I am beginning to think differently about the more than two decades I taught in an inner city school. Well, not exactly differently but instead from a new perspective. About the work. The day to day. The experiences I shared. The realities I witnessed. Time and distance have made this possible.
It has been firmly established how I feel about the important work I got to do.
To fully honour it, I need to stand from a distance and look back. In the last weeks before I left last spring, I said this: If it is different somewhere else, I need to write about it. Not the different. That is another story. I need to find words to honour the challenges of the work I did. The work that is still being done. The difficulties we all experienced: those of us who worked there and most importantly, the children. The children whose lives are being lived out daily in those school settings.
Telling sad stories, that would be easy. I can lay those out one by one by one. Those aren’t the stories that need to be shared. That pulls all attention to the children and not enough to the systems. When you witness the trauma and drama year after year after year, it isn’t commonplace or meaningless. You don’t become numb. But you know it too well. It is in your system. It’s impossible to stand aside.
Now, I am standing aside.
And this I know, as I suspected it would be: now, what I do, it’s easier.
For me and on me, yes. For the children and about the children I now teach? Yes again.
In deep inner city schools, easier is not a word we ever used.
I need to find ways to talk about the trauma. To shine light on the resilience. To speak about the wonder of kids in ridiculous circumstances and the failure of our wrap around systems that don’t wrap around much.
I need to look beyond even further. I am now in a place where I am not so emotionally entwined. I spoke about advocacy then. I need to speak about it differently now.
I want to write about what could and should be in our inner city schools. I want to examine what is missing and what, I think, is just really wrong. I don’t think I have an answer somebody else has overlooked. But looking is worth it. Sometimes it is the same answer held up in many different hands that eventually makes the difference.
I am not there yet. I know what I can’t quite articulate. I need more time to think.
But then, I will hold it up.
I am participating in the Slice of Life challenge to write and publish a post every day in March.
Slice of Life is hosted by Two Writing Teachers. I thank them for the community they provide. Read more slices here.
It isn’t only time and distance that make your reflections possible. I suspect it is also endings. Once an ending happens, borders exist. You now have a whole to examine–and you do.
There are so many times when I just think of how truly unfair the inequalities between schools and the lives our children live really are. I teach now in a very affluent suburban school district; I know most of my kids are lucky to be where they are in life (and some of them know it, too). You’re so right, though, it’s a systemic issue. Like you, I don’t have the words to begin describing it or fixing it–but I wish it were possible.
Very emotional piece of writing. You’ve taken all of your inner thinking, turmoil and passion and turned it into a call to acton of self. Big things are sure to come of it. This line stood out – “To fully honour it, I need to stand from a distance and look back.” All my best as you continue to think through how you can best advocate.
Think it thought. Write it through. You will find the right words and strength to make a difference even when you are not in your old school, maybe especially when you are not in the middle of it.
You will make a difference- your experience, compassion and understanding will gel together and you may find the key to helping those systems work for all students.
“Sometimes it is the same answer held up in many different hands that eventually makes the difference.” — Yes, this. Even in my personal life, i have found that I have to hear the same thing over and over and then sometimes from a different place before it finally clicks.
Thanks so much for sharing this.
There is probably a book there. Maybe a book that would help someone.
Hope you get to that time and place to write.
If anyone can do it — it is you. it is a story that needs to be told –if it is in your heart you should tell it. You are an incredibly gifted writer and teacher — you will bring it to life. You don’t need the answer you need to get all of us to ask the questions… inquiry creates action and engagement. Use your blog to keep writing – it will come.
Wow! It’s so powerful when we get a calling to write about something in a big way. It’s exciting and daunting all at the same time. I hope you are able to find a place for this journey. It sounds like an incredible challenge and a tool for others to use to do good.
Agreed. You can do this hard work. I’ll be waiting for you to lift it up and share in the promise of changing the systems.
An ending is now a beginning. Like a stream, you are working your way towards the ocean, picking up bits and pieces, searching for the right path, gathering strength. You can, you will do this.
Carrie you are such a caring and dedicated teacher. You are making a difference in those lives that you touch.
This is really powerful! The first time I taught a tough class where I witnesses violence in school all the time I left feeling like you described: traumatized. It took me a while to move past it. Lucky I had the help of some really awesome kids!
It is interesting. With distance there is clarity. I want to know your thoughts. When we are in it, it is overwhelming. We need the clarity you are finding in the differences and the differences.
…distance and difference!
There’s a book for THIS! That you need to write! Pretty please? And yes to everything you say here. The work I do now is infinitely easier than the work I used to do. I don’t carry it with me in the same way. It frees up space for thinking and doing other things. For a long time, it was hard not to place value judgments. The work I used to do was meaningful; the work I do now, not as meaningful. But now I try to accept them as what they are: it’s all good work, it’s different.
This slice makes me feel the depth of your caring and the want you have to make a change and make a difference.
I, like others above, believe you have a book to write. You share as much as possible these past years, but digging deeply as you now reflect must mean more, and it is different from today. Glad you are stepping into a new place, Carrie, but not losing that fervor for the kids you had before.
Have you read Help for Billy? We are becoming a trauma informed school
It’s about the lessons we learn in those challenges. Tell your stories. They will benefit many.
“I am not there yet. I know what I can’t quite articulate. I need more time to think.” These words resonated because while you may not be at that place yet, there’s so much power in that one word. That time to think will lead to the words that you’re looking to articulate.
I almost lost some long-time friends last month when I got tired at hearing “we need to fix the public schools” and asked them, who all and their children attended private schools, what this looked like. I teach at a Title I school, and it is impossible to explain its reality. I yearn to find the people with the power to fix it and the courage to embrace that responsibility.
Those who seek simple answers to complex issues have obviously never worked in situations like this. Schools are but one leg of an unsteady chair for so many kiddos. No matter how strong and steady, it is difficult to maintain a balance and support. Thanks for this post. Timely.