The Crossroads

I live in Clarksdale, Mississippi, which is commonly referred to as “The Crossroads of the Delta Blues.”  In the height of its popularity, Clarksdale was a common stop for famous Blues musicians such as B.B. King and Muddy Waters, as it was the intersection of two key highways, 61 and 49.  This resulted in lots of traffic and created a meeting place for Blues artists from around the Delta and Memphis.

However, then “The Crossroads” had an added story with the release of Robert Johnson’s song by the same name.  In this song, Johnson discusses sitting at “The Crossroads” and contemplating selling his soul to the devil in order to become the greatest blues musician of all time.  Eventually Johnson decides to go through with the deed, and it has become a popular story in American musical history (even having an episode of the show Supernatural use it as inspiration).

What’s cool about this is that this place I currently call home personifies both the literal and metaphorical definitions of the word crossroads.  On the one hand, it is a very literal location where two roads cross one another.  However it also calls into play the metaphorical idea of a crossroads as a place where one makes a decision, such as Robert Johnson did in the song.

I’ve thought long and hard about whether or not I wanted to post about this, as the emotions are still very raw and real for me, but I knew when I woke up this morning that it was time to talk about this.  I don’t claim to be a civic genius or a political science academic, so I can only speak from my personal thoughts and emotions, but the need to speak on them is still there.

Donald Trump is the 2016 President Elect of the United States of America. 

That is truly a sentence I never thought that I would say until Tuesday night around 10 P.M. Central Time, which coincidentally is around the time that I poured my first glass of wine.

Now I’m going to say this once, I am fully aware that the reading audience of my blog is very politically split as I come from two very politically distinct locations.  My hometown and my support base there are very conservative and Republican and are some of the best people I know.  On the other hand, my college community and support base there are quite liberal and Democratic and are also some of the best people I know.

This post it not meant to shame anyone for their political ideals.  I was raised in a politically-split household with parents who taught me how to disagree politically and still treat one another with respect and love.  Which is something I think a large majority of us could stand to learn.

All of that being said, I am writing this post because in the same way that I live at a crossroads, I feel that many of us were and still are at a crossroads in American history.

I don’t think anyone who knows me will be surprised that I voted for Hilary Clinton in the election.  I mean I spent the majority of the 2012 campaign knocking on doors and making phone calls for President Obama.  I’ve been confident in my liberal leanings and place as a Democrat since around my junior year of high school.

However, thinking back on past elections, I believe they were different.  In 2012, I was very invested in making Barack Obama a two-term president, but I thought that although Mitt Romney had different ideals and plans for this country than I identified with, I thought he was a good candidate.  He represented thoughts and convictions different from my own, but thoughts and convictions that I understood were held by a large group of Americans that I did not feel were deeply-rooted in blatantly un-American ideals.

That is not true for the 2016 Republican President Elect.

Donald Trump ran a campaign based on fear and hatred.  His biggest speaking points were turning Americans against one another on the basis of race, class, gender, sexual orientation, and religion in order to “Make America Great Again.”  Which can only mean that the America he wanted and wants to return to is the America where the people who do not fit into the bucket of white, middle-class, straight, Christian males (myself being one of them for several reasons) are not welcomed, accepted, or supported.

This is a man with a pending rape case against a minor; a man who openly mocked a disabled reporter at a rally; repeatedly told his supporters to use violence if necessary to silence the voices of those who opposed him; called American citizens rapists and drug dealers based on their ethnicity; labeled law-abiding Americans as a threat to security based on their religion; selected a vice president running mate who has openly supported allowing parents to put their children into conversion therapy in order to “turn them” straight; and painted sexual assault towards women as “locker room talk” that all men do.

All of this being said, Donald Trump disgusts me, but he doesn’t scare me.  One crazy man running around the country filled with hatred unfortunately is not something that I think any of us are unaccustomed to.

What is scary is the fact that Donald Trump ran a campaign based on fear, hatred, oppression, racism, sexism, and other countless things that I find appalling. . .

And he won. 

There was a large majority of Americans who voted for this man knowing full-well the things he had said and done.  That is what scares me, and that is what brought me to nausea on Tuesday night and tears on Wednesday morning.

Now again, this is not a political statement; this is a human statement.  Maybe you do not like the idea of universal healthcare.  Maybe you think that Common Core is the worst thing to ever happen to American Public Education.  Maybe you’re unhappy with the way that foreign policy operates currently in this country.  Maybe you have issues with the current welfare system.

FINE.  We probably have some disagreements on those points, but I can respect those differences of opinions.  And I think we could work together to create a system that accounts for both of our ideas and concerns.  That is the way our country is supposed to work.

What I cannot respect is a difference of opinion that disrespects someone else’s very existence as a human.

If your opinion of Hispanics is rooted in fear and built around the idea that our country would be better if less of them were here, I cannot respect it.

If your opinion of those who are disabled is that they are lesser and to be treated as such, then I cannot respect it.

If your opinion of peaceful protests is that they should be stopped with force and are just ‘liberals’ crying out for attention, then I cannot respect it.

If your opinion of Muslims, American and foreign, is that they should be marked, tracked, and searched because of the ‘inherent danger’ of their faith, then I cannot respect it.

If your opinion of the LGBTQ+ community is that they should be denied basic human rights and subjected to treatments as children that are shown to have long-term psychological effects, then I cannot respect it.

If your opinion of how women are viewed and treated in this country is so deeply engrained in rape culture and sexism that discussions of sexual assault do not make you sick to your stomach and fear for every woman in your life, then I cannot respect it.

Because those are not differences of political ideals; those are fundamentally different ways of viewing humanity and how your fellow humans should be treated.

Now I know that there are those who voted for Trump that do believe those things without shame, and to those people I only have one thing to say:

Fuck you. 

On the other hand, I know there are definitely people, some of whom are my friends and family, who are saying: I voted for Trump, but I don’t believe in those things!

Again I point you to the idea of the crossroads, and the decision we had to make on November 8th.

Maybe you only agree with Trump on his strictly-political ideas, and the things I’ve mentioned here you also find appalling and scary.  I must say that I’m thankful that you do, but that doesn’t change the fact that when you voted for Donald Trump you made a decision to cast your ballot for the very ideals that you found appalling.

There is no halfway here.  It’s not as if when you voted for Donald Trump you could put an asterisk and say you wanted him to forego the blatant denial of human rights and dignity that he ran his campaign on once he ended up in the Oval Office.  You knew what he thought and stood for in regard to these marginalized groups of people, and you voted for him all the same.

And my god what an incredible privilege that must have been. 

To be able to vote for someone’s political ideals while ignoring their disgusting social ones because they were not going to affect you personally. . .

What. A. Privilege. 

