Wednesday, June 10, 2020

Square Peg, Round Hole: Is My Form of Allyship Enough or Too "Neutral?"

Like many people lately, I have been doing the work of examining and re-examining my position and roles within the society to which I belong, unwilling to be a passive observer of the pain of others, unwilling to look away, and certainly unwilling to claim that the realities of inequality are in any way overblown or "fake news." Continuing to social-distance, I've watched protests and rallies on the television and followed the tweet-reporting of news outlets and citizen journalists, focusing in on hashtags close to home from the places where I shop, eat, socialize, and work. I've read articles and posts such as "75 Things White People Can Do for Racial Justice" by Corinne Shutack, grateful to discover links to additional news outlets such as Blavity and The Root to help broaden my perspective. Not much of this process has been terribly pretty, and despite whatever expression I'm wearing in photos or videos that I've shared or tone I've expressed on social media over the past two weeks, I've been a blotchy, red-nosed and swollen-eyed crier.  My heart hurts, and there is a large part of me that is very glad that it does.

During an education-related Twitter chat I shared and attended yesterday, I responded to several prompts and content provided by the moderators related to societal racism and teachers' roles in helping to dismantle it by being allies and actively identifying themselves as "anti-racists." Participants shared resources, experiences, ideas, and responded to and asked a lot of tough questions in an effort to better recognize, understand, and change, if necessary, pedagogical practices that allow and support ongoing racism within our nation's classrooms and schools.  Participants demonstrated transparency, expressed emotions, articulated their hopes and intentions, and for the most part, met one another (as we know to do with students) right where one another was at. But I have found Twitter chats (like many other social media platforms) to be an awkward framework, especially when full-fledged discussions are better supported by time, space and within face-to-face venues.  No one yields the floor, and you have to know how to open another column (if using Tweetdeck) or directly tweet an individual or small group while effectively and efficiently using the remaining numbers of text characters available to try to make your point or explain your thoughts.  And if the topic is as emotionally charged as it was for this particular chat, honest yet carefully selected words can still open up a potential can of worms if someone feels motivated to respond with a tweet that attempts to read as a polite challenge while failing to avoid sounding like an outright rebuke.

During one portion of the chat we were asked to respond to the following prompt and questions:



Heavy, deliberate, and necessary questions to reflect upon, right? And considering the constraints of the platform, an opportunity ripe for misunderstandings, judgment, and unsolicited advice.  Understanding the moderators' intentions in selecting the topic and asking such pointed questions, I didn't feel baited and chose to participate in the chat in order to dialogue with other educators about ways that we could help to dismantle racism. Me being me (more on that below), I replied that I didn't consider myself racist, and added that "I am not as knowledgable about other global cultures and nationalities as I could be. I consider people all part of the human race, but I could definitely benefit from more discourse, travel & reading to broaden myself." Later in the evening, I found that that particular tweet had the following responses. 1. "I don't know you and I'm not calling you racist... just thought I would gently point out that most people who are in fact, racist, don't consider themselves as racist" and 2. "...white and white passing folx [sic] need to also realize not racist is a neutral state- we need to strive to be anti-racist."

During the chat I didn't try to misrepresent myself, I didn't portray myself as a person who was going to insist upon straddling some fence of neutrality over the topic of racism, and I never suggested that only actions like the ones I planned to utilize would be effective within our classrooms and schools. I didn't describe myself using the label "anti-racist" but I also didn't suggest that I would be uncomfortable if anyone else felt like describing me using the phrase. Though I didn't experience some new revelation about racism to which I was previously unaware prior to the chat, I contributed where I could, gladly stockpiling the links and resources shared by others for further examination.  I replied to the authors of the comments politely and sincerely. But the comments continued to bother me, and I wondered what the motivation had been behind them. I felt bothered because:

