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I’m Lost: On Privilege, Identity and Teaching

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Continually with this world, I am at a loss. I think that’s an important quality that I can carry into the classroom because I think this temper of loss manifests itself in many ways. I am a person filled with both wonder and bewilderment. One I see as a stand of capacity and opportunity. The other I take as a feeling of confusion and a posture of exasperation.

In this day and age, people are always two things at once. At least two. And in this moment, in these trying days for my underserved community and at-risk students, I am white. And I am male. I am cognizant these distinctions help me access the world in ways others cannot. But I am also gentle and a poet. So I am vulnerable and sensitive. These help me access the world and those around me in ways that see through, or beyond, or into.

From eight years of teaching in northern New Mexico, I have a pretty strong idea of what my whiteness and maleness represents to my students: I am powerful, authoritarian, wealthy, worldly, and decidedly other. I was conscious of these facts from day one and I continue to grapple with them as to how I can better serve these young people.

Trust is a key to working together. And in light of those five descriptors associated with my skin-deep identity, I have had to work earnestly and tirelessly to earn that trust from my students and the larger Taos community. I have struggled to do so at times, as in when I have believed myself actions to come from the courage and vulnerability associated with being a teacher in the twenty-first century only to be stopped in my tracks by distrust or my ignorance.

My students, when they are most lost and struggling for their own answers, revert to seeing the world in that we/other binary that separates us. Of course, neither of us are conscious of this in the moment of our conflict or misunderstanding, but the mention of how I am treating them because of their brownness or my perceived authority always amps our emotional responses as we try to work through a challenge.

I also know that my students only do this when they are on the defensive. And after years of moving first with compassion or humor or understanding, I have established the level of trust that allows us to cut to the bone more quickly and efficiently. This way we can more effectively tackle the education system that so often marginalizes these young people with such heartbreaking efficiency. I am blessed to have this sort of working relationship with my students.

But as their life circumstances conspire against them (homelessness, divorce, illness or loss, addiction or depression, teen pregnancy or abandonment, and often a cruel cocktail of many factors), their perception of the world devolves into the simplest, but deepest, separation of us. Overtly or not, they’ll deflect the support into an attack because of their skin color because they don’t want to be accountable…to me. After the initial shock and spike, we’re able to find the common ground that supports us in our shared goal: the sparkling, if not beleaguered graduate.

I am lucky enough to have the patience to weather that storm of misunderstanding and see through that student’s shield. After all they are mostly protecting the wounds from past injustices. Whether they were inflicted against my students and whether or not they were carried out by me, those wounds are legitimate and often generational. This is a critical understanding I must carry into every workday in that my job is one of participating within and repairing a world that I had no part in creating. It is a razor-thin double-edge.

But also, I am also operating within a classroom, where safety and positivity and the belief in opportunity are fundamental to our work. I am not working a beat or street corner. I am lucky in that I have not had to push something illicit to make a living, and that I am not sworn to protect those streets. On both sides of that coin we find Michael Brown and Darren Wilson, two young men who found themselves in an extraordinary, but an increasingly common, moment where souls intersect and collide for all our world to see.

And here is where I am at a loss. As a teacher, how do I contribute to a world where this generation operates beyond the fear and explosiveness that define the deeper associations to the names Travyon and Zimmerman? Tamir. Fruitvale. Garner. I am talking about associations beyond the umbrella term of racism. I am talking about: Why was George Zimmerman so afraid that he was compelled to follow a young black boy through his neighborhood? Why do police officers solve their disputes with firearms in communities where the police and people are of different colors? I am not ready to assert the answers to the questions are solely based upon racism. But then, a counterpoint: How are fears racist?

How can I tackle these issues of identity and association head on? Our communities of color, my school, need answers. My students do not live in a world like Ferguson, but Ferguson reinforces what my insular community understands of how the world works. And I do not want my students fearful of entering a world that sees them as only Indian or simply Brown. I want them to emerge from high school ready to live anywhere and do anything. I want them to live their dreams. And now I wonder how naïve that is.

The access that I have to the world beyond where I grew up is an opportunity that everyone has, but it is a privilege that I can take advantage of that opportunity and enjoy living anywhere, even as a minority. I have been aware of this as I work as a teacher in my community. But never has it been so painful and obvious. I want to create a different world with my students because I am beyond expecting this one to change for them. We have to play the long game and trust each generation will be subsequently less and less lost.

