We Were Never Prepared
September 1, 2021
We were never prepared to become educators here and now.
I’m not saying that we never talked about it, never wondered how we would make it work. I am not saying it didn’t sometimes keep us up at night. I’m not saying we were wholly ignorant of the context in which we would find ourselves. These classrooms filled with children in various skin suits.
I remember my first teaching gig, wishing that I could take down the building brick by brick, burn the shit down. All the spaces were haunted places....The blue marble foyer, the lush manicured lawns, the white paint job, the coat of arms, the bloody Latin motto, all of it reeked of some bullcrap story we were telling that had to be believed to keep sustaining itself. And everyone fed the beast.
I remember choosing a dress to wear for a big school event…. I made sure that it was just fascinating enough that I’d be deemed acceptable. I had to be fancy enough to pass as a potential member of the community. Perhaps a longer conversation would have outed me as the outsider I was, but my dress was an exercise in thought-stopping. And it worked that night. I passed.
That experience came to mind because recently I’ve been reminded how not neutral my body is in a teaching space. My accent when I’m speaking English, my styl or kroes hair days, the clothing I wear, the summer tan or winter pallor of my skin, the personal experiences I choose to bring up: none of it is neutral. Every day we teach lessons about belonging and about the politics of being alive without saying a word.
We walked into the head of the school’s office a few years ago a friend and I, and we said, in essence, that if we did not send these young people out into the world with their ears ringing to the resonant frequency of social justice, we were dooming them and the future. Just a nice, light end-of-year convo every head of school wants.
The years since then have shown me how inadequate and impotent I am and we are, how little we know about how to go about building the world the younger ones deserve. We may have the agency to make policy and implement plans but they know better than we do what they need and want. They don’t have the power and we don’t have the vision.
The fact is, adults have bills to pay and mouths to feed. Some adults have holidays to go on, investment portfolios to manage, and privileges to protect. Maybe we simply have backache and haven’t had enough sleep since the mid-2010s. There are a thousand and one reasons why we are unable to engage or unwilling to engage with the situation we're in. A hundred thousand and one reasons. One million and one reasons.
How much of this work falls on the shoulders of educators. How few tools we’ve been given. How deep inside yourself and your well of strength you have to dig in order to shift these needles. How ill-equipped we are to do this work.
Show me an educator who feels fully prepared for this.