While I am the daughter of a woman and a man, I have been "the product" of a white woman who slept with someone not white my entire life.  Raised for my first ten years in Texas, I spoke English like my mother and some Spanish like my friends, but not Inupiaq like my father's parents. I was raised in El Paso, Texas, Barrow (now Utqiaġvik), Alaska, Fairbanks, Alaska, and Delta Junction, Alaska. I preferred enchiladas over muktuk, corn over spinach and okra, duck soup over chicken noodle.  I didn't (and still don't) prepare indigenous foods from my native culture, but loved smoked salmon and thought Eskimo doughnuts (fry bread) were better than funnel cakes but not my mother's homemade baked bread. Despite the opinions of others who lived in the diverse communities in which I was raised, my identity was my own and my non-traditional upbringing worked for me.  My childhood was enough, and I am not ashamed of it.

I like jewelry, clothing, adornments, accessories.  I like the sparkly stuff, the fluffy stuff, and the stuff with interesting patterns and textures. I like the washable, the dry-cleanable, the handmade and the repurposed. I enjoy music: classical, folk, 80s rock, 70s pop, Tony Bennett's and Lady Gaga's duets, Reba and Garth generation country, global instrumentals, Eskimo rhythmic drumming and Christmas standards. I seek out new-to-me music often. I enjoy exploring diverse literary and film genres but have my favorites: kids' books, science fiction, intellectual humor, fantasy, song lyrics and some poetry. I have a thing for Marcrest dishes (the divided vegetable bowls especially), Noritake china and plastic Tupperware lunch trays. My preferences are my own, they are enough, and I am not ashamed of them.

I became aware early on that I was too brown for some and too white for others and I have spent most of my life being told that I'm a woman who "can pass." I have been given a good talkin' to by parents, community members, colleagues and even strangers for "not speaking my language," which they all assume(d) is Spanish. I have been called out by high school classmates for "trying to pass as Native when we all know you're half black." I have been hit on by men who thought it was charming to greet me with "Well hello, my little Latin Lupe." I have been told I'm not Eskimo because "they're not even a real thing." I've been told I'm not white because "just look at your tan." I've had my hand grabbed by a man who, after having his wife cook and serve me a meal in their diner while he asked me questions such as "What are you?" and "Which half of you is native?" decided that he should congratulate me afterward with "Honey, it works for you."  I was supposed to smile and be gracious at the granting of this seal of approval too, which I failed to deliver. It has been explained to me on more than one occasion that I've been hired to fulfill an affirmative action quota and not because I'm highly qualified, and I've been identified as a token representative of my native culture by some colleagues while others can't bring themselves to look me in the face if I'm wearing a kuspuk and mukluks as we pass one another in the hallway.  As a mother, some of my children's' friends or parents have appeared momentarily startled upon meeting me, I'm guessing (perhaps wrongly) because they didn't know that my sons and daughter were passing. I watched Hispanic shop owners try hard to impress upon my mother that they were choosing to ignore her while multiple salespeople showered me with attention, and I've been told by native uncles and aunts that my grandparents told them that they shouldn't marry other natives because they weren't going to get anywhere unless they married whites.  Most stereotypical attributes that have been assigned to me or assumed about me by self-appointed representatives of their own racial groups have been wrong.  Despite others (all others, not just white others) trying to determine how to label me in order to identify where they feel I should be placed in the hierarchy of discrimination, my self has been enough, and I am not ashamed.

If asked, I identify myself as non-religious, but I am familiar with Christian faiths because of my exposure to them.  I was baptized Episcopalian, attended Latter-day Saints services with the family of my mother's best friends, and have Catholic, Methodist, Jewish, Lutheran, Presbyterian, Jehovah's Witness, Baptist, agnostic and atheist friends and family.  I collect religious icons, I do not pray, and I celebrate Christmas as a winter holiday, happily singing every verse to well-known non-secular and secular songs.  I am not upset by well-wishers saying "Merry Christmas," "Blessed Holidays," or "Happy Solstice." I don't wear cross jewelry, nor do I find it attractive on others, no matter how dainty or bedazzled. I don't wear rings, charms, necklaces, bracelets or earrings shaped like or depicting nooses, electric chairs, guillotines, torturer's racks or lethal injections either: to me, crosses symbolize torturous deaths, not joyous rebirth.  I don't believe saviors are necessary but I'm convinced that it's not my place or my right to insist that others abandon their deities or meditations about the universe: I've met people who have lost everything, and their faith is a lifeline. I have not felt inclined to explore any religion more deeply in an effort to better define my feelings about spirituality or the future.  My reality is enough and I am not ashamed of it.

