i have been avoiding reading and writing all summer, and i'm a bit embarrassed about it. i have touted writing as my go-to in terms of how i process and heal, and in a summer of proclaimed healing and resting from the tough school year that ended in June... it seems like i'm avoiding something. i'm circumventing hard truths right now, i realized in therapy last week, and intentionally not-writing so that i do not look at myself in the mirror.
now seems like a good time to unpack that, and i'll start with this: there is going to be unprecedented school staff shortages in the fall/next month. programs will close, departments will shift, schools will shutter, lots of things will shift to virtual, which is a hierarchy in the quality and personal attention of public education. the institution of public schools is in the process of ending, and what it will become is what so many Republicans have been working toward for the past two decades of my life and work: voucher systems, private charters with no accountability, an exacerbation of the school-to-prison-pipeline which places our Black and Brown students online to self-navigate through computer correspondence courses, and calls that an education. segregated schools have never left our national ideology, we know this.
i don't know what this means for me. how long can i exist inside of a toxic system that does not want to see young people as human beings with aspirations, goals, lives to build? i want to work in a place where my contributions are valued, truly, not with awards and vague understanding of what i do, but in a way that uplifts our community, empowers our young people and encourages them to build long and lasting relationships with teachers, friends and family as they grow and understand themselves.
we need to address the violence that has taken so many young people in our community. how COVID-19 has ravaged and set grief upon our families at an even more accelerated rate. how poverty and houselessness have impacted us. we need to have spaces to process, grieve collectively and work toward healing, share resources and hold each other up. this has always been my goal in working within schools: to use my location to positively impact the community, but it must extend beyond the schoolhouse to families and the community. if we teach restorative practices at school, but they learn something different at home, who are they going to trust? and why should they trust the school at all?
i don't know what's next. i do know that i've begun to put into the universe what i want, that i've spent time building relationships with other circlekeepers who i deeply value and respect, and that my love for my work is reaffirmed whenever i have the opportunity to be in circle with others. i had such an opportunity this morning and i'm convinced it's the reason why the words are flowing out of me now. i have to stay open, and willing to connect with others. but grief and healing is really hard and ugly work, and i have to commit to it, for myself, for my children, for my students, for my husband and family and friends. i need to be the best version of myself, and that begins with taking the time to rest, to unpack, to resolve, to heal, to dance and locate joy wherever life will bring it.
also, there is so much pain in our community, and i must heal myself so that i can help others be able to navigate their pain, and provide resources and empowerment to parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles just like i have tried to do with students over the past 20 years (and will continue to do with young people, no matter what path i walk). real healing work does take the whole hood, and United Playaz continues to inspire as i figure out the next way forward to a Better Me, and a Better Us. our young people deserve it, as does each member of our beloved community.
working on poems with my 9th graders, and just finished a poetry unit with my 10th graders, we've moved onto a Jason Reynolds book and i am finding the rhythm of back in the building, in a new system (quarters) where I must work hard to build relationships and pack content into 9 weeks. it's challenging, and i appreciate challenge, but this year it almost seems like too much to do anything more than teach my classes. the work life balance has shifted since COVID, and i want to be more present at home, especially as winter melts into spring (maybe sometime, right now we're covered under a fresh 6 inches). by the time i get home from work, i have used all of my patience. i feel anxious. i want a clean, quiet space to help with my anxiety, and my home is the opposite. i don't know when i will ever get used to a maladjustment of my spirit, but i do know that titles change things. we wear the mask in our buildings, and we read dunbar, angelou's riff of dunbar and deonte osayande as we asked ourselves which masks we wear. here's the mask i wear:
well, to answer my last post, yes, i do know how to rest. but i have turned a corner and fallen from a steep cliff, my body needs the rest so much that i cannot climb out of bed. it has been a winter where i've consciously been focusing on joy and rest, but it seems that the joy is centrally located in my classroom, and the rest happens at home. to be clearer, i beeline from the front door to my "home clothes" to my bed. this hibernation is normal for me every year, but it is not yet normal to my kids, and it's to a deeper degree than in previous years.