But not everyone has that privilege.  Not everyone, including myself, could overlook the bigoted parts of Trump’s campaign because they threatened a part of who we are.  We could not look at only political ideals, because our very existence was questioned and degraded by a candidate.

We were not only disserviced in that a candidate with those ideals was the nominee for a major political party, but also because we did not have the option to vote purely on politics because there was never even a choice to be made.

We were not at a crossroads in the way that some were.  The choice was always clear.  One candidate respected our existence and rights as humans, and one did not.

But some of you were at a crossroads and made what I believe was a selfish and short-sighted decision.  You overlooked the effect of voting in someone who promoted hatred, fear, and prejudice, because that hatred, fear, and prejudice was not directed at you.

While my heart is truly broken at this point in American history, there is hope to be found.

The crossroads continue, and decisions still have to be made. 

I have no doubt that in the near future (within the next four years), we will be at a crossroads again where we will be given a choice to stand by while those who may be different than us are treated as lesser than and have rights stripped from them based on race, class, gender, sexual orientation, or religion.

In that moment, we are once again at a crossroads.  And we have to choose to overlook that which doesn’t affect us based on our privilege or fight for those, different from us though they may be, who need our support, love, and voice.

I think we chose wrong.  America was at a crossroads on November 8th, and I think we made a very wrong decision.

But another crossroads is coming, and you’ve got to make a decision of which direction you’re going to go bearing in mind that your choice doesn’t affect just you.

So check your privilege at the door please and really think about what all this means, and what future you want.

Because the crossroads is coming, what will you choose?

Delta Love,

Taylor

 

 

 

 

Night Showers and First Year Lessons

I am currently 23 years old.  I would say that for about 13 years of that time my hygienic routine has included a morning shower (usually the first thing I do when I wake up).  Based on conversations I’ve had with people, I would say there’s a pretty even split between those that shower in the morning and those that shower at night.  I think most people start out taking showers at night because children generally are given baths at night, and I was no different.  However, I still remember the moment that I decided to switch to morning showers.

When I was probably around 9, I always took a shower at 8 o’clock at night.  Mainly because I would come home from school, do homework, eat dinner, and play/ relax until time for my shower.  After the shower, it was generally time to start preparing for bed because I did, and still do, have trouble calming down enough to sleep.

Unfortunately for me, the 8 o’clock shower time was highly inconvenient because that was the time that the nightly movie aired on the Disney Channel.  Each night would be a different movie, and as a 9 year-old (and still to be honest), I wanted nothing more than to watch those movies.  My parents tried to console me by taping them or buying the movies for me to watch later, resulting in piles and piles of Disney VHS tapes I’m sure are still sitting downstairs at my parents’ house, and for a while that seemed to work.

However there was one movie that my parents could not seem to find anytime they went out, and it rarely aired on the Disney Channel, but I loved it with every fiber of my being.

That movie was “The Great Mouse Detective.”  A parody of Sherlock Holmes with adorable, anthropomorphic mice, rats, and bats all set on the streets of London (the Anglophile has apparently always been present).  My parents could not understand my obsession, but they definitely observed it.

So one night, “The Great Mouse Detective” was the 8 o’clock movie special on Disney Channel.  By the time I realized this, it was too late to shower before the movie started, so my 9 year-old brain started running through possible solutions.

How am I going to figure out a way to watch this movie?  

I could lie and say I showered when I didn’t?  No, I’m a horrible liar. . .

I could try and convince them to let me shower after the movie is over.  No, they’re not going to go for that.

I mean I could just not watch the movie and hope Mom and Dad find it soon.  But who knows how long that will take?

Then I had a brainstorm.  I could finish all of my homework, eat dinner, watch “The Great Mouse Detective,” and get into bed at a reasonable time if I could convince my parents of one thing. . .

I had to convince them to let me take a shower in the morning, instead of at night. 

The bolded letters there are very intentional because this was a huge freaking deal to my nine year-old self.  I didn’t really know what to expect or how I was going to have this discussion, but the the clock was literally ticking as the night crept closer and closer to 8 o’clock.

So finally at around 7:15, I asked my parents the fateful question. . .

And they let me do it.  It was among the greatest days of my young life.  And literally since then I have always taken morning showers.

That is until I moved to the Mississippi Delta and became a teacher.  

Now if you ask any first-year teacher on any given day how they’re feeling, I can almost guarantee that they will say, “I’m really tired.”  And that feeling of exhaustion is the primary emotion I felt during my first year of teaching as well.  And everyone deals with their exhaustion in different ways: some people nap a lot, others go to bed super early, some have days where they literally crash at like 7 o’clock, and still others just push through and hibernate on the weekends.

Me?  I didn’t really have a super great system in place which resulted in some rather unfortunate outcomes.

As I said, I had showered in the mornings for pretty much the entirety of my remembered life.  So obviously, I had planned to continue that when I moved to Mississippi and started teaching.

This did not work out for me.

For starters, as I mentioned earlier I have a hard time calming down to sleep.  In other words, it’s really challenging for me to shut my brain up long enough to actually rest.  This is also bad because I’m an extrovert, and unless I’m so sleepy I’m going to fall over, if I’ve been talking with people (like roommates for example), I can’t fall asleep right away because my body has been energized by the conversation no matter how mundane.

So I knew that I needed to go to bed early, but anytime I laid down before 11 o’clock, my brain would just not shut up until close to midnight, which did not give me nearly enough sleep.  I found that I couldn’t be grading or working on lesson plans or anything else work-related right before bed and expect to fall asleep immediately.  But I couldn’t allow myself to sit there and watch YouTube or read because I felt like I was wasting time.

Now of course this got worse because I was showering in the morning which meant I needed to get up with enough time to shower, dry my hair, and put on make up and still leave the house around 7.

Well that was the plan anyway.  But when you’re really really tired, your brain doesn’t make a lot of sense.  Meaning I would wake up and convince myself that I didn’t really need to shower.  Surely some dry shampoo and well-placed deodorant would do the job.  And I would go days sometimes without showering.  Like 48 hours since my last time in the bath.

OBLIGATORY NOTICE: Yes I am fully aware how absolutely disgusting this is, but it’s my blog, so I feel like I can be a little gross, and I promise by the end of the post I will have my life better sorted out, and there will be some sort of meaning behind all of this.

Now while in general this is just bad and should never be done for the pure physical nausea it should cause you, it’s also bad for your mental health.  Cleaning yourself makes you feel better.  Even if all you’re going to do all day is sit inside alone, taking a shower is still just a nice feeling.

And when you don’t shower, besides being a smelly ogre, you just start to stop caring about how you look and dress.  It’s the first step on the dangerous road to losing all sense of self-care.  Which is something a lot of first-year teachers, myself included, really struggle with.