I take rude, inconsiderate, malicious behavior personally and I have a visceral, emotional reaction to it. I don't appreciate or approve of discrimination based on ethnicity, gender, sexuality, religion, age, or physical limitations, perhaps because I can empathize with those who have had and continue to endure it.  While I don't consider myself racist, I'll admit I haven't met everyone on this planet and therefore can't tell you with one-hundred-percent certainty that I'd never recoil if I were ever to encounter some form of melanin that might disgust me or fill me with fear.  Of the people within my immediate vicinity however, I can discern between which ones I want to spend more time with, and which ones I want to, forgive the pun, avoid like the plague. That discernment is not based upon skin color but behavior.  If I have an eclectic taste in food, clothing, music, decor, literature and film genres, I think it's fair to extrapolate that there's more than a slight chance that I have diverse friends and family, too. My friendships are mine, and they are enough, and I am not ashamed of them.

I have long considered myself both a member of some type of square-peg-round-hole society and a continual work in progress. As I explore why I care how others describe or interpret my stance regarding racism, I'm faced with additional questions: Is my form of allyship enough?  Is dialoguing with others, continuing to add representative literature to my classroom library, looking through curricular resources with a critical eye and modeling mutual respect as I continue to partner with those different from myself enough?  Is caring for my diverse friends, family, students, colleagues and neighbors in my way enough, or are my actions only considered valuable and committed if I shout from the rooftops "I AM ANTI-RACIST?" None of the decisions I make as a teacher for my students or as a contributor to my profession are "neutral."  To end systemic racism (and frankly all sorts of other -isms), don't we need all kinds of allies in all kinds of settings working toward a common goal?  The loud and the quiet ones, the sitters and the standers and the marchers and the ones who make their family members change the channel to watch the protests when they'd rather play video games?  The affirmers and the describers and the accusers and the ones willing to listen and to record and to persist in ways great and small?  None of these allies' actions are "neutral."

It's not in my nature to relabel myself in an attempt to gain the approval of others and I strongly dislike superficially performative exercises. "Why wouldn't you want to call yourself an anti-racist, Michaele? It's a good thing."  Why do people believe that they should dictate to me what I must or must not call myself, and how loudly or publicly I must do it?  "What if we call you anti-racist?"  Go right ahead.  If anyone decides to describe me as a brunette-cookie-baking-crocheting-kindergarten-teacher-anti-racist, I don't have a problem with it.

Holding my students' hearts and minds in my hands is an essential part of my job as a kindergarten teacher, and trying to anticipate what changes, if any, I need to implement in order to support them as best I can is par for the course. Every summer I reflect upon the school year, plan for the start of the next teaching adventure, examine shifts in education and grow my pedagogy through professional development and Twitter chats with other teachers.  But even if I could usually direct my attention to coursework and chores, this summer, this week, I cannot dismiss my feelings or pretend to be thick-skinned: I am raw right now. Though the women who responded to my tweet have no way of knowing all of me, they believe they are obligated to call out or "educate" others who may not immediately match their image of an ally. Their tweets may have served to affirm and proclaim their commitment as advocates and anti-racists in their minds, but the implication that somehow I was falling short felt akin to public shaming, which is not how to alter my choices, or likely, how best to create an ally.


Edit, June 11: Here is Dr. Ibram X. Kendi discussing anti-racism. Though the hardcover version of the book he co-authored with Jason Reynolds, Stamped, is on backorder, it is available via Kindle.

