Tolerance is not enough: a letter to my former students

Dear former students,
There’s quite a lot I didn’t teach you.
You knew my rules about respect. You knew not to use the
word “gay” to indicate displeasure in my classroom. (You even knew not to use “gay”
as a synonym for happy because it’s culturally outdated and a loophole to
continue using the word derogatorily.) You knew not to laugh at homeless people
or use the term hobos around me. You
knew I don’t like misogynistic “jokes” or song lyrics that degrade women. You
knew that joking about rape would earn someone a referral to both the principal
and the counselor. You knew I would lose my cool on anyone who created more
work for our cleaning staff by intentionally making messes or littering around
school. You knew how fast I would stop class if I heard any kind of attack or
threat on another student, no matter how small.
But I never really taught you why those things were
important to me. It’s true that you could have guessed. Maybe occasionally I
offered a very brief explanation. You could have inferred what I believed based
on stories we read or the way I handled certain situations. But I never taught
it the way I did subordinating clauses or figurative language or sonnets.
That’s because until very recently I thought it was fine to simply
teach tolerance. Respect each other. Keep offensive remarks and behavior to
yourself. If you can’t, things will get ugly with me.
I taught you wrong.
In my defense, it’s easier to teach tolerance. It’s faster.
Issuing punishments and repeating mantras about respect takes far less time
than sitting down and examining linguistic, cultural, and historical factors or
talking about feelings. We have a lot of work to do with the curriculum alone, and
sometimes it’s just faster to say, “We don’t use that word in my classroom,” or “That’s
a lunch detention,” and move on.
But it can’t be the only way to teach. It makes my classroom
a safe space, but it suggests that the only time to behave safely towards each
other is inside that room. Coming down hard on insensitive behavior and remarks
might protect the feelings of victims, but also isolates and vilifies the student
who behaved in that way. Arguably, it probably also doesn’t change anything for
that person, except to know that their teacher will shame them.
When I read the stories about Orlando, my heart broke wide
open. I cried reading about the victims, thinking about the living nightmare
the survivors must now endure. I cried for the LGBT community, here and abroad.
I cried for the helpers, the first responders and the brave men and women who
risked their lives to protect others. I cried for the shooter, because even though
that amount of hatred is unthinkable, to reduce other humans to a value of
zero, I have to wonder if he had been taught by people in his life that he,
too, was worth nothing.
So this coming school year, I’m going to do something
different. Instead of teaching tolerance, I will teach insistence. I will
insist that everyone belongs—not just the people who think, look, or act like
I will insist that everyone—and I mean everyone, even (and
maybe especially) that classmate you just can’t stand—has value and beauty and a
story that would make you cry if you knew it.
I will insist that we read books with diverse characters—LGBT,
Muslim, refugee, people with mental illness, etc. I will insist on class
discussions throughout the year where we talk about people groups who are
marginalized because of their race, sexuality, religion, or other factors
related to their identity, and I will insist that their stories matter.
I will address the students who break my rules about respect
firmly and swiftly, but more importantly, I will treat them with the same
kindness and compassion I’m asking from them.
I will insist that building walls is never a solution to
being afraid of those who are different from you.
I will insist that no matter how loudly the world might say
that it’s dangerous to be yourself, love is louder, and love will win in the
end, always.
Teaching insistence will take longer. It will require more
of me—more energy, more compassion, more patience. It will require more of my
students, too. But so much of what we’ve seen recently, and not just in
Orlando, tells me we need it.
Former students, I’m not your current teacher anymore, but I
have faith you’ll learn insistence from somewhere. In spite of everything, I
believe in the good forces that are at work, and I believe that good is
insistent, too.
I care about all of this so deeply because of you. Teaching has
fundamentally changed me, is changing me, and it has to, because I spend hours
every week interacting directly with kids who represent a vast array of
beliefs, values, and experiences. I love each of you so much that sometimes I
think I’m in actual danger of my heart exploding out of my chest, and more than
anything I just want all of you to live in a world where you feel safe and
strong and valued, because feeling safe and strong and valued makes it easier
to be brave and kind and inclusive. And in case you haven’t been paying
attention, we need more of that.
We need you.



  1. Hollie Ikner

    Thank you, Teach, for changing how I do my next school year. I thought tolerance was enough. I see though that it wasn't. It isn't. And it's not going to change. What a beautiful post. Thank you.

  2. tamdom

    This letter is beautiful, moving, and so important. I thank you for putting this into words. It is something that I also work on each year and I appreciate your outlook on this problem. It has helped me to make a more concrete decision of what I want to do this next school year.

  3. Sean Barker

    I do my best to teach this to my students. Teach them that there are real people behind the derogatory things they say. Real people who hurt, struggle, and cry, and the cross they bear becomes more real when they are vilified for being a real person.
    I don't know how successful I am in teaching them this, and I don't know how lasting the lesson is in any case, but God help me, I try.