A big part of self-care is sleep absolutely, but it’s also the most selfish part of self-care.  Meaning it’s the part of self-care that throws the biggest fit when it’s being neglected making you feel like it matters the most when in actuality you might need something else a little bit more–like waking up a little earlier to take a long shower and put on some make up.

The point of all this is, I tried to take showers in the morning for the better part of the first semester, until I finally realized that it just wasn’t working.  All I was at that point was sleepy and smelly, instead of just sleepy.

Something needed to be changed.

So I decided to try taking night showers, and for a while it was really weird.

First of all, if you’re not used to remembering that you shower at night, sometimes you literally just forget that it needs to be done.  I also went to bed with wet hair which is something I wasn’t familiar with.  And by going to sleep with wet hair, my hair no longer had the super straight styling it gets when I blow dry it thanks to my Cherokee heritage.  No, when I let my hair air-dry, it gets these weird wavy curls I blame on my Italian heritage.

So for a while, it was definitely strange, and I really didn’t think that I liked it.  But I decided to try it out for at least a month before I made up my mind.

Over time, I started to notice some things.  I mean I could sleep in later in the mornings which was a glorious thing in itself.  Also in the mornings, by not showering, I usually had time to put on my make up and make breakfast and a cup of coffee.  And that meant that I went to school feeling a little more like a human.

In the evenings, once I integrated showering into my nightly routine, it became the most important part of that routine.  I set a shower time in the evening just like when I was a kid.  I tried (and usually succeeded) to have everything absolutely essential done before that time, so that I could turn off once shower time arrived.

Showering in the evening gave me a buffer.  It was a literally a time for my brain to stop.  It was like the steam of the shower sent a message to my brain that it was almost time for bed, and it needed to slow down for the next seven or eight hours.

And showering is an individual practice (at least for me wink wink) which means there was no chance of anyone joining me and sending my energy through the roof right before I was trying to sleep.

So, I decided to keep the change.

And now I shower in the evenings.

Exciting, right?

Okay no, the point of the blog post is not just the shower, although I am sure that you were riveted by that story.

The point is, I never thought that I would go back to taking showers at night-time.  Not because I was morally opposed to it, but just because I didn’t think I would need to.

But when I came here, that changed.  And it didn’t change through an easy method.  No it changed because I tried for a long time to do something that wasn’t working, and even when I switched, I didn’t like it at first.

And in a sense, that’s what being a first-year teacher is.  

When you start planning that classroom or curriculum or first lesson or whatever, you have in your mind a very clear picture of what you want and probably how you’re going to get there.  And that’s good.  You need that picture to get you started.

However as a first year teacher, you quickly realize that that picture is never correct.  What you imagined being your classroom is never what it actually is.  What you imagined being your quizzes or projects or management or bulletin boards or anything else is never what they turn out to be.

As a first year teacher, you’re making changes all the time because teaching is a sink or swim situation that can’t really be figured out until you’re in the midst of it. 

This blog post is titled, “Night Showers and First Year Lessons,” because there is no way that I could sum up everything I learned in my first year in one blog post.  I could probably write an entire book of just what I learned about the classroom and being a teacher without even touching all the things I learned about myself.

However, if there is one overall theme to all of the lessons I learned last year, it’s the moral of night showers.

You are absolutely going to fall.  Flat.  On your face.  In a room full of students.  

And you’re going to do it a lot.

Most likely, the mistakes you make during your first year of teaching are not going to be quiet mistakes that you can casually and subtly fix on your planning period without anyone knowing.  No, your mistakes are going to be your greasy hair that you’re desperately trying to cover with dry shampoo, and your slight body odor masked with large amounts of perfume.  Everyone is going to know.

What defines a first year teacher is not how many mistakes she makes, it’s whether or not she changes to fix them.  

I never thought I would take showers at night, but I saw that taking showers in the morning wasn’t working.  So I could either continue doing what I had always done and was comfortable doing, or I could try something new.

Being a first-year teacher is trying something new every single day.  And it won’t always work, so you’ve got to be comfortable doing what is uncomfortable so that you can take care of yourself and your students.

Try your best, keep what works, change what doesn’t.  

That is the lesson of the night shower and my first year of teaching.

And now it’s time to get ready for round two.

Delta Love,

Taylor

 

No Chill

My kids used to say to me all the time,

“Ms. Robertson, you’ve got no chill.”

They would say it when I took away their phones, they would say it when I denied them a ‘free day,’ and they would definitely say it when I called their parents.

“Ms. Robertson, you’ve got no chill.”

When I would take their snarky response and raise them a sarcastic zinger.

“Ms. Robertson, you’ve got no chill.”

When I would move them away from their girlfriend or boyfriend of the week because I saw that both students were suffering due to their little romance.

“Ms. Robertson, you’ve got no chill.”

When I talked to basketball and football coaches about missing homework assignments and problems with behavior and respect.

“Ms. Robertson, you’ve got no chill.”

When I pulled them aside to look them in the eye and tell them that I would flunk them in a heartbeat if they didn’t get their act together.

“Ms. Robertson, you’ve got no chill.”

When no matter what day it is, we always do the bellwork.

“Ms. Robertson, you’ve got no chill.”

When I repeated myself for the hundredth time that silent means silent, and there are no exceptions.

“Ms. Robertson, you’ve got no chill.”

When I stood in between two very angry boys and refused to move until they sat back down.

“Ms. Robertson, you’ve got no chill.”

When you get five bathroom passes a nine weeks, and if you lose them you’re out of luck.

“Ms. Robertson, you’ve got no chill.”

When I reminded the twerking girls in the corner that how we dance at school is different than how we dance in our bedrooms alone at home.

“Ms. Robertson, you’ve got no chill.”

When, yes I know it’s a half day, but we’ve still got work to do.

“Ms. Robertson, you’ve got no chill.”

When I know you’re cold, but the state says you can’t have on a jacket while you test, and you’re too smart and you’ve worked too hard to mess this up over a freaking hoodie.

“Ms. Robertson, you’ve got no chill.”

When, even though Ms. Robertson is tired and sick and honestly a little depressed, she still came into work today just to make your life miserable and not at all because she cares.

“Ms. Robertson, you’ve got no chill.”

 

Yes, it’s true.  I do find that when it comes to chill I am often in short supply.

But there’s a reason for that.

There is a reason that I have no chill.

And unfortunately it’s because there are other things that seem to be missing from our world–things more important than chill.

 

I have no chill because Trayvon Martin had no gun.

I have no chill because George Zimmerman had no class when he auctioned off the weapon that took the life of a child–because no matter what any stupid law says about defending any stupid ground, he was a child.

I have no chill because Eric Garner had no air.

I have no chill because Sandra Bland had no real investigation.

I have no chill because Mike Brown had no chance of surviving twelve shots.

I have no chill because there has been no real change, and this keeps happening.

I have no chill because no one cries “white on white crime” when a white person dies in police custody.

