will the real me, and the real you, please stand up?!

Chivalry died long ago. But currently in our society, slowly sucking on its last breaths, is authentic honesty. In a culture where people speak in Facebook statuses, smile Instragram pretenses, finish thoughts with @youknowwho, hashtagphrasesthatforevercementgrammaticalerrors, and abbreviate everything because “ain’t nobody got the time for that,” it’s next to impossible to find sincerity and truthfulness.

Luckily in my life, two people come to mind who keep me grounded in authenticity. My friend, colleague, and fellow blogger Heather can be sharp around the edges, but I never doubt how she views me. She is true to herself, and thus one of the most genuinely real people I have the joy of knowing and calling friend. Another is a long time friend Laura. I have known her for many years, and throughout that time, I have always admired (and still do) how she is never fake. She spends most of her time openly and honestly reflecting rather than portraying some alabaster ideal of what’s supposed to be. Being friends with both these women is a refreshing breath of air in a culture polluted with the fumes of false faces.

I want to be that fresh air for others. What does that require?

  • Courage. To be raw and real requires risk. Some people might not like who I am, and others might not like how my authentic self calls them out on their own discrepancies. But despite the responses–or perhaps in spite of them–I need to be me.
  • Cogitation. I was reminded of this through Numbers 13:25-33. When Caleb stood up and called for the Israelites to take over Canaan, the people immediately began spreading hyperbole saying: “[the] land devours its inhabitants,” and “all the people that we saw in it are of great height.” Was it true? Somewhat. But what was truer, deeper, beneath was their own fear and insecurity–which they hid with tainted responses. To be authentic, I must search below what I want to say to break down what I should be saying instead. Only in those gaps between thought and voice can I really find myself…and give of myself honestly. Mindfulness matters.
  • Challenge. There can be no honesty when all is smooth seas. It is in the challenge in communication, the challenge in community, that I discover how honest I can be–both with myself and with others. To come home and live an isolated life requires very little tension and testing of my authenticity. But to dare, to question, to broach, to venture, to misjudge, to mistake, to eat my words, to apologize, to reflect, to see someone beside myself in the reflection of my truest self–that is where the tried and tested, tangled glory of authenticity happens.
  • Congruence. Because we as Americans live dual lives–flesh and blood versus online–it is far too easy to say one thing and do another. But if I am going to be authentically honest, my actions must be congruent with my words. This takes sacrifice. Either I sacrifice my time to be faithful in what I said I was going to do. Or I sacrifice my pride by saying no and establishing boundaries. Either way, I mean what I say and do what I mean.

de49ade704e3c3a556f6218cbeaf33bbWe cannot control the social media explosion overtaking us. We cannot control the dishonesty or inauthentic portrayals surrounding us. But we–you, me– can be just that… you, me.

Real.

Raw.

Refreshing.

towards peace

Dork.

Dork.

1000 silent sobs reverberate within those 4 letters. One word carries with it the sound of home.

In the safe echo of my sister’s pet greeting, I unraveled.

As I reflect, I realize I have been unraveling for a while. I just didn’t bother stopping–or stopping long enough–to pay attention to it. But as I confessed to my sister–the remnant of home–that I was feeling depressed, a moon’s tide was released.

Waves of grief washed over me. I miss my Mom. I miss my Dad. I witness them everywhere. In my dreams, on my commute, in my laughter, in the stories around me.

1374253_10151934452287813_971881631_nAnd yet it intertwines

forever, I perceive, your life and mine.

From time to time, a heart-shaped leaf will turn

yellow and fall–in falling a leaf torn

out of your life again,

the story I must constantly revive.

from “Dead Letters” by Mary Jo Salter

Winds of a hectic schedule pulled me under. I am overwhelmed with the honor and responsibility of being a “light worker” at school. Trying to provide for both students and staff leaves me wonderfully depleted, but depleted nonetheless. Striving to be a force for positive adult culture is a constant shift of mindset.

The current of change tugged at me. I miss tacos. And easy food that someone else prepares and cleans up. This cleanse business has been so good, but it is a new expenditure of energy with which I am not familiar nor comfortable. It is exhausting to be so healthy!

The sand shifted beneath me. I am getting regular chiropractic and massage treatments to heal after the accident. My body just feels worn down and not up to par with healing itself while simultaneously living.