  4. An American Teacher

    Okay, I have to put on my Black Hat. This is a beautifully written letter full of love. It fits in a Utopia. If you have noticed our world has been spinning a bit out of control lately. More "love" is going to fix this? I wish. I wish that this letter would have included that love alone will not bring on more tolerance. Teach, you are still very naive. This rhetoric still is not truthful. It holds back the ugly part because that's what teachers do. We don't want to scare our children to not wanting to take that next step out the door. We don't want to turn them all into introverts shading their eyes from the eye contact that they will come into contact with on a daily basis. We want them to be optimistic about their futures. So, we hold back. And when we do that, we fall into being guilty of teaching political correctness. I oppose political correctness. It is dangerous. It is untruthful. It creates fear. As a teacher, and this is my opinion, we need to teach fact and opinion so our students will know the difference. There is a lot of opinion distorting the facts these days. We need to teach caution. We need to be aware that there are bad people out there, for what ever reason, they are there. We need to teach our history, the good and the bad. But it cannot be taught by people with bias. Too many professors have an agenda to change the minds of young people today into clones of their political stances. We need to be mindful that when we teach history, there are two sides to the story…how people were different in the past compared to how they are today. I hear some teachers teaching that Christopher Columbus was a bad, mean, ruthless explorer…some just don't know how to teach the facts and be okay with them. But when you understand that these explores did what explorers did for survival purposes, we start to understand that was a way of life. Was Christopher Columbus bad? Or was he doing what most men did, right or wrong, to change history? It was a tough world back then. People were tough. There is so much we need to teach and understand in our own knowledge banks….our awesome responsibility to tell the truth with is never ending. There was cruelty, pain, and torment in our past…and now present. But for survival purposes, we have to teach the meaning of pride of country, what bravery really is, and how much are you willing to put on the line to protect your way of life. Teach patriotism. Teach truth. Teach self-esteem (learn failure and success, in that order). And do it all with love. Love is an additive….not a fix all.

    1. Anonymous

      An American Teacher,
      One problem with your argument is that facts and truth are not clear anymore. We know know that Christopher Columbus was not the first to discover the Americas. That truth came from someone who desired that to be so. History seems to change as we find out more about both the historians and the people thought to be important by the historians and people in power. Bias is not easily set aside, as we are humans and not computers. Because of our push to build "self-esteem" in our children, they have become to feel entitled and more easily disappointed and depressed that they cannot live up to the expectations of others. Love is not political correctness. I admit that maybe tolerance is too weak. Love and respect of all human beings as they grow into adulthood gives them a chance to flourish. Truth is messy. Love is the antidote to the cruelty, pain and torment of the past, present and future. Teach is more than a great teacher, but a great citizen helping to build the characters of hundreds, nee thousands in her lifetime!

  5. Lotus

    I like insistence to show inclusiveness as people we should be educating and preparing our children to fight for a world where our label is not a classification or hinderance. We all are humans, with limbs, organs and thoughts, no one above the other, none more resourceful than the other just differently. We should enourage each other to see our own beauty and usefulness and to share in its wonder. To learn from each other as we all have to overcome similar challenges, culture , parents, health issues in our own way but all follow a similar direction – to help us grow as a person – so why is someone's growth or wants a threat- not understanding should not be a justification for belittling. Not sharing similar values should just mean , you are not compatible for certain things, does not mean you are less or more. Someone loving another person of the same gender does not make your love for the person of the opposite gender any less valuable so why fight them? if your God is wrathful maybe you should examine its cultural roots rather than shame the other person's to validate its teachings. We all view the world in our own unique way, not one person will see things exactly like you do so why want the rest of the world to remain trapped or to change too fast so your own vision becomes more relevant. There is enough world and enough beauty to include everyone's wishes if we just stopped teaching our children that the bad things that happen are just the way things are and that the bad history is something we should just accept rather than stipulate as outdated thinking. Only when we see the world with innocent eyes will the world truly be innocent and people will no longer die senseless deaths due to someone's lack.

  6. T. T.

    Hi, I am a Peace Corps Volunteer stationed in Thailand. I work with Thai English language teachers. I am also a subscriber to your Blog. I truly enjoy it. Would you mind if we share some of your Blog entries for other Volunteers to read? I think all of the volunteers (not just education volunteers) would benefit from your insight. I can send you a link to where we would share your blog. Thank you.