I have no chill because no politician has made anything except brief statements about this despite the fact that we’re in the midst of a presidential election year with a racist bigot carrying the nomination of one of our major political parties.

I have no chill because there is no media coverage about Tiara Thomas or Paterson Brown or Albert Davis or De’Angello Stallworth or any of the hundreds of other black men, women, and children who are dying.

I have no chill because it’s no longer just sad–it’s devastatingly heart-breaking.

I have no chill because after a while it stops being an incident, and it starts being a pattern.

I have no chill because I ran out of tears a long time ago, and now I’m just angry.

And I’m not saying I blame a person or people or the entirety of the police force or anything as simple as that.  

No, the problem is far too complicated for pointed fingers and veiled threats.

I have no chill because there is no justice.  There is no justice on a big scale.  Bigger than any one instance or person or place or time.

I have no chill because my students, my children, are black. 

And this world, as of right now, is not safe for them.  And I am protecting them the only way I know how– by teaching them how to operate in a broken world, so that they can one day change it.

 

I’ve got no chill because we’ve got no chance of fixing this crazy, fucked up mess of a world unless we all realize that the time for chill is over.

 

Delta Love,

Taylor

 

 

 

The Third Quarter of Glorious Love

. . .

. . .

Yes I know it’s been over two months. . .I’m sorry.

To be fair, I currently have three somewhat done posts sitting in my drafts, but I just don’t feel that they are ready to be shared yet.

However!  There is a definite reason why I’ve been finding it challenging to write, and I promise it’s a good one.

Third quarter was. . .bleeping amazing

And I think that this blog is often my way of processing emotions that are usually challenging or difficult, so I found myself not really needing to go to it much during what has been the happiest period of my time in Mississippi.

But it seemed kinda counterproductive and sad to only share the negatives or challenging parts of my life here without sharing the awesome ones as well.

So I decided to change that. 

So this blog isn’t going to be the usual Taylor Delta Digest that includes some really hard-hitting questions complete with earth-shattering experiences.  Instead it’s just going to be a more casual check-in and time for me to brag about the cool stuff that’s been going on down here since I returned from Christmas break.

As you know if you’ve been following this blog, October and November were really hard for me. After Thanksgiving, it really only got better due to the little amount of time before the holidays, and I legitimately found it difficult to return after my two weeks at home for Christmas.  I wasn’t sure if I was ready to go back into the war-zone that is teaching daily in Clarksdale.

But I was so wrong.

When I came back, it’s almost like I and the students sort of breathed a collective sigh and settled into our lives.  It’s like they, and me to an extent, were seeing if I was gonna stick it out.  And when I entered that classroom on January 5, they looked at me, nodded, and got to work.

And oh my god did they work.  

They turned out some amazing World Changer projects highlighting people in the current world who are working to make it better; they analyzed the effect of the slave trade on Africa and how the media’s misrepresentation of Africa negatively affects African Americans; they created plot diagrams of Greek myths connecting their English and History classes in a way that blew their mind; and they completed not one but two Document Based Questions on Rome (one on the spread of Christianity and one on citizenship).

I actually ran out of wall space in my room to display all of the amazing work that they did.

And beyond academics, they also started to behave in ways that made me proud to claim them as mine.

I started to see students carry pencils and paper that used to always come to class unprepared; I heard students correcting themselves and each other from saying homophobic comments and slurs; I began to notice that students wanted forms of affection and praise from me as they brought me grades and projects from other classes; and they started saying things like “I’m smart” and “I want to be in a Honors class next year.”

And the students weren’t the only ones who had a transformation.  I changed so much over that third quarter too.

I started planning further in advance allowing me to create quality lessons again; I began experimenting in the classroom with different activities making me and the students feel more fresh and excited; I opened up more to those around me about my vulnerabilities and struggles and looked to them for advice and motivation; and I started being more me–whether that was in the classroom or just around the community that I’ve created down here in Mississippi.

All of this isn’t to say that there weren’t hard days during that third quarter, because of course there were.  But I just overall had a feeling during those nine weeks where the work suddenly seemed possible again.  Like the dream that I had when I applied for this program became achievable again.

I don’t think that my transformation or the students’ transformation necessarily caused the other, but rather that they worked beside one another to give me a feeling that I honestly hadn’t had since May.

A feeling of home.  Because at the end of the day, home is built on love.  And love takes time.  But at this point, I not only love here, but feel loved in return. 

In some ways, two years feels like no time at all (like when I consider that I’m pretty much halfway through the pre-determined time of this experience), but in other ways it’s super long (like when I consider just how long it took me to feel settled into my life here).

And here’s where it gets hard.

*Crap.  I almost made it through a blogpost without a challenging or existential thought. . .oh well.

Everything is about to change.

Within a month, my time with my first round of babies will be over.  I was approached by my administration and others have asked me about the possibility of moving up with my kids, but I truly think that part of what makes teaching amazing is the small sliver of someone’s life that you get to be a part of.   It’s almost like the time is part of what makes it special.

My first round of kids will always be my first.  No matter where I go or what I do–they will always be the first.  And I will always be their seventh grade social studies teacher at Higgins Middle School in Clarksdale, Mississippi.  And what’s even specialier than that (which they probably won’t realize) is that I will always be their seventh grade social studies teacher who learned and loved ferociously during her first year of teaching just so she could make it through in one piece.

And within a month, some of the community I’ve built here, including some key cornerstones, will be moving on to other things.  And while this is beautiful and amazing for them, it’s also quite sad and scary for those that will still be here in the Delta, like me.

I can’t help but think about the fact that I have chosen a profession built on temporary connections.  There will always be a revolving door of students for a teacher.  And there will always be a time crunch for how long you have to make a profound impact on a child’s life.

And teaching in the Delta, there is always a revolving door of teachers.  Which gives me the opportunity to learn from so many amazing humans, but also means that eventually that learning is done, and it’s time for them to go.

Last week, I was teaching my kids about the effect scarcity has on an item’s price or value, and I can’t help but think it fits nicely with what I’ve said here.

Third quarter was truly awesome for a multitude of reasons.  But it is over.

And this year has been scary, amazing, challenging, cathartic, beautiful, and so many other emotions. But it too, will soon be over.

But I guess that’s what makes anything in life special and valuable.  Because eventually, it does come to an end.

Delta Love,

Taylor

 

 

 

 

Respecting and Crossing Lines

I think I can safely say that I have wanted to be a teacher for my entire life.  I mean yes there were other careers that I considered, especially between the ages of 15 and 19 when all I was concerned about was money, but it is the first thing I remember wanting to be, and it is the career that I eventually decided was the right choice.

