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Teaching social justice to elementary school students

Integrating Social Justice Across Curriculums

Teaching for social justice is a concept Heather Lynch understands well. As a student who earned both her bachelor’s and master’s degrees at SUNY Oswego and later served as an adjunct visiting assistant professor, Lynch has embodied what teaching for social justice is all about.

Lynch began her teaching career as an adjunct professor at SUNY Oswego and as a fourth grade classroom teacher in the Oswego City School District. She saw how the concepts she was teaching to her college students applied in her fourth grade classroom.

“A lot of classroom instructors teach a ‘tourist’ curriculum; they talk about the food, the clothing, the fun stuff, but not the history our country has or how people have been treated in the past,” Lynch said. “Our curriculum isn’t like that.”

Lynch’s curriculum is an example of what teaching for social justice means; looking at the state curriculum with a critical lens and providing students with different perspectives to inspire change in the future.

“Right now, we’re talking about Native Americans,” she said. “We talk about oppression and reservations and what that means to a culture, so that our kids understand and learn from history.”

Influencing Today's Learners

Lynch’s background understanding of teaching for social justice led her to incorporate discussions about stereotypes, racism and sexism in her fourth grade classroom. She believes that her students need to understand these concepts in today’s world.

“Kids don’t know how or why things like racism or sexism exist, and if they think it is acceptable, then they carry it on and there’s no change,” Lynch said. “We talk about those things so kids know what it means and they can say that’s not right and we need to make a change for that.”

SUNY Oswego’s graduate education programs focus on teaching this ability to look at a curriculum critically. Graduates of the program emerge with not only a master’s degree or professional certification, but the understanding of what it takes to be an effective teacher and have the passion to become one.

“I’m very passionate about teaching; it’s a lifestyle for me,” Lynch said. “I see it as the future of our generation depends on what I do every day.”

Lynch’s commitment to education and to her students was partially influenced by her background (she is from a family of teachers) but her own education also played a role.

Teaching From a Place of Passion

“I found a lot of my passion when I got into the education program at Oswego,” she said. “I saw the impact I had on [the students] just as a practicum teacher – seeing what they were doing and what they were capable of and how far I could take them in one year, that’s where that passion came from.”

"I found a lot of my passion when I got into the education program at Oswego. I saw the impact I had on [the students] just as a practicum teacher – seeing what they were doing and what they were capable of and how far I could take them in one year."
Heather Lynch
Teacher, Minetto Elementary School

Lynch’s classroom is an inclusion classroom, so she works alongside two teaching assistants and a special education teacher. The classes in her pre-teaching graduate program focused on more than pedagogy – she learned co-teaching and special education skills that she uses regularly in her classroom.

“Having that special education background helped me understand my role as a general education teacher,” she said. “I don’t see the students as ‘mine’ or ‘theirs,’ we look at the kids as ours and collaboratively, we teach them together.”

Lynch’s passion and education helped her fully grasp her role as an educator. Even when her students make the move to fifth grade, she hopes they still learn from the lessons she instilled in them.

“When my students leave, I want them to be out in the world and have my words pop into their head,” Lynch said. “It’s a huge task and it’s challenging and time consuming, but it’s all worth it.”