 

*****

Psst: I've got nothing against allies who want to wear and share their intentions.  You can find this shirt here.



Saturday, May 23, 2020

Pandemic Teacher Summer Day 1: It's Time to Play in the Dirt

Yesterday I wrapped up my twenty-fourth year of teaching with one last visit to my school building (I had to deliver some yearbook payments that had been hastily grabbed from my mailbox on the day teachers were given a half-hour to grab essentials to help facilitate instruction from home), helped a fellow teacher take down her twinkle lights so she can transfer to another school in-district (we wore masks and I re-rolled the LED strands from six feet behind her), planned a very tentative instructional schedule with the remaining members of our grade-level team (two have left) during an informal and productive Zoom meeting from home, wrote and sent my last weekly newsletter to my Super Stars and their families, and held my last parent-teacher conference of the year before dinner, three hours after I technically stopped being my students' "official" teacher. A few last teacher-appreciation gifts made me smile:


This morning I woke at my normalish time, made coffee, and checked to see if there were any education Twitter chats planned but found my regulars on break for the Memorial Day weekend. For the past few years I've enjoyed #satchat and #sunchat get-togethers as transitions to the beginning of my summer break, but this year it seems I'm to dive right into my end-of-the-year reflection.  I reread my self-check from the start of the year and found all of it to still ring true.  The raw feelings of my last few posts since the stay-at-home order have started to heal and fade, and I remain determined to find some semblance of balance between my professional and home lives as I look forward to spending quality with my family, tending the food and flowers growing in my greenhouse and taking online courses addressing the creation of effective online teaching and content creation. No, no "summer off" for this teacher.





I'll update my district web page so that parents of my next class of Super Stars who go searching for sneaky-peeks into our classroom this summer are greeted warmly, and I'll undertake the Herculean task of cleaning up the desktop of both my school-issued and personal computers. I created so much content and didn't sort it effectively as I went along, and I don't want to risk throwing it all away with the possibility of still needing it during the upcoming year.  I already took down the classroom props and essentials in my craft room to return it to what I hope will be a comfy and cozy creative space for my continued hobbying.  I'm working on two afghans, plugging along on my goal of crocheting at least one big blanket per month. Last night I took a long soak in the tub and began reading Neil Gaiman's The Ocean at the End of the Lane.


My family and I plan to continue to stay at home as much as possible and to socially-distance ourselves if and when we have to go out to run essential errands.  Masked people are my people, but I've noticed far too many children, who, while accompanying their parents, cower in fear, like many kids do when faced with something or someone scary, as they encounter me in an aisle, or see me sitting in my vehicle waiting for my pick-up delivery.  Some families aren't preparing their children for this new normal, so I anticipate creating and sharing content to help normalize mask-wearing for future students. If I see one too many "prevent the summer slide" or "fill curricular holes created by the pandemic" advertisements or even blog posts by fellow teachers, I'll probably get all ranty in an attempt to explain how no, children don't really shake their heads and erase everything they've encountered and explored like an Etch-a-Sketch pad, and yes, play really IS the best way for them to develop their awareness, knowledge, and interest in this world.  Though I really would have enjoyed a longer break from taking college courses, the workshop I've applied for was frankly irresistible, since I'm a just-in-case person.  With the likelihood that I'll need to continue to reimagine and modify my future students' learning environment, I want more resources and inspiration to help me creatively problem-solve.

With year twenty-five on the horizon, do I hope to remain a kindergarten teacher for the rest of my career?  No.  I would like to become a library media specialist and am waiting for the all-clear so that I can reschedule the taking of my PRAXIS.  I'd pack up my teaching belongings in a heartbeat if I were offered a library in my district, even during a pandemic. Thankfully, I'm not feeling like a reluctant kindergarten whisperer: a year (or a few more) working exclusively with young children and their families doesn't fill me with dread- I will love them forever.  But I do rather feel like I'm on autopilot, and my spirit is chomping at the bit for a new challenge and adventure in education. It's not abandonment or burnout, but a continuation of change and growth, and its possibilities excite me. Shouldn't we all get to feel that several times during our careers?