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The Ferguson Masterpost: How To Argue Eloquently & Back Yourself Up With Facts

teachpoet:

This is a deeply important post about Ferguson. We all need a reality check as we post, rant and connect this issue to the larger world. It is imperative that you read this. It doesn’t mean you need to argue: this may mean you never engaged in an argument.

Originally posted on [smut & sensibility]:

Introduction From The Curator

The only kind of bombs I fully support are truth-bombs, and that’s why I’ve come together with a group of POC and select White allies to write this post. We feel it’s critical to have conversations about social justice loudly, noticeably, personally as well as systemically, and eloquently*—in this case, specifically around Ferguson, #stoptheparade, #BlackLivesMatter, #IndictAmerica, and all the myriad things happening right now around police brutality and the devaluing of Black lives. We need to connect our struggles and see where they intersect, while not pretending that we all face the same issues (today I’m lookin’ at you, non-Black POC). To do this, we need tools, scripts, data—means of having and supporting these conversations, as well as our communities.

That’s why we’re here.

We want to give you tools to support that work and that dialogue. If you’re facing tough questions from friends…

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A veteran teacher turned coach shadows 2 students for 2 days – a sobering lesson learned

teachpoet:

Critical understanding for those who think their teaching is ‘good enough’ or their students are not!

Originally posted on Granted, and...:

The following account comes from a veteran HS teacher who just became a Coach in her building. Because her experience is so vivid and sobering I have kept her identity anonymous. But nothing she describes is any different than my own experience in sitting in HS classes for long periods of time. And this report of course accords fully with the results of our student surveys. 

I have made a terrible mistake.

I waited fourteen years to do something that I should have done my first year of teaching: shadow a student for a day. It was so eye-opening that I wish I could go back to every class of students I ever had right now and change a minimum of ten things – the layout, the lesson plan, the checks for understanding. Most of it!

This is the first year I am working in a school but not teaching…

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Memorial

I have been sitting on this poem for a long time. Over the summer, two students passed away in separate automobile related accidents in New Mexico. Both were graduates of the class of 2012. Both had hearts of gold. I composed this poem during a summer poem-a-day workshop the week of the first students’ passing. I was clumsy in my writing during that week because of her passing.

The day of her passing, before I knew of it, I was in the library watching an elderly woman reading the newspaper. I composed a piece about reading the obituary column and finding the light of life in strangers. It was a beautiful moment. It was a dark moment.

Later, I tried to write her a love poem, but decided, in revising, that a stronger voice was writing to the love of my life. And so the writing carried the student in, but the poem left her behind.

Then the newspaper came out with a brief note about her death. The gory details and little else. It felt so impersonal and frighteningly vague. So I decided to write a better story. For a better news. For her.

It was intensely emotional reading it to my fellow poets. It wasn’t emotional until it was loud. Until it was spoken. Our living is this way. The important moments are loud: the crying baby, the applause of graduating, the celebration of marriage. It is why people remember eulogies and not obituaries.

This was also the poem that spurned a new project that may or may not have legs. I have been experimenting with a way of using voice to play with meaning and audience. This was the first work that incorporated the second person voice to interplay with the she in the news. The poem from a few weeks ago is a strong example of where that ‘voice’ has taken me. You. You should call your mother!

As well, this poem was a chance to play with the page and recreate the newspaper aesthetic, as if the weekly columned print could be a creative expression. And as a footnote to the creative word, I included a mashup screenshot of the news article that detailed the poor woman’s death. Bleeding profusely. If you had never met her, the story begins and ends there. I didn’t want that to be the case.

This poem has complicated syntax and does not fit well into a conservative view of space and time. In these moments, my grieving was greatly complicated and perhaps transcendent in some way. It gave me the chance to reimagine this shining of light of a student/young woman. To give her passing a new voice and grace. If all you have is the news clipping, then all you have is the red against the pavement. The pooling blood.

Well, in remembering, red cannot heart a ceremony beadwork soul.

Thank you, MS. I miss you.

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National Poetry Day: Love & Skee Ball

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It’s national poetry day, so I guess I should post something. A large part of me wants to soapbox about education, but I couldn’t pass the opportunity to share this little guy on my blog. That’s nephew, Finn, who shares a birthday with Gandhi (today). He’s poised to earn enough tickets for a plush toy or whatever his heart desires.

And the best poem I know was announced on Facebook yesterday: my Lovely Love and I plan to wed next year. She posted something on her blog about us, and I said I would do the same. Here goes. A poem about wedding planning.

Here’s nothing, Universe.

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