It has, undoubtedly, been a minute since I’ve posted a blog. Since the presidential election last year, there has been much going on in our world that has given me pause – pause to the point of not being able to compose blogs that aren’t blatant attacks on people and systems that perpetuate ignorance and hate. The emotional energy it takes to navigate how policies impact the 2,800-ish students on the campus where I am a new assistant principal, quite frankly, leaves me exhausted most days. The bits of time I can steal outside of work are spent hugging friends and family who are also navigating how these same policies are impacting the quality of their lives.
Teachers are adept at helping students find hope and learn amidst a sea of change; for those precious moments within the four walls of a classroom, the chaos subsides and the humans within those walls have a safe space to dream, play, plan, and explore. As an administrator, I spend the bulk of my time trying to figure out how to make my entire campus this same kind of safe space. Some days I feel successful and others not so much. When I need inspiration and my own safe space, I disappear into classrooms and just hang out. And, within moments, everything is put back into perspective and all is right in the world.
For example, just this month while hanging out in a classroom, I saw a student (I’ll call him Izzy for anonymity) struggle with a journaling assignment; the assignment involved stream of consciousness writing and the student said he couldn’t write anything because his brain was, “just too full of a lot of different thoughts and feelings.” The teacher (Mr. B) reassured him that, with this kind of writing, all he had to do was just move the pencil and write any words that immediately came to his brain – even if they didn’t make sense. Mr. B reminded Izzy that there was no grading criteria and/or word count and to “just write without thinking too much.” After Mr. B walked away, Izzy stared at the blank paper for another 10 minutes, put his head down, crumpled up the paper, got out a new paper, and wrote two words before the bell rang and he left without saying anything.
Two weeks later, I visited Mr. B and he told me that Izzy’s two words were: “Life sucks.” Mr. B could have written Izzy off as a slacker-9th grade kiddo who just didn’t want to do the work – but he didn’t. When I chuckled and asked how he talked to Izzy about it, Mr. B told me that he didn’t talk to him. Instead, during the next few Monday journaling times, he put the same paper back in front of Izzy and said nothing. He told me that Izzy looked at the paper each time and wrote a few more words. Mr B showed me the current version of the paper and, since my first visit, “life sucks” has turned into, “life sucks because everyone hates me and I hate myself and I miss my mom and my dad is a loser who won’t take me to see the flowers we put on the fence outside of the house where she died in a crash this summer.”
Mr. B says that, next week, he plans to talk to Izzy about how proud he is of his ability to pull words out of is head – no matter how painful. He also plans to find ways to tweak the writing prompts for a few other assignments to help students focus on things that are within their locus of control because, through his weekly journaling activity, he’s seen that many other students have similar struggles. Until that moment, I didn’t realize how much I needed that same accommodation. As an education professional that has a platform to use her voice, I’ve been stuck in a swirling fog of things beyond my locus of control. I know, right? This from the chick who aggressively touts the #teacherarmy badge on everything she does…
I believe in the power of education. I have seen it’s ability to bring positive change into the world and I am a product of the public education system that I have the honor to now work in. Every day, I see hope and love rise to the top of the many swirling fogs, and I see how crucial teachers are in making this happen. But we’re quickly running out of teachers due to so many factors beyond my immediate control…
This month, Mr. B and Izzy taught me to just write. And to keep writing. And to write again even when the words hurt and just don’t want to come out. The result? This blog post. I feel relieved and inspired to have my blogger-mojo back. I realize that this is a super raw post, but it honors Izzy and everything education stands for – and I’m proud of that.
Stay tuned for my next blog. #teacherarmy cometh.