Posts Tagged ‘equity’

Sunday Sitdown #15: Sugarland, and Regrets

May 23, 2021

Each Sunday, I’m working my way through my experiences with race. I’ll share stories and memories from throughout my life. I know I’ll encounter moments of growth that I wish I could relive. I’ll also have to think back on choices that I wish I could remake. Come join me each week.


My first teaching job. Sugarland Elementary, Sterling Virginia.

I got the job maybe a couple of weeks before the start of the school year, when the district opened up a new classroom. There was nothing in my classroom. No paper. No paper clips. No chalk. No erasers. No nothing. Luckily my newfound colleagues helped me scrabble together enough to start the school year with my loveys.

Sugarland School served a working-class neighborhood which, in turn, was home to a large population of students of color.

There’s a lot that my liberal education, my lived experiences with folks who were different from me, and my coursework in multicultural studies prepared me for. I knew to value and celebrate our differences, to provide books, resources and activities that reflect a multitude of faces and life stories. I knew that I needed to expect big things out of ALL my students no matter what.

But there are things that I didn’t know, things that I wish I recognized. Maybe it was the oblivion of youth that clouded my vision. Maybe I wasn’t as evolved in my understandings as I am now. Had I had today’s wisdom, I would have done better with the kid who made himself dinner each night because his dad worked four jobs to support him. I would have found better ways to support the child who missed kindergarten in his native El Salvador. I would have made the classroom safer for the kid who drew pictures of himself dying so that he could come back as an American. And somehow, all of these kids managed to turn out OK despite the mistakes I made.

But when I think of the damage that schools do to children of color, particularly Black girls, I cannot help but think of Essence.

Essence, whose mom struggled with addiction.
Essence, whose grandma raised her.
Essence, who came each day brimming with the turbulence of life.
Essence, with whom I engaged in regular power struggles.
Essence, who ended her academic year with me labeled.
Essence, who lost her own difficult struggle in 2016.

And in my young teacher’s mind, I was holding her to high expectations. I was treating her with love and compassion. I was doing for her what I hoped to do for all my students: inspire them to be the best versions of themselves.

But oh. In my moments of clarity and honesty, I know that I did damage. I did not provide this child with the room and space to feel truly safe. I did not support her and her family in a way that was culturally responsive, and I didn’t take into account her immense lived trauma.

I’m not looking to have folks respond with, “but you’re a great teacher! you HAVE made a difference.”

I would say an awkward “thank you” in response. Yes, I will acknowledge my deep connection with many kids. But the purpose of this post – the purpose of this series – is to recount my experiences with race, and to claim those moments and choices I wish I could take back. My time with Essence is one of them.

And Essence, had I been your teacher now, I can only hope that I’ve developed enough wisdom and perspective to give you the support, the validation and the true compassion you so deeply deserved.

Poetry Month Day 10: The Work is Great

April 10, 2021

Today, I had the privilege of working again with other leaders from my Just Schools Cohort. Together, we’re working across districts to advance equity and justice in schools. This team of professionals…they’re amazing. And even on days where I feel discouraged about my own work, and my own progress, they are there to remind me that building a more just society is HARD. That we have a LOT of work to do. But that we can – and MUST – do it together. They inspire me.

It brings to mind a line from Pirkei Avot, a collection of Jewish teachings. Rabbi Tarfon said: “You are not obligated to complete the work, but neither are you free to desist from it.” This Golden Shovel poem is my tribute to the incredible efforts of my colleagues.

Cathedral Rocks by Albert Bierstadt

When you stand at the base of a mountain, you
can’t ever see the top. Your feet are
just plunking down one after the other, not
knowing when-how-if they’ll arrive. They just know they’re obligated
by faith to
get you to a place where the work is complete
and whole and holy. The
temptation to be solitary in your work
is great, but
you know this journey is neither
easy nor short. So you are
going to need others with you,
others who know the only way to be free
is to
be strong, be strong, that our strength never allows us to desist
from the lifedream of reaching that mountain top, or from
the struggle of climbing it.