Tag Archives: hope

Trying to Turn to Wonder

The strange part about social media is that, even when you don’t want to, you find out what people you know (or, in this case, think you know) are thinking.

This week has been difficult, largely because injustice prevailed in the Trayvon Martin case. I have been inundated via the media, as people express feelings of hurt, disappointment, lack of surprise, all of those emotions and more as many of us attempt to get some sort of perspective on this moment when yet another young Black man is killed and justice isn’t served. 

I intentionally decided to limit reading of social media. I didn’t want people telling me how I should feel about the verdict, attempting to justify any laws, making dismissive comments about the values–or lack of values–of Black bodies. I also didn’t want to have to, as a surprising number of friends have been doing, un-friend folks for their comments and perspectives.

Not this week.

However, given that I’m teaching in my summer program, it’s not like I could stay holed up in my apartment during what has been a heatwave and refuse to engage with anyone. So, I began to process the verdict with people I trust, and showed up for school on Monday. 

The kids knew what had happened, but I don’t think they quite knew how to talk about it. Thus, I started with my own feelings, wherein I expressed my sadness, my feelings of hopelessness, my…worry that, as the aunt of two Black boys they might one day experience this. I recalled my student who was killed the first year of my student teaching and how the school essentially kept moving along while the teachers who loved him were left to pick up our own pieces. If anything, I was trying to feel hopeful when I was fearful.

Gotta tell the kids the truth.

They began to speak, and their responses were similar to mine, and different, close and far, but they were their responses, and they were real, and valued, and they mattered. 

Still matter. Will always matter, as far as I’m concerned. 

This is one of those difficult conversations that teachers can have with kids, or choose NOT to have with kids. Race is going to come up–it’s the axis on which everything turns, I’d argue–but these conversations are challenging, scary, and also easy to “convince” students what they should be thinking. I try not to do that, but that, too, is difficult to manage around sensitive topics. I do a better job of it sometimes rather than others.

Another group of student writers read King’s “What is Your Life’s Blueprint?” and had to write about the relationship between that text and another. Many of them chose this article, an apology to Rachel Jeanteal. The letter and Rachel are compelling to them. Like Trayvon, we know Rachel, too. And many of them are grappling with the bigger idea of what to do when your “somebodiness” as King defines it is challenged by forces over which you have no control.

I read this quote somewhere that said when times get tough, turn to wonder, and I’m really, really trying, but I am so very disappointed. 

Trying, though. Ever trying.

Then, it happens: I sit and talk to a young writer about the article, about quotes that stand out to him, about details that matter, and I realize that in those spaces, hope does exist. I do try to turn to wonder with them, and we marvel over the relevance of “Blueprint” to all young people, not just the underserved ones. I do think and believe, too, that they can be change agents in the world, and I say it to them, while swallowing my own worries of racial profiling, presumed guilt, other concerns that threaten to paralyze me if I sit and think about them too much. 

We’re going to see Fruitvale Station. Their decision. I read them a bit of the review from the New York Times and they said we should go. I suspect I’ll be chaperoning a trip once it comes to the city, then spending even more time afterwards trying to help us all figure out what it all means: to be people of color, living in a world where wonder is important, but is, at this moment, so difficult to find.

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Night School (or, crying at my desk)…

It’s a rookie move to sit crying at your desk WHILE THE KIDS ARE WORKING AWAY, isn’t it? I’m supposed to excuse myself to run to the bathroom, or step outside and slump down in a ball of messiness, but…today, it all happened too fast. My students are at work independently doing some standardized testing preparation for next week’s high-stakes affair, and I—diligent multi-tasker that I am—use that time to check my school email.

There’s a reply from a student who’s asked me to write a recommendation for her for a summer program that has a strong social justice component. This student, who is that one amazing kid we are fortunate to teach at least once in a lifetime, knows this proposed program is quite similar to the one she did last year. Might you do something more academic, I ask? You know, build out your resume and learn some new academic stuff. I’ve no doubt you’d be even more amazing in those summer programs.

Her reply is that she knows she should do something more academic, but she pays for everything in school (afterschool activities add up) and…this is the part that got me…maybe she could take a night school class.

Night school? You are 15 years old, can address issues of privilege and power better than most adults, write a dream piece of analysis, have a voice that is poetic and brilliant and memorable…and you know you should do something like go to night school because there’s no way to think about programs otherwise.

Tears. Leaking. I’m looking away from them—or trying to look but I keep looking at the email and it’s blurred because I feel so incredibly helpless at that moment–staring away from the kids who are diligently writing because they take everything so seriously, and I am crying. At 10:30 a.m., after we return from a fire drill and are re-starting after our disruption, I’m catching up on housekeeping, and I’m crying.

Because WHEN, for the love of all we do as educators, do the good kids get to win?! I’ve been thinking about this article from Slate for a few days now.

She’s one of those kids. She’s White, low-income, over-involved in school, but can’t dare to think of an opportunity that’s offered by the local colleges and universities, or others across the country, because she needs the money. I hate it when I am reminded that young people have to deal with grown-up problems. I hate that in this friggin’ school district that spends nearly 30K per child (!) that we can’t give her enough—or her peers who are equally well-deserving and eager and will change the world, I’m quite certain, if we JUST LET THEM—can’t think creatively enough to consider allocating funds for stipends, or making other things free. I hate that they have to make decisions that will mean something, ultimately, and will impact them, unfortunately, and so much of these decisions are predicated on factors they cannot control, cannot change, cannot surmount.

That is, until they do…surmount them, that is. I remind myself that I was one of those kids, smart and poor, who benefitted from reading the Fiske Guide to Colleges, dog-earing some pages about schools I couldn’t necessarily place on a map with any good accuracy, and who said yes when others suggested I leave my hometown, major in English and American Studies, hire me back for summer after summer and not mind while I read my way through the days. Make no mistake. It’s been incredibly hard and I’ve wanted to quit, but I didn’t. But I also didn’t understand—until now, when I am faced with students who are trying to essentially make a way the best they can—that one little decision can change everything, and how precarious the path is that we ask them to traverse, largely unaided and uninformed.

Everything.

Usually, I am overcome by moments of intense emotion—teaching does that to you—before I get myself together and think of what I am able to do with these moments, and I cannot anticipate when or where they will occur. That’s what happened today, as the students worked and as I slowly (but silently—maybe I’m not so much of a rookie after all) fell apart and put myself back together again. I’m reminded that the local college has an extension school that is taught by the best professors and that high school students from here can go free. She’s going to come chat next week, I hope, and we can think about that as an option. I’m sure we’ll consider other options, as well, as we sit down, research, talk, hope, do…

And I won’t cry, but I’ll hope really hard, put my head back down, and get to work to think of how we can make decisions—or pressure those in the power to make the bigger decisions—to envision how to create equity for these brilliant, brilliant children that are going to change the world.

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