  7. Michael Snapp

    Hi, i would like to comment on Doctor Osemu and his dealing with my need. I contacted him in desperation over my girlfriend of a year that broke up with me and went back to her EX-boyfriend. Consequently the breakup has been devastating so much that I've considered suicide as my only option to relieve the pain and agony in me. I felt heart broken and it affected me that i couldn't concentrate properly at my place of work for i very much loved her and need to get her back and my last chance was getting a love spell. I entered on the website and made contact with the Doctor for i read that he has a lot of positive feedback with his spells. I’m not disappointed because my lover came back to me within 24 hours after getting a love spell from the Doctor. We are happy couples now and if you need any kind of help, Email him at ( ), call him or whats-app him at (+2348135254384 ). Michael Snapp, USA.

  8. Loran Fabyuel

    Thanks for making such a cool project. write my essay
    I've been checking the site for the Windows version, but I never left a comment about it. I know you are working hard and doing it for free so you shouldn't feel rushed or
    I hope you can continue this type of hard work to this site in future also. Because this blog is really very informative and it helps me lot.

  9. Lindsey Kuipers

    If you use specific resources to introduce this standard, will you share? I'm seeing such a deep need for this (and for a shift in how I teach it) in my classroom, as well. Thanks for your words!

  10. Lisa

    THANK YOU, THANK YOU, THANK YOU for this! I can only hope that more educators will also feel the conviction to move beyond the concepts of respect, tolerance and inclusivity.

  11. J McD

    Great writing. Love will conquer when enough people learn from teachers like you to respond to hatred and bigotry with love, learn that hatred and bigotry are not ok. Keep fighting the good fight.

  12. Amal Gamal

    I am an Egyptian teacher of English. I've been teaching English as a secong language in my country for more than 20 years. Right now,I am a team leader in a primary school. I lead more than 37 teachers. I would like to thank you for that awesome post. I haven't thought of teaching morals out of your own perspective, before. I thought it was fair enough to tell my students , do this and don't do that. Your post is worth reading. I will print your post, then photocopy it and distribute it among my team to discuss all the important points you mentioned. I will try to make them apply your way in guiding their students in class.Thanks a lot and I am glad I had the opportunity to participate in your blog and share your valuable posts with others.

  13. mona elghanam

    I agree with your point, but I find it difficult to implement this specially in limited time classes. They are valuable indeed.. but maybe sending a misbehaving child to be punished outside saves the session and help others learn better.. so, how can I apply insistence? I'm really interested

  14. Vicky Jarvis

    Real Love Spell To Get Your Ex Back Fast “My husband broke up with me and I’m heartbroken after 14years of marriage,I was so frustrated and i could not know what next to do again, i love my husband so much but he was cheating on me with another woman and this makes him broke up with me so that he can be able to get marry to the other lady and this lady i think use witchcraft on my husband to make him hate me and my kids and this was so critical and uncalled-for,I cry all day and night for God to send me a helper to get back my man until i went to NY to see a friend and who was having the same problem with me but she latter got her Husband back and i asked her how she was able to get her husband back and she told me that their was a powerful spell caster in Africa name Dr.Unity that he help with love spell in getting back lost lover back, and i decided to contacted the same Dr.Unity and he told me what is needed to be done for me to have my man back and i did it although i doubted it but i did it and the Dr told me that i will get the result after 21hours, and he told me that my husband was going to call me and i still doubted his word, to my surprise my husband really called me and told me that he miss me so much, OMG! i was so happy, and today i am happy with my husband again and we are joyfully living together as one good family and i thank the powerful spell caster Dr.Unity of UNITYSPELLTEMPLE@GMAIL.COM, he is so powerful and i decided to share my story on the internet that Dr.Unity is the Best spell caster who i will always pray to live long to help his children in the time of trouble, if you are there and your lover is turning you down, or you have your husband moved to another woman, do not cry anymore, contact this powerful spell caster Dr.Unity on his email: ,you can also call or Add him on Whats-app: +2348071622464 ,His Website: .

    Vicky Jarvis,

  15. Becky Nolan

    What else can i say rather than to thank Doctor Okpamen who God used to reunite my marriage. Each day of my life, i ask God to bless Dr. Okpamen for he has made my life complete by bringing back my husband to me and for this reason, i made a vow to my self that i will testify on the internet to let the world know that Dr. Okpamen is a God on Earth. My husband and i had a fight for three days which led to our divorce. On this faithful day, i came across a testimony of how Dr. Okpamen helped a lady in getting back her lover. So, i contacted him and explained to him and he told me that my days of sorrows are over that my husband will come back to me within 12 to 16 hours.. Could you believe it, my husband came home begging that he needs me back. Do you need any kind of help? Contact him now via email: ( ), Website:, call and whatsapp him via +2348135254384 OR for more confirmation call or text me on my cell# +1 (914) 517-3229. Becky Nolan USA.