However the reasons behind wanting to be a teacher have changed over time.  I think I wanted to be a teacher at first because my mother is a teacher and a badass one at that.  Then while I was in middle school, I wanted to be a music teacher because I honestly wasn’t musically talented enough to be a musician, but I wanted music to stay a part of my life.  Then in college when I decided to formally go into education it was because of professors and advisors who supported and loved me through tough academic times.

But all of those justifications are not the reason that I decided to join Teach for America and move to Mississippi.  The only reason for that is one thing that I didn’t even realize was a crucial part of being a successful educator until I was in my final semester of college.

And that reason is social justice. 

Yes to be a teacher that goes above and beyond what is expected or required, you have to understand that a large part of your job is social justice work.  Yes that work takes place in a classroom through teaching content and skills, but it is social justice work.

Looking back another thing I can remember wanting to be since I was probably around 8 or 9 was an activist.  My heroes growing up were people like Martin Luther King, Susan B. Anthony, Gandhi, and other famous social justice figures.  So when I heard about Teach for America and its mission, it seemed like the perfect way to fit together two of my passions.

What I did not expect, however, was how challenging it would be to bring this with me into the classroom.  And for the first half of the year, I didn’t even think it was that challenging.  I was honestly very happy and impressed with myself with how I brought up issues of inequality, specifically wealth and racial inequality in this country, with my students.  I felt like I was doing what I had signed on to do by teaching about these issues while simultaneously teaching social studies.

But then I attended two separate professional development sessions, both of which centered on social justice in the classroom, and both of them said the same thing.  They both told me that what I was doing was not enough.  One session was all about the logistics of taking social justice conversations and turning them into social justice actions, and the other was about the problems associated with only having social justice discussions that never actually went anywhere.  

So I wanted to make a conscious effort to start planning and incorporating not only social justice discussion, but social justice organization and action into my classroom.

However things got a little more complicated after there was a shooting in our community.  You probably saw on the news that a police officer was shoot and nearly died right down the street from where I live.  This obviously got national attention and was the talk of the entire town for several days.

I wanted to give my students a place to talk about this but honestly didn’t know how to approach it, feeling once again my position as an outsider here negatively affecting the level of vulnerability that I can have with my students and that my students can have with me.  Luckily for me, my students just needed a space to air out some thoughts, and they let me listen.

On the one hand, there was definitely a lot of gossip shared that was most likely untrue or exaggerated.  However, at one point the conversation started to slow and one of my students who hardly ever speaks said, “I heard the gun shot, and I heard the sirens.”  

By this time, everyone including me had stopped any other discussions or distractions and were just listening.

“I kept hearing the sirens get louder and louder.  Then there was knocking on our door, and I could hear a dog barking.  My mom let police officers into our house.  The dog starting sniffing around and came to my room.  One police officer pulled me out and held me while the dog searched all over my room.  I don’t know what they were looking for but I guess they didn’t find it.  He eventually let me go, and they left our house.  I’ve still go a bruise on my arm.”

I have never heard a class so silent.  

Another student asked, “Why did they come to your house?”  He shook his head and said, “I don’t know.”

Immediately I was livid imagining someone, anyone, interacting with my student in such a hurtful way.  I, of course, started thinking horrible things about the police officers in question.  Assuming the worst about them and their work.

Yet then I started to think what it must have been like to be those police officers.  What it must have been like to respond to a call about one of your own being shot down and then being asked to work through those emotions.  My student, I’m sure, was not the only one who was hurt that night.

After some processing, I started to realize that this situation exemplifies why social justice action is difficult.  The hardest part about teaching social justice is realizing that it’s really all about teaching to simultaneously respect and cross lines.

What I mean by that is teaching the horrific injustice of police brutality, to young men of color especially, while simultaneously teaching about respecting and understanding the importance of law and police officers in a functioning society.

Teaching the terrible reality that prejudice still exists in the world for people of color, while simultaneously teaching about learning from and listening to people with differing opinions.

Teaching and validating the severe lack of privilege that is a daily struggle for a poor, black student growing up in the Mississippi Delta, while simultaneously not allowing that same student to use it as an excuse to not meet and exceed my high expectations.

Teaching and encouraging students to stand up for what they believe in, especially when it matters to them, while simultaneously preparing them to accept the consequences for that bravery.

Teaching and creating future world changers who I have no doubt have the ability to turn the current system of oppression onto its head, while simultaneously giving them the skills and knowledge to operate within that system until they are able to overthrow it.

Respecting and crossing lines, and knowing when to do which.  That’s what teaching social justice is all about.

And that’s what makes it so hard.

Sometimes when I’m working or teaching or meeting or whatevering, I feel so old.  Like I really should have it figured out better by now.  But I don’t.  Because I’m only 22.

It’s challenging for me to teach about respecting and crossing lines and being able to differentiate between the time to do each because I am still figuring that out myself.

It’s an extremely challenging lesson to learn and an even more challenging lesson to teach.  But for my and my students’ sakes, I hope I can figure it out.

Delta Love,

Taylor

Spotting a Unicorn in the Wild

I am officially back in Mississippi!  Back from the delicious nothingness of break and back into the storm of daily life here in the Delta.

I used my two weeks off for Christmas to rest, relax, and reconnect.  I spent a significant amount of time with my family and got to see some of my friends from college and high school.

However, the one person I reconnected with the most over Christmas Break was myself.

I did not speak to many people about it, but Christmas break was also a really important time for me to make some decisions.  As only one person knew, Christmas Break was about deciding if I was going to come back to Mississippi.  And if I did come back, I was deciding if I thought I could handle all of this for another year after this one.

Teach for America had been my dream since I was 18 years old, so the thought that I was considering leaving was hard enough to admit to myself, much less to anyone else.  

It did not take long for me to decide that I was going to finish out the year.  I could never leave my school in the lurch with all of the issues they already face.  So then the real decision became if I was planning to come back for Year 2.  Because if I wasn’t, January and February were the time for me to start looking at other options.

I wish I could tell you that the decision was easy to make after considering all the good I could do here and the impact me leaving would have on my students (both present and future), but it wasn’t.  It was still one of the hardest decisions I have ever had to make which does make me feel somewhat selfish, but it’s the truth.

It’s no secret that my family wants me back in Virginia (or at least closer to it).  Not because they don’t like what I’m doing here, but just because of how far away I am from them.  Seeing friends from college and high school who live in ‘exciting’ places like Washington DC and Boston made Mississippi seem less and less appealing with every passing second I was away from it.  Wandering through the streets of Roanoke and drinking craft beer from the tap in view of the Blue Ridge Mountains made the miles and miles of flat farmland in the Delta seem uninteresting.

In short, my Christmas break reminded me of just how easy my life used to be.

I mean I could never go back and say that to my past self, but attending college classes, working a part-time job, hanging out with friends, having discussions with professors and visiting academics, it was all so simple.  I’m not trying to sell short the stresses that I dealt with, but they seem so small in comparison to the stresses that I deal with now.

