Tag Archive | educator

Feathery thing

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“Hope is the thing with feathers

That perches in the soul…” Emily Dickinson

I am blessed that I consistently receive reminders of  why I work in schools. Motivating young people is what I love the most about my work. I love school(I always have.) I love literature(I always have.)  The best part of my job is giving young people hope.

During Lent, I realized one of my students is an aspiring author. I thought it was important to let the student  know that the principal is an author too. The student was in need of motivation. To see a face light up? Que bonito! It was wonderful. When I saw the student again later in the day, I encouraged continued self-expression and to consider creating a blog. I talked about my favorite bloggers turned bestsellers, Luvvie Ajayi and Ta-Nehisi Coates. The student didn’t know who they were and was impressed by their successes. It was important for me to stop being the stuffy principal and share something about myself. I also offered to be available to discuss writing.

I’m working closely with a group of students who are disengaged and disconnected from school. Their attendance is poor. They are not in good standing but they all want to work part-time. I know that the rules about good standing. I’m a rule follower and a rule enforcer. I’m a principal. Rules are important. A few of my staff members are much more black and white about this issue;a few have even voiced criticism of my willingness to be flexible.  But I want to get these kids back in school. Internal motivation is the ideal. I will promote extrinsic rewards if it’s going to motivate kids to come back to school. I cannot withhold encouragement and hope. I could have easily said,“ you guys cut too much school“ and sent them away. My non-negotiables are fighting, defiance, and drug abuse. If a student promises to return to school if I help him or her find a job, how can I say no? What kind of teacher and leader shuts the door on students?  

Part of what I do is give hope. That is at the core of the work that I do. I give these young people opportunities following the example of my own stellar teachers and administrators. I wasn’t born a principal or a teacher.  Shoot I wasn’t even born an English speaker. It’s my turn now to be not only an adult or authority figure but a human being who wants young people to be successful . In the words of the inspiring Harvey Milk, “you have to give them hope.”  

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Maker of chains

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In my previous leadership role, I did some writing and reflecting on being an exorcist and having to slay demons. I had to face my fears and insecurities. I relied on my teammate to help me face toxic individuals. I then began to see Game of Thrones as an analogy for my new leadership role.  Over the course of last summer, I had an opportunity to sit on the Iron Throne (an awesome replica, anyway); I found it exciting and empowering.  Since starting my new role, I had another experience to sit in the same throne. It made think about how things have changed now that I’m living my new role, as opposed to pondering my new title.

A new leader can quickly go from being well-loved to being criticized or vilified.  The transition to a new staff has mostly been seamless. Interestingly, the struggle has been with my students. In the past, while there have been challenging clients, I played a different role and felt mostly successful. In my current position, there is no buffer. I’m both good cop and bad cop. Instead of breaker of chains, I have been perceived by some students to be the maker of chains.

As a woman of color, I have not often been the one making decisions. I have been affected by others imposing systems and structures on everyone else. Now I’m the one implementing change and meting out discipline. Young people see me as an authority figure first.  I’m not here to be a good time Carla or anybody’s little friend. I’ve been in the education game since I was the “cool teacher.” I look back on some of my actions back then and realize I showed a lack of maturity. I have grown in experience and judgment. As a leader, I have to be mindful of upholding my values, of ensuring safety and making decisions that will help my students move on in their lives. While they may call me a “prison warden” or “dictator,” (yes those are the terms used) I want to empower these young people. When I first started hearing that I had changed the school and made it feel so strict, I actually took pride in those comments.  Though it is sometimes painful, I am clear in who I am.  It is my students who can learn from my example.  So many of them don’t feel powerful. I want them to be proactive about their future plans and to not merely passively accept their life experiences.  It’s a challenge to reconnect with those who feel disenfranchised, disillusioned, demoralized, and disconnected. One of the ways I feel I can do that is to be firm and consistent. It involves being tough on the use of drugs and defiance against staff.  My students, many of whom are dealing with personal and family issues, are also recovering from the loss of my predecessor. They have to now work with someone who they feel is very different, someone they perceive as oppressive. That is bothersome.

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Being is a leader isn’t all glory and power. Even as I experience resistance to my vision, I try to leave work behind at the end of the day.  During my commute, I listen to audiobooks. Then I’m home focused on family and fitness. I’m reading fiction and nonfiction. On weekends, I’m enjoying cultural events and dancing (even some paid gigs now). I’m doing what I need to feed my soul and heart. I need a strong foundation for my leadership. In the long run, my students will see that I’m coming from a good place of deep concern and love.  Hopefully, they will someday see that I came to empower.

My second career as an exorcist

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St. Dymphna in full effect

I went into my career because of my first principles. I love to read. I love to write.  I love to share ideas through conversation.  I love to help others.  So, fresh out of college, I stayed at my beloved alma mater, despite acceptance letters from prestigious East Coast universities(mi mama was upset about that for years), to get my teaching credential.  I was 23 and I thought I was going to change the world and somehow also write the next great American novel.  I’m 44 now. I have changed many lives, most importantly, my own, and my writing is still my true passion.  I still love books and people.  So how is it that in the past few years, I have found myself in the role of exorcist.  Que?  Como?

When I was six years old(be patient, y’all who know this story), my soccer playing dad  would take us to the park every weekend so my mom could hang with her besties and all the kids would play in a huge multi-age pack.  The big kids decided we could head to one of the soccer players’ home nearby and watch a movie on the Betamax. I was introduced to the horror movie that would stay with me por vida.  I know a thing or two about fighting el chamuco and now I have real-life experiences.  (Lessons from the Exorcist)Because while the devil may be a lie, evil is real, relevant, and very much embraced by many.  Pick a city anywhere on the planet.  Point your finger at someone you know.  Evil is there, giving you the side eye of all side eyes.

Though I’m only a few years into fighting evil as part of my nine to five, I can tell you some must-dos.  In no particular order:

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Fear is normal.  My head aches. My stomach churns. My heart starts pounding like I’m six again and the nightlight just burnt out.  Accept your fear.  Feel it.  Then move forward.

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Have a battle buddy.  Find a mentor who is strong, tough, and stable.  Your mentor, like mine, can serve as your coach and partner.  This is not work you do by yourself.  You will need someone to have your back.  Work on the bond you share.  You may have disagreements but you must share the same vision, mission, and purpose.  Of course, the demon will attempt to divide and conquer.  That won’t work if your team is strong.

Take care of yourself.  Sleep (though it may be disturbed for a few days or weeks depending on the situation.) Eat clean. Hydrate.  Pray or spend time in silence.  Doing battle with evil is like preparing for a half-marathon or training for Carnaval without the glamour or fun.  A weak warrior will fall.

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Finally, believe in the good work that you do. Believe in the good person you are and understand that this other individual is a hot mess for reasons beyond your control.  If you’re a really good person, realize that somewhere underneath all that maldad, there is/was a good person who got lost along the way. Know that you are protecting others by taking on this challenge. Now let’s go get ‘em!