By Rachel Elizabeth
‘Hi vegan!’ or ‘Warning! Vegan coming’ are phrases I often here on a daily basis in my job as a teacher. My lifestyle and food choices are not something that would normally be known in an ordinary school where teachers don’t eat with their students. But my school is no ordinary school. The pupils are extra-ordinary but they struggle with things out of the ordinary. That’s why I am also known as ‘The Vegan’.
I know by just being me I have raised their awareness of veganism and plant based living. On a daily basis I get jokes, pictures, comments, and questions but I’ve also had hugs and kind gifts and I have influenced at least three colleagues to change. However, the hardest thing for me is their inclination to watch animal cruelty on YouTube. They did it in front of me two years ago and I was so upset and furious. That was until I saw their faces. They had no intention of upsetting me and had no idea I felt so strongly. I explained how I felt but the students’ autism means that empathy is hard for some of them. Luckily, no such videos have been seen again, in front of me anyway. The lack of empathy is perhaps why they can’t see cruelty like we do and I’m not really allowed to help them understand, as veganism and animal rights, although rising, are still considered a fad or radical way of living by some as it challenges the norm.
This was made clear today while I was completing an online training module on preventing radicalisation. One of the examples they gave was of a young person interested in animal welfare becoming radicalised by animal rights groups who engage in criminal activity such as liberating animals from labs. Only the word liberated was in inverted commas!! In my last blog entry I talked about marching with these liberators, does that make me radical? And by answering the students questions with the truth, could I be accused by a colleague who doesn’t agree with my views of radicalising? Just because our views are against the norm. It’s a scary thought as I love my job as a teacher but I believe in animal rights too.
So what am I going to do when they ask me a question tomorrow, next week or the week after? I’ll teach not preach. I’ll explain that my ethical programming means I don’t think it’s right or necessary to take from or hurt an animal. I’ll also say that I wasn’t always programmed this way and that I changed as I grew up; it’s important they understand it’s a learning process not something I was born into so they remain as open to it as possible. Is it radical? Maybe but I have to believe it won’t always be that way and one day at least one of my students will be spreading the same message.