  16. Brooklyn Gray

    This is the most wonderful thing i have ever experienced. I visited a forum here on the internet on the 17 APRIL 2016, and i saw a marvelous testimony of Tracie Aldana from United States on the forum about the good works Doctor Osemu. I never believed it, because have never heard anything about such miracle before. No body would have been able to convince me about it not until Doctor Osemu did a marvelous work for me that restored my marriage of 4 years by getting back my divorced wife just as i read on the internet. Am Brooklyn Gray by name from USA. I was truly shocked when my wife knelt down pleading for forgiveness to accept her back. I am really short of words to use to show my appreciation to Doctor Osemu. For his a God sent to me and my entire family for divine restoration of marriage. Contact him now for any kind or help via Email:, website: OR call and whats App him on +2348135254384. You can text/call me also for more inquiries +1 (914)-902-7078.

  17. Mayor Vargas

    Thank you for your miracle Doctor Osemu Okpamen

    This article is dedicated to the Doctor Osemu Okpamen. I have been married with my wife for 5 years and recently she broke up with me and it hurt me deeply when she told me to leave her alone and that she does not love me anymore when i was always faithful and honest to her. I tried all the ways to get her back buying her what she wants like i always did and she still left me heart broken and she even has a new boyfriend which destroyed me even more until a friend of mine from high school directed me to this genuine spell Doctor called Osemu Okpamen. This man changed my life completely. I followed everything he told me to do and my wife came back begging for me back. I was stunned everything happened exactly like he told me. I had faith in everything he told me and everything was true. Also he was there every moment until i got my happiness back and he also provides spells that cures impotence, bareness, diseases such as HIV/AID E.T.C You can contact him via email at { } or visit his website He will help you in anything you need and quick to answer once you contact him. Call me for more info +1 (914)-517-3229..

  18. Mayor Vargas

    Thank you for your miracle Doctor Osemu Okpamen

    This article is dedicated to the Doctor Osemu Okpamen. I have been married with my wife for 5 years and recently she broke up with me and it hurt me deeply when she told me to leave her alone and that she does not love me anymore when i was always faithful and honest to her. I tried all the ways to get her back buying her what she wants like i always did and she still left me heart broken and she even has a new boyfriend which destroyed me even more until a friend of mine from high school directed me to this genuine spell Doctor called Osemu Okpamen. This man changed my life completely. I followed everything he told me to do and my wife came back begging for me back. I was stunned everything happened exactly like he told me. I had faith in everything he told me and everything was true. Also he was there every moment until i got my happiness back and he also provides spells that cures impotence, bareness, diseases such as HIV/AID E.T.C You can contact him via email at { } or visit his website He will help you in anything you need and quick to answer once you contact him or call me for more info +1 (914)-517-3229.

  19. Ana Rauzan

    I feel so joyful today because of the help Doctor Ogudugu has rendered to me getting my Husband back. I've been married for 6 years and it has been so terrible because my husband was cheating on me and was seeking for a divorce. But when i came across Doctor Ogudugu Email on the internet posted by a lady, i decided to get in touch with him and i explained my situation to him and then seek his help but to my greatest surprise he told me that he will help me with my case for there is no problem without a solution. Here i am celebrating because my Husband is back home and am really enjoying my marriage and what a great celebration. I will keep on testifying on the internet because Doctor Ogudugu is truly a helper who God has sent to help us all. Why not contact Doctor Ogudugu now if you are facing any challenges in your relationship life. Email: ( ). Call or WhatsApp No: +2348139793075 for further inquiry and assistance.

  20. Jimmy loof

    If you know you not ready for a relationship why get into one and still cheat and liar. I was dying inside for my cheating wife, i had no prove, no one to run to. Everyone thought i was paranoid. until i was referred to a Private Investigator  Mr James . I told him about my situation and He understood me well and helped me spy on my wifes iphone.He hacked her Gmail and Facebook account and linked all her WhatsApp and phone conversation to me, to find out the truth.I saw all the evidence and i was heart Broken,I just want to openly say thank you Mr James for helping me get evidence against her,i feel so hurt. If you need help please contact him ( via email. 

  21. Jacob Perkins

    Thank you a lot for publishing this letter. It is so fair and at the same time, it is so sad. The thing is, at our time there are a lot of unfair and really cruel things. And what is the scariest – we can observe a lot of cruel things among children. People often don't care about what other people feel, people don't understand and don't even want to understand problems of other people. This is society. By the way, these topics – tolerance, empathy, etc. – became an important part of topics for an MBA capstone paper in some particular fields.

  22. james stephens

    Students of dublin generally feel pressure during writing assignment. We have solution of this problem, hire dublin assignment writers who have done their masters degree from top universities of dublin and they are available to help you in writing your assignment at best price.

  23. Anonymous

    Got an essay, dissertation, term paper, case study, business proposal, CDR, lab report, theses or business report to edit? Pass it on to our team of online paper editors and simply ask them to “edit my paper for me” and consider it done!

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.