We are almost 16 weeks into this 2020 edition of a Covid school year; school is still more about adrenaline than passion. As drive myself through adrenal fatigue and increasing #pain cycles, there is still much comfort in seeing students participate in all the various forms. There is routine in examining the old texts, seeds of our Constitution, and discussing fresh perspectives of Enlightenment. Inequities present themselves, easily imagined as we live the reality of our ancestors. Rich and poor, the work of school is useful to all.
Self-management hangs heavily in a synchronous learning environment, from discussions of leaving something on the stove (when working from home) to managing the impossibilities of impromptu Internet glitches and patches while all at once some magic learning happens. In any case, there’s hardly a time to pause unless we make time for this release. And, just like physical pain, mental anguish and stress takes a toll. Were our forefathers (and foremothers) not the same in their dreams, fears, and internal dialogues? Did they take a moment to seize an opportunity for gratitude (the mindfulness strategy today)? Did they trace the Night’s path across their backyard sky, or take a nap in the emerging sunlight on a cool day, or savor a hot cup of tea in quiet contemplation, and find hope there?
Of late, without much ease in movement, I find myself processing the words, words, words, in a such way I never anticipated in my half-century. Could the younger me have envisioned a day I wouldn’t remember vocabulary or concepts or need the constant reminder of my stumbling and bumbling access to the more common areas of my brain? Likewise, did I intellectualize the day I couldn’t lift the weight of the world and a barbell locked and loaded to squat beneath or push overhead?
School becomes a challenge, tripping over the next item to do, procrastinating the great and honorable task of grading (and grade-entering to create irresistible mixed-media digital content); however much I love to craft a lesson, the sheer amount of energy to make any decision has taken flight to darker realms, suspended.
Survival depends on Day and Night, a marriage of predictable opposition. I am held by spaces between polarities, and Day’s quiet appearance transforms Night’s #abundance into actionable steps toward the future. And while little of life outside of school setting presents itself in the traditional way, each Day has offered fresh #perspectives. Brought into a classroom, our community is light of hope itself–we will survive. Rich and poor, the perspective of familiar cycles is Hope.
For days now, I’ve hobbled around, tears falling on every inch of our yard and house, crying with great fury and despair or just weeping over some huge emotion working its way through my already too tired mind and body. How do I wrap my head around each day? each hour? I cry at songs, at lines of poetry, at words in the pages of a book. Yes, I stand in today’s presence and yes, the “lions hunker down/in tall grasses/and even elephants/lumber after safety.” The emotions are immense; anger, fear, and grief pummel gratitude and compassion. Love feels lost in Her very own ocean. Being injured and adrenal-compromised, I’ve turned to Nature and poetry.
I don’t know much about lions and elephants other than what I’ve learned in school and reading, but I’ve been watching all the little birds who reside around my house. In these moments, I have much gratitude for having the privilege of even having a safe place, a home, much less the time for creation or quiet observation. I know I could fill it in other practical ventures. I could be planning next school year and ALL the possibilities, or thinking about it (which I do way too much). I probably should do that more than writing poem, painting on fences, and writing blog posts, but not over watching all the little birds. I am mesmerized.
The backdrop changes every moment (how could you not appreciate that?) and each morning (before dawn), I sprawl out on looking up at the sky in the middle of my backyard, and hear the little bird’s good mornings (what sweetness). Everything is slowly waking up. Nothing rushed until Sunrise comes in Her usual hurried way, and the little birds make preparations. Within 10 minutes, the Little Birds are flying formations, zipping down the street, setting up watch posts (very specific locations), and calling to each other in staccato–all well-placed and efficient.
In come the crows (because crows do what they need to do) and a small airborne war ensues while the Muscovy ducks, ibis, woodpeckers, and doves chime in (all sort of little birds). Every few days (I started counting two days ago), a bird of prey swoops in and around and all the Little Birds and the Big Birds shut up. There’s a stillness that is intense. What will happen next?
Yeah, that’s the point. None of us really know, but based on the natural cycles, not statistics (although statistics can be a pretty good indicator of how things are going, depending). Wait, and see. And here we are in whatever week and condition we are in, but do we have clarity?
My last poem (last night) is about grief (I’m not even sure what tense to use anymore). If I’ve learned anything in 2020, it’s how to identify an emotion in myself. The tricky part for me is how to separate that emotion from reality AND whose emotion is it…I’ve spent a lot of time working this as part of mindfulness and practice. I’ve learned how my mind flitters and sings, like a little bird, and then flies into action with all I’ve got. It’s intense. It was a normal way of going about my life for a long time. It’s familiar, and because of this familiarity–I know it–I can make myself move toward the bigger picture.
I’m not a participant in the War of the Birds any more than Maya Angelou was a zoo-keeper or hunter on a safari. For the most part, I’m a worker of words and a processor of emotions. A teacher. Whether I go back to school virtually (a reason for practicing with the resurrection of my blogs and other backburner type of Erika projects–there are many) or face-to-face or much more demanding (a mixture of the two), I still am a worker of words and a safe holder of the dreams and fears of my students (and their parents). I practice. Poetry helps me process and brings clarity.