At every other point in my life, the stress that I felt really only affected me.  My decisions and my priorities only added or detracted from my life on a large-scale and their effect on others was small.

But that’s just not true anymore.  Here it’s like every decision I make affects all of my students and by extension an entire community.  Which feels like an obscene amount of pressure to put on anyone’s shoulders, especially a first-year teacher in a high-risk school 12 hours away from family and friends.

I constantly feel like I am not enough to do this.  Not qualified enough, not passionate enough, not whatever enough.

Overall, I eventually decided that I needed to come back to Mississippi with a new attitude and then decide from there what my next steps for 2016-2017 were.

This new attitude was tested literally immediately after I entered the state.  A couple friends and I decided to make the trip back to Mississippi together, and it was actually going amazingly well.  However, quite literally ten minutes after we crossed the state line, the car broke down, and our 15 hour journey back to Clarksdale turned into a 20 hour one.  Then upon entering my house I found that the mirror in my bedroom had fallen over break and broken into multiple pieces (which I discovered by stepping on two of them).  The following morning, I noticed my tires were a little low so I decided to go get some air only to find that my car had also been broken into over break.

Not exactly the ideal situation for starting a new positive attitude.

I legitimately laid in bed on the Sunday before returning to work contemplating the logistics of going back home.  But luckily for me, I have some pretty awesome friends both in Mississippi and all over the world who gave me some much-needed words of encouragement.

Coming back from break has actually been much better than anticipated.  The kids have overall been relatively good, and I just feel more in control of my classroom and my life to be honest.  I think this is partially because Christmas was a much-needed break, but I have also been trying a new system I have decided to dub “Spotting a Unicorn in the Wild.”

Yes, I know.  It’s perfect.

The idea behind this is I treat everyday like an adventure where I try to find something unbelievably amazing.  I try to find something that most people would say is imaginary in Mississippi.  Examples of this could include a student giving me a high-order thinking answer that I hadn’t even considered yet (which happened this week in my classroom), or having an academic discussion with a local at a coffee shop or bar (which happened last week).

Do I find it everyday? No, absolutely not.  Unicorns aren’t exactly easy to find even if you’re looking for them (just ask Lord Voldemort).  But what I have found is that even on the days where I don’t find a unicorn, I still find other things that are exciting.  Maybe I didn’t get a high-order answer, but that one student in sixth period didn’t get sent out today.  And while that might not be a unicorn, I would at least qualify that as an easier-to-find mythical creature, like an elf for example.

I am fully aware how nerdy this particular blog post is, but this is legitimately how I think day-to-day to make it through.  

Finding a unicorn is an amazing experience, but just looking for one makes trudging through the wilderness worth it most of the time.  Does this mean that I am 100% happy and fully ready to be a part of this place and this experience every day?  Of course not, because all of those thoughts and emotions I was dealing with over Christmas are still there.

But “Spotting a Unicorn in the Wild”did give me enough strength to make some important decisions.

Like deciding to apply for a fellowship that would allow me to continue working with students in Mississippi while also receiving development in how to become an educational leader in rural environments that I could take with me anywhere in the country.

Like forcing me out of my house to make an effort to build stronger connections with the community around me.

Like putting more effort into my classroom and my students to ensure their success with highly rigorous, well-planned and well-executed lessons.

And most importantly, like signing my letter of intent to return to my current position in August of 2016.

It’s been quite an eventful month, but I do feel like it’s been an important one for me.  Am I still where I want to be emotionally? Not even close.

But I’m better, and that’s good enough for right now.

Happy Unicorn Hunting and Delta Love,

Taylor

 

High Stakes Create High Emotion

A half a year has passed since I moved to Mississippi.

It’s hard to believe that it was really over six months ago that I loaded up the car and started the thirteen hour trek down to the Delta.  However, at the same time, the amount of blood, sweat, and tears I’ve pumped into this sandy dirt would hint that I’ve been here much longer.

I don’t think it would be an exaggeration to say that this has been the absolute hardest experience of my entire life, and that I’ve never worked, cried, or laughed harder than I have over the last six months.  I was always taught that a good night’s sleep felt the best after a day spent wearing yourself out doing some sort of physical activity, and I think that extends to emotions as well.  I think the best laugh is the one that comes after you’ve cried all the tears you thought were possible.  And I can assure you that I’ve cried more tears over the last six months than I thought I could in my entire lifetime.  But the laughter that I’ve been graced with through my friends, students, and community has been made that much more meaningful because of those tears.

Everything here feels heightened.  Food that’s mediocre becomes the best thing you’ve ever tasted.  That little joke makes you gasp for air you’re laughing so hard.  That slight stab rocks your entire world.  Crushes become infatuations, infatuations become intense relationships, and intense relationships become monumental break ups.  Quick phone call check-ins become two hour emotional purges.  One beer turns into a $75 bar tab at the end of the night.  Coffee dates become marathon dinners.  And small inconveniences send you into a frenzy.

This is life in the Mississippi Delta.

However, the one emotion that I think is heightened the most through this insane experience would have to be a combination of doubt and fear.

I think this comes from the fact that I am living in a scary situation (as is pretty much everyone else who signed up to head to the trenches under the Teach for America banner).  Teaching in high-risk schools is scary.  And teaching in THE high risk schools of the Mississippi Delta is absolutely petrifying.  And not petrifying for the reasons that you might immediately think like the students, parents, administration, etc.

But it’s petrifying because the stakes are so ungodly high.

My school is failing and has been failing for multiple years.  We’re at a low level of achievement when compared to other districts, and we’re the lowest achieving school within our district.  Many of our teachers quit after 1-2 years meaning that our second most veteran teacher has only been here for seven years.  My department, in fact, is comprised of all new-teachers, and not only all-new teachers to the school, but three first-year teachers and one second-year teacher. We’re nearing having our fourth principal in four years, and our test scores are dismal.

So when I say we’re failing, we’re failing on multiple levels on multiple playing fields.  Furthermore, to the state and the federal government, those test scores are extremely problematic and in the end they control a lot of what happens in our building (including the amount of money that we get).

More upsetting to me are the literacy levels in our school.  The average, I repeat, the average literacy level of a seventh grader in my classroom is somewhere between late third grade and early fourth grade.  These kids are intelligent and completely capable of achieving on the same level as other students in other parts of the country.  The only difference between them is that these are high-risk students.  And yes that means that they face challenges that other students may not face, but I truly don’t believe that means they can’t do this.

And yet for some reason (or multiple reasons) they aren’t doing it.

Thus we enter the world of high stakes–where every single day feels like a battle, and I don’t mean a battle against the students (although sometimes it feels like it).  I mean a battle against poverty, racism, systematic injustice, and inadequate funding among many, many other enemies.

