It’s been a long time since I’ve written about my experiences in education, and the emotional weight of trying to access the feelings of this year kept me from making the effort. But for the Lunch Ticket blog, I wrote about what the pandemic has been like for teachers and students in Texas. It was difficult to reflect on a moment when it feels like education is low on the priority list, but I feel some small relief in sharing it with others who have related. Hopefully our elected officials will start making calls that work against this crisis, and for the sake of each other. You can read it here.
In October of last year, reading 100 books in 2019 seemed possible if I really pushed myself. Over the years, my annual reading has steadily increased by about ten books, and last year I planned to read eighty. After surpassing this and hitting triple digits, regret—instead of accomplishment—settled in.
The privilege to read for leisure is not lost on me, but something about indulging a personal scorecard felt especially off. The last two months of the year felt like reading to win a marathon rather than reading to learn or enjoy. I skipped my reading journal and seemingly picked books at random. Writing and reflecting became secondary to the act of digesting pages.
In the fall semester of 2015, I started a Master’s program in school counseling. Three months later, I hated it. I felt I was pursuing this path because it seemed like the logical next step in my career. My life has never followed a “logical next step” trajectory, and it felt dishonest to who I am as a person. I don’t say that to discount the wonderful work of counselors, just that it isn’t for me. I couldn’t see myself as a counselor ten years out, and that’s not a good start to a two-year program.
Three months is not long to decide to quit graduate school. You can imagine my embarrassment when family and friends asked how my first semester went, and only months after telling them I was going back to school, I was telling them I wouldn’t be returning for a second semester. When I cited that “my heart wasn’t in it,” I could see older adults give me that generational side-eye reserved for millennials perpetually “figuring it out.”
When I tell people I teach in Oak Cliff, I am frequently met with the same response. “You’re so brave,” they say. Occasionally they will add some variation of, “It must be so tough to teach those kids.”
It is an infuriating response. These are children whom I love, and this person who has never met them or heard a single story about them already assumes they are tough to teach, difficult to reach, and easy to label. And—amidst these kids’ impossibility—I am a brave soul for choosing to teach them.
Growing up, I remember when my friends would tell me that they got paid $10 per A on their report cards. Some of their parents paid them on a scale, and even doled out $5 per B. Some of my friends were stacking up $80 every grading cycle, and I envied them for it. They were getting rewarded for something my parents expected of me.
I used to believe a lie.
Even though I am ultra-cool now to everyone who knows me (I can hear some of you snickering), I used to be uncool. Rather, I used to be ashamed of being uncool.
In the 6th grade, I was bullied for being the scrawny nerd who believed he could play in the NBA one day and had an unusual affinity for rap music (specifically Nelly’s Nellyville). Most days I was called the names children still pass around like candy that’s been poisoned. Most days my mom took me out for lunch to let me breathe for 30 minutes. Most days I was ready to call it quits on school because of the pain that came with it.
Tomorrow my students will take their first round of STAAR testing in Writing, a subject I teach twice a day. The test is scored by their responses to 40 multiple-choice revising and editing questions along with 2 essays—one narrative and one expository.
Although the Writing test is one of three they must pass in the 7th grade (along with Reading and Math), it was important to me to communicate to my students that it doesn’t mean that much to me.