i am trying to create spaces for joy and quiet during the winter, as a part of our practice. we slow down, we read, we create, we connect, we gain inspiration from the stars, we are cozy, we sleep. this is the counterclaim to their vibrancy, and they're not sure what to do with all this gray. i promise i will get my color back, in the spring and summer.
the winter is an important time to rest, and yet i've been struggling with the guilt around it. i should be doing more, i should be cleaning this, organizing that, showing up at this event. i am so, so tired, though, and i am struggling to hold space for the grief that has taken over my body. i just need to be here with her, and let her wreak havoc. we must break open to heal, and must trust that rest is what we really need.
thank you for being with me as i break open, and fold over, and hunker down in the snow. spring will come. in the meantime, joy in the everyday and allowing the rest my bones need.
I realized a few weeks ago just exactly how much I am struggling. My house is a mess and I can't find the energy to correct it or care. I miss people, but I feel so anxious each time I'm in a public situation (including work), that I cannot find ways to reconnect in person that make me feel safe. I don't know when I will enjoy being at shows or at a bar or party again. My kids are struggling to get along with each other at home, and with peers at school. There is an anger seething on the surface of everyone, which of course is grief presenting itself with armor. We are sad. We are depressed. We are grieving, and still unable to celebrate and mourn together in the ways that are most healing.
I preach mental health all day, everyday, to anyone who will listen, and of course it has been hardest for me to take my own advice. But in my daily struggles with managing my life, it's really hard to make the time and space for myself, and I need to see this as a fundamentally flawed way to exist. I cannot sustain this anymore. I finally got myself to the doctor last week, and asked for a referral to begin therapy again. I started meds for the first time since I was in my early 20's. I realized that as much as I've been holding it together, I am not functioning well, at home or at work, and I needed to take action to care for myself, truly... not in the vapid, consumerist ways that we talk about self-care, but in the deeper ways, the difficult ways, doing the things we have been avoiding for so long.
So, here I am, fumbling in my anxiety and on my computer on the first day of break. Do I know how to rest? Do I know how to take care? Let's find out.
I don't remember any other quarter in a school being so tough. We are understaffed, exhausted, and all meeting'd out. We are trying our best as human beings stretched thin, caring for our own families and our school family. This is the prime place for students to begin to have some ownership over their school, and where leadership can begin, but it also feels like we're always on the precipice of disaster. Adults are in reactive mode instead of thoughtfully planning longterm, myself included, and I think what we need to do is quietly reflect and sharpen our craft, instead of create the turmoil of change, again.
Everyone wanted to return to school so badly, myself included. We also knew, and planned for, the trauma and pain that students would be carrying when we returned, but it is a deluge more powerful than I have the words for. I can't talk about resilience when there's still so many funerals, some for COVID, but many for the gun violence that our community is experiencing, daily. We are hardest hit by multiple pandemics, and many students don't know how to navigate it all. Adults don't either.
In week 4 of the quarter, we had a circle in the media center where a young person spit the truest game I have heard in 14 years of teaching. She laid out a play-by-play narrative of why students don't engage in school and what they're actually dealing with during the rest of their day. I will think about her often throughout my life, and her challenge to educators to build lasting relationships and actually be there for students in a meaningful way. The rawness of her grief allowed me to share my own and to remind myself of why I'm here. I placed myself here for a reason.
All I know how to do is to keep showing up everyday, and keep trying to build relationships, to show that I care, to check-in and be consistent. All that I know how to do is infuse power into the young people I am blessed to be in front of, and I weigh this quarter as successful if they see that within themselves. Maybe they won't yet, but I'm confident that we have planted seeds that they will sow later. More than anything, I hope that they remember ACCE as a place where we tried to take care of their whole selves, while healing ourselves. There is so much more work to do, but many hands make light work.
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