearly 7,000 times and a related Facebook post has garnered dozens of approving comments.

Chalkbeat contacted Eisenstadt to learn more about his message.

“I don’t think you can learn if you’re concerned about greater issues happening outside, if your whole safety and security are in jeopardy,” Eisenstadt explained. “I just wanted my students to feel that at least the school is a place where, regardless of what’s going on outside, racism will not be tolerated.”

While Eisenstadt was careful to write that he loved all of his students, he worried that some — his white or Chinese students, for example — might feel left out. He explained that he named certain groups on the sign because they’d been singled out during the campaign. “I wanted to make it clear,” he said. “I think they got it.”

So did his fellow teachers and principal, he said. “Once this became a viral thing, the principal came by and he said he thought that was a great message,” he said. “It was all positive. Very positive.”

Obviously, not everyone agrees. “Time for him to be expelled,” wrote one online commenter after a story on Eisenstadt ran in the Daily Mail. “If he loves his students, he should stick to teaching them,” wrote another.

Eisenstadt seems to understand their concerns. “This is not something I would normally do,” he said. “I scrupulously avoid telling students who I am voting for.”

This year, he said, he made it clear to them that he harbored no ill will toward those with different views. “I explicitly told my students, ‘I have no problem if you like Donald Trump or if your parents like Donald Trump,” he said. “I have no problem with you.”

Eisenstadt knows his sign is controversial, but says it’s also an important statement in a school with a large number of Muslim, Hispanic and black students.

“I can easily picture if I had done this in another school, I could have been told to take it down,” he said. “I’m grateful, frankly, that people understand what I’m trying to do.”

Story booth

A teacher got this Detroit woman’s troublemaking brother involved in her classroom — and transformed both siblings’ lives

Parent advocate Bernita Bradley shares a story about a great teacher who helped he brother in a Detroit schools story booth.

Bernita Bradley was in the fourth grade when she came to recognize the power of great teaching.

Now a parent advocate and blogger who spends her days advocating for quality education in Detroit, Bradley said a great teacher became her “role model” when that teacher changed Bradley’s brother from a kid who was “hopping all over the place” in class to one who realized his own potential.

The boy had been the smart kid who was doing other students’ work, but not his own. That changed when the teacher asked him to stay after school to grade other students’ papers.

“I would watch my brother grade other students’ work and then he would get excited when he didn’t know it and come over to the teacher and ask the teacher ‘I don’t know this part.’ And she would work with him on it and then he’d go back and grade and it turned him into this student who sat in the classroom,” Bradley recalled.

That teacher, she said, “really became my first official role model as a teacher just to see that she changed my brother from being this person who was all over the place to being focused.”

Bradley shared this memory in a story booth set up outside the School Days storytelling event that was sponsored by Chalkbeat and the Secret Society of Twisted Storytellers last month at the Charles H. Wright Museum.

The event brought educators, parents and a student together to tell their stories on stage at the Wright but the event also invited other Detroiters to share their stories in a booth set up by Chalkbeat and the Skillman Foundation. (Skillman also supports Chalkbeat. Learn more about our funding here.)

If you have a story to tell — or know someone who does — please let us know.

Watch Bradley’s full story here:

First Person

A national teacher of the year on her most radical teaching practice: trusting kids to handle their bathroom business

Author Shana Peeples speaking at American Jerusalem High School in Jerusalem while touring as National Teacher of the Year.

This whole national conversation about who we should and shouldn’t let go into which bathrooms got me thinking about the most controversial thing I ever did as a teacher. I’d love to tell you it was teaching a banned book or something intellectual, but it was really all about the bathroom.

I allowed kids to quietly leave class whenever they needed to go without asking my permission.

My principal hated it; some of my colleagues viewed me as some sort of hippie. It made people question my professional judgment, my classroom management, and even my intelligence.

“So, you just let them leave when they want to?”

“If they need to go, yes.”

“Without a pass?”

“My hall pass is on a hook by the door so they can quietly take it and then replace it when they come back.”

“I bet you replace it a lot.”

“Actually, no. It’s the same one. I keep it around because it has a picture from my first year when I looked a lot younger and skinnier.”

Usually, people walk off before I can tell them any more of my crazy commie ideas. They’d die if they knew kids could take my pass to the nurse or their counselor if they needed to go. My only rule was that they had to show the same decorum that they would at the movies: no one gets up in a theater and loudly announces their business.

And in 15 years, no one used it as an excuse to skip the class or wander the campus or otherwise engage in shenanigans. Actually, no — one kid took the pass and didn’t come back until the next day. But that was because he was an English language learner on his second day who didn’t quite understand that it’s not meant as a “go home in the middle of the school day” pass.

When I began teaching, it was in a seventh-grade classroom in a portable, which is really just a converted double-wide trailer. The bathrooms were the separation space between my classroom and the reading teacher’s classroom. It seemed mean to me to control the bathroom needs of children in 90-minute block classes seated so close to one another. That was the origin of the policy.

Years later, one of my students wrote about me in an essay. I was prepared to read some sort of “Freedom Writers” love letter about the magic of my teaching. What she wrote instead was: The first day in her class I learned that she had the best bathroom policy ever. She treated us like human beings who could be trusted to take care of our own private needs.

I kept scanning the essay for the parts about the teacher magic, but that was really the only part about me specifically. The best bathroom policy ever. That’s my legacy.

But seriously, kids really can be trusted to take care of their own private needs. Especially those who are teenagers who drive cars. Or who are responsible in their after-school jobs for locking up a store’s daily receipts in the safe. Or who are responsible for getting four siblings to school on time because mom works the morning shift.

People complain to me, when they find out I used to teach high school, about how “lazy and irresponsible kids are these days.” That just irritates the fire out of me. What if so much of that behavior is because we don’t allow kids to try on trust and responsibility with little things like taking care of their bathroom business?

And maybe what looks like “laziness” is really a trained helplessness and passivity borne of so many rules and restrictions against movement of any kind. Don’t get up without permission, don’t talk without permission, don’t turn and look out the window without permission, and for Pete’s sake, don’t you put your head down on your desk and act like you’re tired because you were up all night at the hospital with your father who just had a heart attack.

Trust is a thing we create through small daily interactions. Simple things like extending the same courtesies to them as we would want for ourselves. I’m always so appreciative of professional development presenters who take the time to tell you where the coffee, water fountains, and bathrooms are. That communicates respect and consideration.

As teachers, we have to be willing to be the first to extend trust. When we do, kids will return it.

Shanna Peeples’ teaching career, all in Title I schools, began as a seventh grade writing teacher at Horace Mann Middle School in Amarillo, Texas. She later taught English at Palo Duro High School, and as the 2015 National Teacher of the Year, worked to shape the conversation in this country about working with students in poverty. She now serves as the secondary English language arts curriculum specialist for Amarillo ISD.

This piece first appeared in Curio Learning.