Foamy sea salt stung my eyes. Dave and I have been off, trying to figure out our re-choreographed dance as he settles into a new, demanding role at work. We have sore toes and heavy smiles from not getting the steps right.

Thomas Merton

Thomas Merton

And in the end, I come back to the notion once again of self-care. When was the last time I went to yoga? When was the last time I opened my Bible and read and prayed? When was the last time I paused long enough to be honest and raw with myself?

At the heart of the matter is that I think I carry the weight of the world on my shoulders. Rather than being my own merciless taskmaster ever striving towards the illusive ideal of effective, I need to let go, to surrender, to breath, to error, to say no. In my activist’s frenzy, I have been violent to myself. And this is moon’s pull.

students vs. statistics: why I stay a teacher

On my way to work each day, looming above the newly-built-but-not-yet-operating-train-tracks is a billboard that declares:

Unlimited Data

Of course, it’s some advertisement for a phone company that offers all the access one could ever want to Facebook, Candy Crush, Snapchat, Twitter and Youtube.

And then I walk through the door of my school, which is a representation of any public school in the American education system, and I hear the same message from above, around, and below:

Unlimited Data


Recently, a dear friend at another school told me a colleague counted somewhere around 27 days of assessment for their school year, not counting authentic assessment teachers are doing in their own classroom on behalf of their own students. Twenty. Seven. Days. That is an entire month of a ten month school year gone, eaten by some number-crunching, spirit-crushing, out-of-the-classroom, higher-up-Pac-Man’s insistent demand we know where are our students are at.

Um, dear pawn of the government, I know where my students are at. My students are below proficiency in reading, writing, math, and science–oh, and they probably will be in gym and social studies, since that’s being tested this year. My students come to school hungry, but are filled with sugar in the morning by the Breakfast in Class program. My students, since they are under-performing, are subjected to overwhelming academic minutes in the seat, without electives and sufficient transitions and a healthy lunch for a full eight hours. My students trip over dead bodies killed by rival gangs in their neighborhood. My students support their moms who have been beaten to seizure-status by their dads. My students take care of four younger siblings while their parents work multiple jobs to pay the bills. My students have surgeries to remove the growing toxins in their bodies from the industrial air they breath daily.


This week, the moon’s fullness has stripped my colleagues and I of spirit. Behavior has been out-of-control. Time is dwindling into unknown black holes. Energy has been sapped. Motive has gone AWOL. On Friday, a colleague and I sat in my “comfort corner” and discussed where we’re at, and how much this is influenced by our nation’s state of education. A nation obsessed with unlimited data. And through discussion we came to the conclusion, we are not against data. We want to know where our students are at relative to the target. We want to know what next steps are for each of our students. This, after all, is good-teaching. And by and large, across our school, across our district, across our nation, teachers strive to be good teachers.

But, then it hit me, education really has moved past the point of data. Unlimited data isn’t data anymore. It’s statistics.  And as a nation, we are shackled by statistics. Unlimited data is data that cannot be processed or utilized. It just sits there, glaring at us in our urban schools with frightening statistics; it is the oppressive gaze.

But, as a teacher, statistics don’t help me. Statistics don’t help my students either.


It is enough to quit. The pressure comes from above (nation, district); from below (statistics, systematic oppression of our students by society); and from the side (unsupportive school systems, weak collaboration). Voices across the nation are echoing the same sentiment. M. Shannon Hernandez nearly begs for systematic change to focus not on statistics, but on students. Elizabeth A. Natale advocates for systematic change to restore the spirit and art of teaching. Sarah Blaine calls for systematic change to honor the challenging profession of teaching. I also have written about my frustrations before.


In my aforementioned conversation with a dear friend, the topic shifted to: how do we stay? In this climate of systematic statistic subjugation, how do we persevere? I was in such a bad place, my question might have even been, why do we stay?

Our students will not get the education they need–they deserve–if not for people like us.

And there it is, the call of my heart. My students. The stories of my students. The souls of my students. The spirits of my students. My students who share the most profound insights as we read literature. My students who leave small gifts on my desk. My students who cry on my shoulders, but then find the strength to wipe their tears and keep showing up. My students who smile so deeply because they’ve finally written something of which they’re proud. My students who read more books in a year than they have in their whole school career. My students who are so resilient, and who overcome, and who shine, and who go on to have functioning families and successful scholarships and courageous college contacts and justified jobs and triumphant testimonials.