This year's class photo (and yearbook, when it finally arrives) will get filed away with the others from all of my years of teaching but will stand apart, no matter what. I can only hope that my students and their families, and my colleagues with whom I've traveled and taught over this quarter-century remain safe and healthy. But for now, it's time to go play in the dirt.


Sunday, May 17, 2020

A Note from the Teacher

Families will be returning their borrowed tech devices to school this week, and many teachers are hoping that they'll be able to pick up one last packet from us before the start of summer vacation.  Some students will experience a continuation of their current stay-cation, while others will be packing up to move when Uncle Sam finally decides upon their military parent's next duty assignment.

This will be the last time this year's Super Stars will receive feedback or a note from me, and most likely it will be added by parents to their child's copy of Oh, the Places You'll Go! or some other keepsake book that will be given upon graduation from high school.  As seventeen and eighteen-year-olds there's a good chance my students won't remember me, but they may retain clear memories of when they unexpectedly had to continue their kindergarten learning activities from home.  While heartfelt, honest sentiments are always best, the conclusion of this year has me feeling raw and exhausted. I cannot bring myself to handwrite these notes. I've tried writing one to see if I could then scan it, a solution suggested by my husband, but I hate the look of the lined paper, and frankly, my wobbly penmanship.  With my thoughts clear but my wrist and fingers unwilling to execute, I came across another way to solve the problem: adhesive mailing labels.  I can type and then print what I want to say, handwrite each salutation and closing, and keep the sticker backing in place so that parents can easily add it to their child's book.  

Every year I give my Stars a final storybook, an end-of-the-year certificate, and a copy of our memory video on a disc. 


This year they will also receive this note:


Children will tell their parents "Oh, Mrs. Sommerville always says 'goodness gracious me' (or 'goodness gracious Google') and 'okie dokie artichoke-y,'" and hopefully my Stars and their families will understand how much I appreciate them without becoming sad.  It's been emotional, writing this last note from the teacher for both a present-day almost first-grader and a future high school graduate.  I hope that when my Stars read it again twelve years from now that it affirms how much they have been valued by not only their families but by their teachers, too. 

Tuesday, May 12, 2020

Goodnight Room... But For How Long?



My room is packed and put away, my report cards are finished, and my curriculum is checked in.  At the same time that I was turning off the classroom lights and turning in my key today, other schools in the country were opening back up and admitting students.  I'll admit it: I cried. I cried for myself, cried for my Super Stars, and cried for the teachers and students stuck in horrible situations where going back to school while COVID19 remains just as dangerous and deadly is preferable to staying at home.

Because at home there might not be any food.  Or at home, the only engagement from family members may be abusive or neglectful. Maybe there isn't a home at all.

As for the accommodations that reopening schools are making for students, especially in regard to kindergarten and other early childhood grades, I just want to cry some more.  It doesn't matter if you space individual student desks and chairs six feet apart: young children seek connection, and they seek to interact with toys, materials, books, textures, nooks, crannies, scents, tastes, and one another.  They don't just want hugs when they get hurt, they need them.  They need them when they're scared, proud, unsure, and filled with joy.  They explode with enthusiasm, anger, fear, relief, discovery, and acknowledgement, and it doesn't matter if there's a poster with rules on it or a sticker chart "rewarding" (shaming) them into compliance, or a reminder note, or the threat of a phonecall home put in place to "manage" them: NOTHING is going to change the fact that these dynamic, organic, spontaneous and constantly inquisitive learners will not be contained.