When I completed my student teaching placement, I taught at what I now realize was a paradise.  It was an economically well-off school with unlimited copies, enough textbooks to give each student their own and still have a class set, almost limitless technology at your fingertips, and students who, more than anything else, were just concerned about being kids.

Now, I teach in the Mississippi Delta, and while that is a beautiful thing, it is also a very hard thing.  My school barely has enough money to heat the building much less pay for textbooks.  You can forget about copies because if the copy machine is working, the toner is out.  I’m encouraged not to take sick or personal days, because the district doesn’t have any money to pay for substitutes.  The only reason we have any semblance of technology is because of the Race to the Top grant and who knows how long that will last.

But the biggest difference between these two schools is the fact that the kids at my student teaching placement had lives that were relatively good with little trauma that allowed them to concentrate on school and be successful.

Unfortunately, my kids here don’t have that luxury.  I look around my room and listen to my kids’ stories and realize they have gone through infinitely more in their short lives than I probably ever will.  They can’t concentrate on school because they’re hungry.  They don’t bring a pencil to class because they gave the last one in the house to their younger sibling to take to school.  They didn’t bring in the project because their parents don’t get off work until 11 at night and can’t help them.  They can’t read because no one was ever there to read them a bedtime story.

And therefore through this experience I have finally started to realize. . .

The kids with the hardest lives we are expecting the most from and giving them the least to get there.  

High stakes.  The highest, in fact.  Because nothing feels like higher stakes than looking in those kids’ faces and knowing that, even if they haven’t realized it yet, they are looking for a way out.  And not necessarily a way out of Clarksdale, Mississippi, but a way out of the cycle that they’re currently stuck in.

So of course I find myself sobbing uncontrollably at puppy commercials and laugh-crying at “That’s what she said!” jokes.  Everything feels heightened here because everything is heightened here.

And some days that feels really unfair to me, but every day it feels really unfair to them.

Delta Love,

Taylor

 

Loneliness, The Island, and Personal Legends

First of all, sorry I’m the absolute worst for not posting for over a month (yikes).  I used to get so mad at the people I subscribe to on YouTube for not posting more often, but I feel like I somewhat understand a little bit more now. . .

ANYWAY

When I left you, I was definitely not in a good place mentally and thus not in a good place professionally and personally.  In fact, the day after I posted my last blog, I had a particularly hard time in sixth period (my most challenging class) which paired with a crippling homesickness that I have honestly never felt before caused me to weep in front of my seventh period.  Let me take a moment to say, this should be avoided at all costs.  However, it did happen to me (despite my best efforts to get out of that situation) which means I was forced to deal with it which involved a lot of honesty and vulnerability with students that I hadn’t really anticipated.  That being said, I do think it was a very critical breaking point for me.

I think for the first time on that day, I let myself see (through letting my students see) the struggle.  I feel like I was trying so hard everyday and wanting to be so capable that I forgot all the people and articles and podcasts and books that told me that this was a really hard job, and that it was okay to feel overwhelmed and incompetent at times.

I think the word that would describe my entire life throughout October and the first part of November was a deep, deep loneliness that I just couldn’t shake.  I mean I have some really awesome friends here in Clarksdale, a pretty good school community, and wonderful relationships with multiple members of the TFA coaching staff, but for some reason, I still felt like I was my own little island in this crazy Delta world that I can’t seem to get a handle on.

But what changed my life that day was that my children took care of me.  Yes a lot of my loneliness can be helped by adults around me (and it does for sure), but I figured out I’ve got to turn to those kids for helping with that futile island feeling as well.  Yes, I enjoy talking to people at the bar on Friday afternoon about all the crazy stuff that goes on at school every week, but that’s only on Fridays, and those conversations aren’t enough to save me when everyday is a battle (which in October it really is y’all).  The loneliness in Mississippi can be suffocating, and anyone who tells you otherwise is lying to you, but to break out of that loneliness, I had to turn to the people I interact with the most: my students.  And they responded–really well.  In fact, one of my particularly challenging students in that seventh period class told me just the other day that he hoped I was going home for Thanksgiving because it would make me happy, and he wanted me to be happy because I let him see me sad.

Kids are cool, man.    

At this point, however, the stress of this time of the year is slowly winding down with Thanksgiving Break (which will be an entire week off from school, away from the children and instead spending time with family and friends in Virginia) approaching very quickly.  That being said, I anticipate this week moving very slowly based on my lack of motivation currently, and it’s only Sunday.  But I’m sure I can make it if only so that when Saturday morning arrives, I can happily board a plane and head back to the Eastern time zone knowing that I’ve made it through what is widely-accepted as the hardest time of the year for first-year teachers, especially first-year TFA teachers, and doubly especially first-year TFA teachers in the Mississippi Delta.

With the end of this long stretch definitely in my sight, i feel that this is an opportune time to reassess myself and my current situation.  I, of course, am very excited to have made it through these incredibly hard last couple of weeks, but that doesn’t mean I’m emerging unscathed.  In fact, I would say that these last couple weeks have left me feeling a plethora of emotions that I’m still trying to sort through in my heart and mind.

While writing (and thus this blog) are definitely forms of processing that I’m very thankful for, they don’t provide me with the escapism that is so necessary when dealing with the stress of my job and life here in Clarksdale.

For that escapism, I’ve always turned to reading.  Immersing myself in another world, if only for a brief amount of time, has always been my go-to when needing a break from reality.  And something about getting lost in a book while sitting in silence in my room, on my roof, or on my porch is particularly calming.

I honestly don’t think I realized how important that break from reality into another world was to me until I came here and didn’t do it for the first month or so because of busyness.

However here recently, I found a book that allowed me to simultaneously escape and confront my reality–something that only the best books can do.

I was in Greenwood, Mississippi, last weekend for a meeting which was held at an adorable bookstore.  Obviously after I finished the meeting I decided to browse (honestly without the intention of buying anything) when I found myself drawn to a particular book.

I saw the title The Alchemist and was interested due to my current Netflix obsession, Fullmetal Alchemist, but decided I had to purchase the novel (despite its overly-enthused price tag because adorable book shops and are also usually expensive book shops) when I read the description.  A young boy traveling through the fields of Spain and the deserts of Egypt sounded like the perfect form of escapism that I needed.  So I purchased and began reading it in the same day.

Yet when I got into the book I discovered that while the story definitely provided me with escapism allowing me to hide in its pages for hours at time in contentment, it also forced me to grapple with thoughts I had currently been having in my own life.

In the story, the main character, Santiago, goes on a whirl-wind adventure spanning multiple years and two continents in search of treasure that he believes can be found in the pyramids of Egypt.  He goes on this crazy roller-coaster ride because he believes, and is told by multiple mentors along the way, that it is his personal legend, or reason for existing, to find this treasure.  That is not to say that his quest is without trials, far from it in fact, but those trials are said to be signs that he is almost to his quest’s completion.  