Essential to any change in public education is our understanding of what is essential to learning at all. Familiarity. This takes time and dedication and shared commitment. Familiarity is knowing, remembering, and identifying (at that moment or later with reflection) what emotion you are feeling and what triggered it. Learning comes when students (and teachers and parents) feel safe. Safety should be the norm, not feeling safe, but the conversation starts here for me. What makes us safe? What can we do right now to move that way?
My grief poem was like a reminder on how to get there. In schools (and at home), we don’t talk enough about grief, about loss, about what follows. And it is true I have students who don’t experience a crippling grief, but loss is still familiar, and if it’s not–maybe that’s the challenge to what happens next.
<p class="has-drop-cap" value="<amp-fit-text layout="fixed-height" min-font-size="6" max-font-size="72" height="80">In the classroom (virtually or otherwise), I invite discussion. Still, I am vigilant. I'll sing the morning song, but I won't let you rob our nest, even if it is a part of your role. A crow's going to do what a crow's going to do, but when even the lions and the elephants mute themselves…In the classroom (virtually or otherwise), I invite discussion. Still, I am vigilant. I’ll sing the morning song, but I won’t let you rob our nest, even if it is a part of your role. A crow’s going to do what a crow’s going to do, but when even the lions and the elephants mute themselves…
With the publishing of my husband’s 3rd book, The Complete Orlando, Florida, Civil Rights Movement: Cooperation, Communication, and Reflections, 1951-1971, the current state of affair has required much discussion. We tread lightly, Fred and I, around the news of the day and work. Time together is important and I don’t personally invite most topics since we moved in this house. We both know these are there. We have 5 children, a grandchild, many, many good friends and loved ones with overly complicated and beautifully simplified words, words, words. And we have our own. However, discussion is what is needed.
Treading lightly, we thus discussed our individual roles in the greater (because they are too ominously present) institutional systems. Our lives today have been set upon this same landscape. We work with a similar set of worldviews within current belief systems, which seems both to harbor and shoulder oppressions and epic anger or (worse of all) massive indifference. These are the same institutions that also provide nourishment (however lean it is for some) and opportunity. And, overall, we can always agree that we have been blessed with good friends, a beautiful family, and home.
I could catalog inequities I see in a year in school. Likewise, I could also name every day in which my husband came home from a shift (or two or three or four) safely. Institutions. I’m pretty sure we both can still see some of our darkest hours in our work roles, but we mostly keep these hidden after all these years, which is why any discussion is tenuously challenging and uncomfortable (for me). What is said cannot be unsaid, just like what I can’t unsee what I’ve seen. Who am I to call upon my darkness as a weapon? Nevertheless, I can imagine, to a certain degree, the intensity with which Fred, as a police office, had to do his job in order to come home. Likewise, I CAN imagine my students and other people having experienced or experiencing epic wrongs and been hushed so they don’t even bother anymore. I can even name, regretfully, many times (with good intention or brilliant indoctrination), I was the person that caused a student pain unnecessarily, mostly through sarcasm. Words. Why do we wait to use the right ones? Who are today’s bards?
The advent of our supersized chaos demons coming to roost on both sides of 2020, with their demands of annihilation, human sacrifices, order from ranks or ranks from order, or just business as usual, muddies the water. We can’t see the future from the present or the past from the future, so how should I even approach students of next year? How do I even start a conversation in the digital or brick-and-mortar classroom of substance where students come willingly?
Moreover, educators have been talking about (but not much truthful discussing) the train wreck in American public education for a decade now. Somehow, this burning train went off a bridge into a river and re-emerged in a subway station in some city somewhere on fire again (and it was Florida train). Even with far greater (because they are too ominously present) immaculately conceived train wreck paradigms out there ready to be implemented by next week’s school board, teachers (as are police officers) are busy working. There seems never to be a good time to talk about all the elephants in the classroom, let alone the world (Life’s irony, not social distancing measures). Even without tests, we are still teaching to the tests (and there is NO discussion about them–I could even lose my teaching certificate for using my photogenic memory to analyze a question, let alone speak out about one of the most common ways the institution entrenches status quo and American ideals which leave us feeling less than what we truly are).
In the classrooms in my conscious carefully-selected memories, we read books and share stories. The words were soft like whispers then, but our classroom transformed and we became Hamlet or (in my case) Ophelia. On the American playground, I played cops and robbers, Axis and Allies, cowboys and Indians, bad guys against good guys, boys against girls, red Rosy, tag, king of the hill, and other games of social competition. I was unaware or lacked an understanding of privilege and power, but it was there among wonder and kindness. Now, it feels like I was just immature, practicing in a safer, kinder world only because I was without understanding of tragedy and hardship, of the true injustices hidden below the foundation of society not affecting me. And, now enters the constant balancing act of finding the words and not giving away too much of the plot (and do I even really know it?). That’s the thing with conversation…you think you know what the person is going to say…you project it on them, whether it was said or not, you plan, you refute…no, not with true discussion. You hold space for everyone before yourself.