And if they decide that their masks itch, or are too tight, or feel gross after they open-mouth cough and sneeze into them leaving a soggy mess rubbing against their skin?  How many extras will be sent to school in backpacks, or distributed by teachers? How about when students play with the masks or take them off while using the restroom, dropping them to the floor, or dangling them from their little fists as they grip the toilet seat and flusher?  How "preventative" and "protective" will that be? Nosepickers and booger-eaters (just keeping it real, because it's important that none of us ignores all authentic aspects of childhood as we swift march ourselves toward "solutions" that make grownups feel good) aren't going to stop picking, eating, and wiping those germy morsels all over themselves, the furniture and other surfaces or objects just because they're wearing masks.  And when those masks begin to chafe and hurt their faces, or families discover that their children are allergic to the fabric content of the masks and ties?  How about the vomit?  Good lord, the vomit.

Arranging desks six feet apart is a new classroom layout. It is not proof that the children who sit in them (or the teacher who will sit and stand elsewhere) will be safe. Requiring children to wear masks shows that we're attempting to reduce the spread of disease, but it doesn't prove that we're going to succeed, especially when we continue to make decisions while purposely refusing to consider how young children will, in fact, remain tactile young learners who simply aren't designed to leave things alone.  And for those students who will remove their masks, refuse to wear them, or wear them ineffectively?  Who will be blamed when those children become sick?  How many long-term subs will be available to replace the teachers who become sick due to exposure from children or from the over-use of disinfectants?  How many family members who remain at home will become ill from school children?  And when parents return to work, only to become sick themselves?  Their family goes into quarantine, including their schoolchildren, correct?

I'm no virologist, but I **know** kindergarteners.  I **know** children.  And I **know** adults.  So do you... which is why reopening schools is an experiment, at best.

At worst, it'll cause more than just tears.



Thursday, May 07, 2020

Teacher Appreciation: Dedicated Teacher



Yesterday was the "flipped" Teacher Parade in my district. Teachers and staff lined their school's sidewalks while families drove their students slowly through the street to see us. My incredible colleagues and I somehow managed our emotions as families drove by in their decorated vehicles with their children, our students, shouting our names and holding up signs as their parents honked their horns. We laughed, smiled, waved, cheered, held back the happy tears, fought back the I-miss-you-and-hurt-over-not-being-with-you tears, blew kisses, threw long-distance hugs at anyone and everyone, and signed "I love you." 

Mother Nature knew better than to rain on our parade, saving the sprinkles for later in the afternoon. And for the first time, the post's monthly test of the tornado sirens wasn't frightening: they blended in rather nicely with the honking and music blasting from all of the cars. I may have gotten carried away with a noisemaker that a colleague gave me. Can you blame me?

It was wonderful, painful, joyous, surreal, and... needed, this recognition of both the palpable grief and the bright flashes of hope that we're experiencing and using to keep ourselves going.

This is the shirt I wore.  As usual, my teacher's wardrobe is full of affirmations, whimsy, humor, and lots of messages. I found it on Etsy, in this wonderful little shop... head over to @DesignsByManon and show her some love.

It was a good day, a wonderful parade, and yes, I cried in my truck on the way home. 

Friday, April 24, 2020

Thursday, April 23, 2020

Reflection: Mentorship and Pencils During COVID19

COVID19 has certainly been effective at throwing all sorts of systems and semblances of normalcy out the window.  Creating new teaching environments, using new communication platforms and tools and completely reorganizing our days and routines are pretty weighty changes to experience in a short amount of time.  While I wrap up week four of "instruction" and collaboration and problem-solving with all of my colleagues, be they grade-level or building teammates, building and district administrators, special education and other support staff, I know that some folks within the district are likely already beginning to anticipate any needs that parents, students, teachers and staff might have come the fall semester.  Long-range planning happens every year, whether there is a pandemic or some other hurdle in play or not.  No matter when their stay-at-home orders were enacted, other schools and other districts have started to do the same.