And so, like my students, I will persevere and overcome. I will teach, because they need me. And I need them.

a change of momentum

15360bb2666c9872e6ac4ad13bbce3b7On a recent trip to some schools in California, one statement spoken stuck with me: “sometimes you need to change the momentum.” Of course, this referred to the most effective approaches to student discipline.

But it also referred to me. I need a change of momentum. My life is consumed by sugar, overeating, and laziness. Since my Mom died, I’ve let myself go, to use the old adage. I cannot find the motivation perseverance and persistence to maintain a healthy diet, or sadly, even work out these days.

Meanwhile, in other news, but also related, I am plagued by unhealthy symptoms: headaches, fatigue, sinusitis, anxiety, allergies, dry skin, blah, blah. And I’m beginning to believe the messages I’ve read across the internet and in books: Sugar as Poison, Give up SugarConscious Cleanse, Food Rules, A Year of No Sugar, Anti-Cancer. Ironically, sadly, I have almost been in-taking as much information as I have sugar.

But for me, the problem is not a lack of information, a lack of conviction; it is the courage to act on what I’m learning. To truly give myself the habit and discipline and honor of self-care–at the deepest level, the level where rewards are not immediate. And for this, I need a change of momentum.

Enter the big, scary word “cleanse.” I have always secretly–or not so secretly–looked down on people who did that kind of crazy stuff, thinking it was a whole lot of unhealthiness wrapped up in the guise of health. But I’m there. I need a different path, a place to begin, and where better than someone else telling me what to do? And so I am turning to the expert, a naturopathic doctor recommended by a friend. I like this cleanse because it’s not a crazy lemon-cayenne-ingestion-fest. It is a gradual release of ingredients through a 3 week period, into a short liquid phase. (We’ll see if that happens!)

It is the change of momentum that I need. And so far, I’m loving the vivacious fruits and veggies overtaking my refrigerator and life.

stir fry veggies

stir fry veggies

stocked fridge

stocked fridge

today's breakfast

today’s breakfast

today's lunch

today’s lunch

sacred circles of care

As in all circles, what once was blurs into what is now. I have written before about the need to have an authentic adult culture of productive conversations and positive problem-solving in a school community. I have learned this weekend the importance of that by holding council among friends.

bridges

bridges

In an effort to bring back gems for our school to build a stronger and richer restorative culture, Charla, Allison, Erin and I have now traveled twice together to dive deeper into Restorative Approach/ Justice/ Practice currently implemented in California. We have taken council training. We have visited Oakland and San Francisco district representatives; we have spoken with community activists; we have met with RA pioneers. And all that meant so very much.

But the true gold has lied before, between, and after those meetings. The time in which we have woven our heart strings and brain bows together in a circular web of commitment and reflection and healing.

In our circle council of friendship and in our sacred space of light work, we have sat among probing questions and uncomfortable revelations and intensive insights into who we are, who we aren’t, and what gets in our way. We have been courageous in pointing out the fallacies and weaknesses in our selves, but also in each other as individuals and as collective representatives of larger systems. We have sat at the edge of the bay and collaboratively written a poem exploring imprisonment and freedom. We have held circle around wine and bread with inquiries written by us, for us—but ultimately for the larger Purpose which we endeavor to serve.

Our circle was sealed last night by a round of compliments of admiration for each of the others. The last time I sat in a place where joy and gratitude and blessing reigned was far too long ago. My teaching soul needed it. My human soul needed it. Like the parched sojourner I am across the vast desert of education, I felt satisfied and reinvigorated to journey on in our work as peace-makers.

In the end, I come back to the idea of self-care. An empty cup cannot but poor mere air into another cup, no matter the illusive noises staged to hide the lack of provision. I do not want to be an educator who gives from a place of deprivation—but from a place of abundance. To my students. To my colleagues. To my friends. To my family. To the endless circles of intersecting communities infinitely rippling in and out around me.

And to honor and cultivate that place of abundance, I must tend to the Circle that is alone within me.

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