And, as things go, in any marriage or classroom when two isn’t one (ek), we have different ways of seeing the world. The discussion, the witnessing and bearing witness, being present to uncomfortable truths is important and uncomfortable because it is intimate. Not everyone sees the necessity, not everyone jumps at a chance to put it all out there, and some will even intuitively run away or fight it. I’ve been working on this in the classroom: the structure of a common vocabulary based on consent given not taken (by me or anyone else). It’s still a balancing act. That’s the work of civil servants…trying to let any trace of altruism and Love be untarnished by the emperor’s newest clothes, which are just a cover up of blemishes and ulcers burned in institutional sanitation methods in order for everything to come out clean and white.
And here I am on the tightrope between two greater (because they too are ominously present) abysses. I’ve been working on balancing this whole time, and definitely still operating in full survival mode. Am I Evel Kneivel or Zarathustra? Or am I that teenage girl who still says, “Fuck that…let’s talk about Dido,” even though I never hear what’s really being said. What rabbit hole isn’t worth going down sometimes to see another possibility that always exists within the problem? And what problem doesn’t involve politics? And what politics doesn’t involve some personal driving force? Having felt my way in and out of this so many times (with the structure of the words, words, words), isn’t it possible to teach this? Is that what all my schooling was about? Whether the conversation is with oneself, or words in a book, or an author from 2000 years ago, or with a loved one, a lover, a foe, or even in a different language, conversation is necessary (just as force is necessary, in some cases), if only to provide a structured backdrop on which to practice how to just be and grow in spite of our circumstance…
Still, I am awake (I’m a professional–my personal mantra). I have resources and privilege which allow me access to realms (even when it says “everyone”) others cannot enter (that’s one oppression, my friends). I know I’m leaving a lot out. I ask of myself many things, but I demand of myself action beyond words. Can I contemporaneously commit to preserve, conserve, or change some part of myself to make the institutional systems for the better? What kind of world makes a person fear another doing their job? How do I tease out creative thinkers not just persistent reactors (and not just for my teacher evaluation)? How do I take a student gently into our own tragic human faults, seen and unseen, so that they see how choices, conscious and unconscious, can be made for everyone without losing sight of the wondrous human inventions that have given birth to civilizations as well as exploration?
I could make a case that waxing poetic is avoidance. I recognize my overuse of adverbs (adverbs being very difficult to teach as a second language depending) here and how the quality of my actions might make a more pronounced and instant impact, but for whom’s sake? I once thought I only should only teach reading and writing…but these same words, now, are more of a portal of transformation in whatever my content areas (I teach 4+ subjects in a school year). The same advent birthed chaos demons brought us writing, and with it, a ton of textual evidence of human suffering and man’s ways to eliminate suffering (a favorite BG quotes here and my favorite translation/text here), as well as methods of inflicting suffering (my first Latin sight reading on a test in high school was on torture).
In ancient texts lie ancient cities and landscapes built by our ancestors, sort of like parks and natural landmarks which call on some to plunder or pilgrimage (or both). Words pave (not past tense) a path by which a reader (or perhaps just a wanderer) might find (depending on the verb tense) these hidden gems. In the Indus Valley (and it probably stands to reason in many other places), the road gets paved right over the existing path (formidable important first words forgotten even beneath the below) and what still breathes beneath remains. What remains…words or something more? What is it but words unless you travel there with a teacher? How do we bring the millions of conversations which led to exploration and dialogue into today and held our heroes and heroines in equal regard, even in their humanness?
In reading, we call the purposeful and thoughtful placement of words and images throughout the the classroom a print-rich or literacy-enriched environment. In second language learning, we draw on comprehensible input, immerse ourselves and our learners in the target language (on everyone’s level) for 85-95% of the instructional period. Does it not stand to reason that students need to practice social interactions with a common vocabulary, since most of our life is spent trying to relate (or not) to another? Drilling and testing on the concept of epochs and eras with a classroom of 11 and 12 year olds (many of which are students who are DH/H) is EXACTLY why the train keeps going off the track (usually on fire). Still, maybe, must maybe, next year (or any year), a student will not only hear the words whispered to them, but also see.
Or at even better, understand why the women of Troy are still lamenting…
More important than ever to be the enthusiastic amateur rather than the disgruntled, grumpy, overworked teacher. We can do this. Don’t let your big district and boss lay the growth mindset trip on you; seize the day and each moment as #theonlymoment! Teachers have all they need to be #changeagents, but it first begins with our own vision. Is it clouded by the end of the year? Reset. Reset. Reset. via Jaded
I cannot help but wonder as I teach a biology unit in science at life’s miraculous presence from the microscopic level to our vast universe. I think it is time to infuse Common Core (and its critics) with movement. Let us move from thinking to feeling. It starts with educators! Teach empathy and model kindness. Let us move from reacting to reflecting (the real critical thinking) via Subtle Effortless Action. There is nothing to lose and everything to gain. Kindness matters more now than ever. #guncontrol #safeschools