During many past springs, I pencil-planned for the upcoming year as soon as the finalized school calendar was published. I pencil-plan rather than ink-plan because I know that events will be rescheduled and our calendar will change.  I'll find new resources, experience new jolts of inspiration, and have to be flexible for unanticipated accommodations. Nothing is set in stone despite the hope that everything will, in time, go according to the way I had both intended and hoped.  Using a pencil indicates that it's a rough draft, the version that precedes the working draft.  For many years the working draft got its fair share of White-Out dabbed across its pages, simply because I liked the glide of ink over the abrasion of pencil. Nowadays, I simply double-click on text, delete it, and revise data within the cell. Knowing that changes will inevitably happen has never caused me to rethink the merit of pencil-planning. It's another way for me to mentally map the foundational pieces I need and plan to implement for my students' benefit.  I doubt I'll ever choose to fly-blind just waiting to be "surprised" during back-to-school PD. I can be informed now and pencil-plan so that future mandates don't throw me against the wall in August.  

As the most veteran member of my grade-level team, and despite having missed the beginning of the year with them thanks to my late-summer surgery and extended recovery time, I am both formally required to act in a mentorship role and personally feel responsible for making myself and my experience regularly available to my colleagues.  I have expanded my PLN over the years to include groups on Twitter and Facebook, and I have been fortunate to meet and learn from all sorts of wonderful early-childhood educators, college professors and library media specialists during my career and master's program.  When I'm asked for help by a teacher in my building or one five states away via social media, I try to make sure to preface what I share with "use it or don't," so that my PLN can cherrypick the best of what I might be able to offer them while hopefully feeling the autonomy to make their own choices and to innovate, rather than pressure to comply and risk becoming a cookie-cutter teacher. I also believe in playing the role of devil's advocate in order to broaden thinking.  Affirmation, agreement, and the feeling of being a contributory component of a trusted partnership where ideas can be shared, explored, or simply explained are essential emotions for members of any team or purposeful group to experience.  I believe that a common goal for teams should be to balance harmony while avoiding tunnel-vision because being repeatedly blindsided by information that could have been shared earlier but wasn't results in wasted time, increased frustration, and eventual mistrust.  Whether lurking or being actively involved in these conversations, I reap the benefit of diverse perspectives and the experiences of others.  I am a mentor and "mentee," a colleague of other educators.

Working from home I still feel like I must operate within dual roles as I teach, collaborate, plan and share.  I'm a colleague who is not only a kindergarten teacher, but the yearbook producer for the school and the moderator for the professional development points requests that teachers submit towards their re-licensure.  I don't respond in philosophic terms to inquiries about the cost of yearbooks, whether or not I have a piece of writing paper that I can scan and share as a template, or the number of points needed for a fifth-year teacher without a master's degree to renew his or her license. However, when colleagues new to teaching and/or new to our building and district ask for a heads-up regarding what to expect from an upcoming grade-level district meeting, or need clarification so that they better understand the shift from academic grading to marks for engagement, my role as mentor requires that I go a bit deeper, and invest time to not only offer the reasoning behind answers and explanations, but to really hear their concerns and worries, too. This can be a highly emotional, intense component of mentorship, especially for someone who empathizes with others.  To me, there is a distinct difference between the nuts and bolts of teaching and the soul of teaching.  As a colleague, I can hand you a ream of construction paper when you've run out.  As a mentor, I can suggest different ways of using it to benefit your students when you ask or express an interest.  Both responses are helpful within their constructs and contexts.  I experience this emotionality and desire to share authentically via social media as well. 


