Freshman Year Wrap up Pt. 2
Written June 16, 2013
If you guys could see behind this screen into my life you would probably be surprised, excited, underwhelmed, inspired, and maybe even a little concerned with the craziness and boringness that encompasses me. Let me be the one to tell you that I’m a f*cking mess! I mean literally behind the screen are probably 64 drafted posts… when there’s been 72ish published posts total (and that’s just the blog). Sometimes I’m shocked that I’ve pulled all of what seem to be random and spontaneous thoughts together for 28 years to actually get to where(ever) I am today. Luckily, I’ve been able to realize one thing, that by challenging myself – doing more, doing better, being nicer-ish, growing wiser, etc… I would end up somewhere along in the “successful” area of the field.
When I first started the New York City Teaching Fellows (NYCTF) I visualized my teaching career culminating in Ghandi-esque fashion, someone to make my mentors, Elders Malcolm, Martin, and Frederick, proud. Over the year, I tried really really hard to “be” a good teacher to my students, my co-teachers, and sometimes I would get around to me. For a 1st year teacher, for a long period of time, I think I did quite well. Eventually, and actually, thankfully, my bubble was burst in May when I got written up. But that’s a different story for a different time (an example of why I’ve been too mentally constipated to write).
To tie up that 4-month old loose end I’ll share the most important take away from that situation. A quote my principal said, which at the time, I didn’t agree with for obvious reason, but in hindsight has helped me reframe how I view…everything in life. We sat down on multiple occasions to discuss what happened, and it was there that I received the nugget “Paladin, you’re a professional, you’re not a student!”
There’s been a lot of stuff going on, some related, some not that needed time to get worked out in my brain. The mental gridlock felt physically painful the last few weeks of school when all I needed was a break from everybody to flush out my mind! Looking back, I think a lot of people were wondering what would be the most difficult thing being a teacher in NYC of all places. NY folks, I know this is like standard living for y’all. But, in the Midwest, NYC might as well be Saturn, glamorous rings and all. In our [Midwestern] heads it’s a fantastical place where unicorns run the streets, along with rampant pick-pockety/drug-lordy crime in broad daylight-especially in Times Square, and everything you thought never existed, exists. Now, to be clear, everything you thought never existed does exist here, but Times Square is not the kick it spot, period! And I actually feel a lot safer here than if I were to return to Chicago, now affectionately referred to as Chi-Raq, by the locals.
I couldn’t have named what the most difficult thing was about teaching had you asked me 4 months ago (February). The days are long…as hell, yes! I would be misleading if I didn’t describe them as such. But, breaks are common enough, and I can already tell that next year will be a completely different beast than this first. Towards the end of the year people kept asking me… “So… how was your first year?” And I couldn’t even begin to answer them, I still had so much shit to do literally up until the last day that I couldn’t take the mental break just yet. [I finished my Special Education attendance records mmmm…. maybe 15 minutes before the last event on the last day of the school year – I was so over life at this point you couldn’t even imagine.]
Now, I can finally answer them, unfortunately its the worst answer I can give. But the truth shall set us all, and hopefully millions of others free. This year was probably the most difficult, and monumental year of my life. I came into a field, that I thought I loved, and that I thought I had natural abilities in. I can confirm, the love is there, and yes, I do think I have certain “reflexes” that help me teach in a way that other’s may not naturally benefit from. But I never would have thought that my understanding of institutional (key) racism, prejudice, injustice, inequality, etc… would have developed so vastly and so quickly. We can all identify features of the “mascot” that has been paraded around as the Black man on this planet. Take a few seconds to think…
Everywhere you turn, you may see a different variation, but ultimately all of these “mascots” are presumed dangerous, untrustworthy, poor, uneducated, violent, prone to violence, addicted to drugs, seller of drugs, unfatherly, bastardized, sex fiend, public menace, uncharacteristically filled with vengeful strength, sinister, ungrateful, fill in the blank… What’s more, this mascot isn’t allowed to be the mythical creature that is truly is (see unicorn reference). It is thought to be personified in the millions of black men and boys walking this Earth today, right now, in your classrooms, in your apartment buildings, and on the street. Digging the dagger even deeper are the billions of people on this Earth that don’t even have to choose to believe it, for their actions speak and perpetuate these myths without them even caring, or hopefully knowing.
Now, I’m 28 years old… I’ve grown up in this country, so the negative story-line of the black male, female, and family is a familiar theme that I’ve seen many times before. However, what’s been troubling is my evolving understanding of why that negative stigma exists, and how it plays into sustaining the problems faced by minority communities in this country. As a matter of fact, I’m MOST frustrated at realizing that there simply aren’t enough viable solutions being presented to and by the public everyday. At the very least you would think an “Urban” teacher education program would present it’s students with diverse or at least neutral source materials to frame their own perspectives of the plight we face in our classrooms everyday. But, quite frankly every source I’ve run across supplied by the program has perpetuated the myth of the helpless and borderline savage minority man-child we teach everyday.
What’s been more difficult is realizing how I fit into this machine. What role I have been brought up to play, and what role I’m playING right now. I mean… understanding the *enemy* is one thing, but realizing that you’re playing into it’s game is something I’m not going to allow to happen. Once the shroud of ignorance is lost the onus is on me [you] to educate, understand, and move to counter what is happening within my [your] grasp!
What’s humbling, scary, maddening…, and a bunch of other things is the feeling that I’m describing what is more than likely the spark plug, to the Aircraft carrier that really is this country and its institutions that have been in place to hold marginalized communities down. One thing I believe I have to lose as I become deeper knowledged and entrenched in this field is the idealistic naiveté that I held on to for far longer than most people. Exposure to a world broader than my Midwestern nest-egg has surely started to change my understanding of my place and purpose in this world.
My questions to you:
What role(s) do you play in perpetuating this machine? And rest assured we ALL play a role.
Ignorance is truly bliss, most people don’t realize that there is a machine, let alone that they play a role in its smooth operation.
We can turn a blind eye to the challenges that we all face in righting the wrongs that marginalized communities face. Or we can be purposeful champions of identifying and spreading the ways to make our communities and this country a whole lot better! You have to decide which side you’re on become an ACTIVE participant.
Simply being, and being led for that matter, is not being purposeful and is not being an active participant.
Catch Pt. 3 tomorrow morning!