Having to try to teach remotely isn't a choice I, or many others, would have made, but wanting to do it as well as I possibly can remains my intention. I hoped to be both an effective colleague and mentor during this time too, but at this point, I feel like I'm failing at giving my immediate colleagues and some distance-edu-friends what they want or need.  None of us is operating at one-hundred percent, and we all react differently to stressful situations.  Issues that have arisen likely wouldn't have become issues at all if the status-quo of our daily instruction with students within our classrooms had been maintained and COVID19 hadn't come along.  We're not all in the same boat, and even our storms differ.  Perhaps some need me to metaphorically just hand them a ream of construction paper, despite the fact that their questions and assertions resemble requests for guidance and/or context.  Compounding this uncertainty for me are *of course*  my old standbys: for one, I can't "hear" another person's tone within an email and rely heavily upon the use of emojis and gifs (score one for social media where emojis reign supreme).  Not many people have the energy, inclination or patience it takes to find the wink, the laughing out loud, or the thinking faces right now, or maybe they're just not considered professional. Secondly, I continue to falsely assume that politeness and consideration will be reciprocated in return for my efforts.  Not everyone says "thank you," during a pandemic (another point for social media where showing appreciation continues to be considered proper etiquette), so I remind myself that it is those with whom we are most familiar that we should afford the most grace, especially when it's for something as simple as forgiving a social faux-pas. After dipping my toes into the ponds and streams of Facebook and the lakes and oceans on Twitter, I'm confident that there are many other teachers across the nation and in other countries who also find navigating their colleagues' emotions a wee bit tricky this month. Perhaps a gross generalization would actually be appropriate for this moment in time: none of us is getting what we hope for right now. 

After four weeks of remote learning, fifteen years in my present district, twenty-four (twenty-five?) years of teaching, and with a nationwide PLN at my fingertips, I still feel both able and inclined to pencil-plan this spring, just as I've done almost every year.  I've worked ahead to curate, create and schedule content via Seesaw, which has afforded me extra time for other pursuits and chores.  Because I've purposely sought out multiple news sources, surfed and chosen to read information shared from teachers in other districts and states regarding their immediate and future proposed solutions to closed schools, and have tracked the daily updates from health officials (I'm ignoring politicians who are advocating for the economy over problem-solving that will save the most lives) that have made it clear that we are, in fact, 1) presently both lab rats and human test subjects and 2) that it won't be safe for us to "return to normal" until we have a vaccine that is at least a year away, I've set myself the task of envisioning what remote learning might look like in August and September (and October, and November, and February, and April 2021). So when questions from colleagues near and far arose this week regarding possible changes and tweaks to the present emergency based technology-heavy format for delivery of instruction, I suggested that any and all continued fine-tuning might reflect not only a current but possibly future need as well: there's a significant chance that we will not be returning to the classroom as hoped for in the fall.  Can I articulate whether my response came from colleague-me or mentor-me?  Not really. Can I unequivocally say that I didn't intend to cause additional stress and worry when I shared my thoughts?  Yes. 

Suffice it to say, I now realize that many teachers are not ready to pencil-plan or entertain possibilities for next year.  Perhaps they don't plan to return and are focusing all of their time and effort into making their last weeks of remote teaching the best that they can for their students and their sanity.  Perhaps their boats and their storms have them planted squarely in the middle of the fiercest fight of their lives and their immediate needs require that they invest all of their time and effort bailing water from their vessel.  Perhaps they prefer the top-down approach, believing that their "circle of control" (yay, ontological coaching, my favorite), is solely dependent upon the decisions of others, so they'd prefer to not do anything at all until an administrator tells them to.  I can admire their perseverance and any commitment they have made to be the best teachers for their students possible. I can empathize with their fear, and sympathize deeply with their pain, with full acknowledgment that it's not just students who have to "do Maslow before Bloom."  No, I'll never advocate that teachers completely hand over the reins of education to administrators and politicians, no matter how much I appreciate all of the "good" ones.  While I believe it's prudent to start the work of tomorrow today, or at least soon regarding the next school year, I understand that not everyone feels the same way for a multitude of reasons. 

And it's here, with these most passive or even resistant of educators, that I find myself feeling neither like colleague-me or mentor-me, but instead wanting to channel Chrisjen Avasarala, a character from one of my favorite science fiction series as I choose to concede (slightly) with this:

"Well, we disagree. One of us is wrong. I think it's you... but I hope it's me."

I hope a true miracle presents itself that enables us to get back to business without fear for our health, or the health of our families, students, colleagues, and neighbors, soon.  But until then...

... hand me a pencil, will you?