I won’t spoil the book for you anymore because you honestly should experience it for yourself, but I will say that it was one of the most deliciously simple, deeply human, and painfully real pieces of literature I’ve ever read.  

However, reading the book made me stop and think about the idea of personal legends and reasons for existence.  The book points out on multiple occasions that “to realize one’s destiny is a person’s only obligation” and that the universe is constantly working towards helping us all realize those destinies, even if we may not notice it.  

So I began to think, is what I’m doing here in Mississippi my personal legend?  And if it’s not, is it helping me get there?

The book also points out that often when trying to realize this legend, you will be tested and tried because it is the only way for the universe to see that you are worthy of achieving your purpose because you persevered through those challenges.  

So if challenges and trials are a sign that you’re on the right track, then I’m doing alright down here, trust me.

I’m not saying that I think this book summed up the meaning of life in 170 pages and that we should all read it as our new Bible, but I am saying that this book gave me some hope of which I was in desperate need.  

Personal legends and purposes are not simple, and most people don’t accomplish them either because they refuse to listen to themselves and the world around them or because they won’t persevere through the hard times.  But for those that do listen and persevere, the rewards are amazing.

So I’m not sure if teaching in the Mississippi Delta is my personal legend.  In all honesty, i think it’s probably not.  But I do think that being here is a part of the universe conspiring to get me there.

And that’s definitely a reason to wake up in the morning.  Even the week before a much-needed Thanksgiving break.

Delta Love,

Taylor

Confessions from a First Year in October

The newness is gone.  It stops being exciting, and instead it starts being really hard.  You’ve been here long enough to think that you should be making a difference, but not long enough to actually see the fruits of your labor.

You now haven’t seen your family in several months.  It’s been nearly half a year since you’ve seen some of your closest friends.  And phone calls, FaceTime, and Skype just aren’t cutting it anymore.

The seasons have changed.  It was late spring when you left, and now you’re fairly far into fall.  But fall here is different.  Unlike the mountains of Virginia, fall here is hot and humid.  There aren’t really trees to watch the leaves change.  And the closest thing you’ve got to autumn beauty is fields and fields of blossoming cotton.  Which you can’t appreciate fully because you know what those very fields of cotton did to the ancestors of those kids.

You’ve spent enough time with your students to really see the deficiencies in their learning.  You know that the majority of them aren’t reading on grade level and can’t complete basic arithmetic.  Because of this, a lot of the work that you wanted to do, you know that your students just aren’t ready for. . .as much as you would like them to be.

You start forging into new territories in relationships.  It’s no longer just pleasant conversations about how exciting the new year is.  Now you’re dealing with real issues, with your new friends, coworkers, administrators, and coaching staff.  And while this is good, it is also exhausting, brain-numbing, and sometimes causes conflict.

The system no longer seems like a far-off entity that you blame for all the problems.  Instead the system is something you’re forced to grapple with every single day on a personal level.  Instead, the system is becoming a part of who you are.

Or rather you are becoming a part of it. 

You promised yourself you would never raise your voice against a child, but you find yourself screaming trying to regain some sense of control.  You promised yourself you would never throw a child out of the room based on personal-life frustrations, and then sigh heavily as you mutter the phrase get out knowing that student has nothing to do with the argument you had last night.

Some days, it feels like you’ve got it all under control, and it’s going to be okay.  Other days, it feels like it’s all balanced on very unstable shoulders (yours), and you just want to pull the plug and run home.

Speaking of which, you don’t even know where home is anymore, or what you would do once you got there.

You begin to become defensive.  About everything.  Criticism, however productive, becomes a personal attack, and affirmation and encouragement begins to seem inauthentic.

Frustration is the name of the game as it feels like you’re consistently trying new ways of getting students invested and interested seemingly without progress.  It’s like you’re spinning your tires in the Mississippi mud–trying and trying so desperately to get moving, but feeling like you’re staying in one place.

Meanwhile you wonder if a month and seven days off is too early to start the countdown to the day when a plane will take you away from here (if only for a little while).

You also wonder if you can make it that long.

Some students look at you like they’ve never actually seen you, they’ve just looked right through.

And that scares you.

Some students look at you with anger and contempt at everything you’re saying and doing.

And that scares you more.

And some students look at you with a face of pure desperation that screams out, “You’ve got to try, Ms. Robertson.  You may be my last chance.”

And that scares you most.

To anyone else who is a first year in October, or anyone else who feels these things. . .I’ve got to believe that it gets better

Delta Love,

Taylor

Where Are All the __________ People?

I love my lunch class (4th period) which is probably a good thing because I see them for the longest amount of time every day.  While these kids are some of the naturally brightest that I encounter throughout my six periods, they’re also just really fun.  They’re the type of students who several years from now, I would love to look them up and ask them to grab a coffee or a beer to see how their lives are going.  The type of people who if they were in their 20s, I would like to think we could be friends if we crossed each others’ paths.

And even more than either of those reasons to like them, I also like them because they’re not afraid to call it out (whatever it may be).  Which is very refreshing because while adults often sugar-coat hard truths to ensure that they’re politically correct and/ or don’t hurt people’s feelings, middle schoolers see something, recognize it isn’t right, and then freaking say it. 

For example, my lock screen on my phone currently is my group of girlfriends from college standing in front of an area on campus that we had decorated to say “Congrats Class of 2015!” shortly before graduation.  Now normally my phone is locked in my drawer during school (partially to keep me from looking at it and partially to ensure it doesn’t end up mysteriously disappearing), but I take my phone with me to lunch to keep up with the time.

As we were sitting there eating lunch one day last week, one of the girls in my class touched the button to illuminate the lock screen.  She asked me who was in the picture so I told her the names of the seven other girls in the photo along with what they’re doing/ where they’re living since graduation.  She listened intently, and when I had finished, she asked calmly:

“Where are all the black people?”

Now the lack of diversity at Roanoke College wasn’t exactly shocking to my ears (I noticed it while I attended/ spoke about it with several people during my time there), but what was shocking to me was the fact that a 12 year old living in Clarksdale, Mississippi, mentioned it with such a matter-of-fact tone.

How can someone that many consider dangerous and goal-less articulate with such conviction and maturity a problem in society that grown men run scared from whenever it is mentioned?

Ever since I moved to Mississippi, I’ve noticed how harshly our society is separated among racial lines.  I mean speaking highly of diversity is like the cool thing to do these days, but our society doesn’t really live that at all.

If you’re unaware of the segregation of America’s public schools currently, I highly suggest you do some research because it’s a real problem that’s affecting our kids.  For the sake of this blog post, I’ll give you the highlights.

The most integrated that America’s public schools ever got was in the 1980s (20-30 years after forced desegregation), but since that time our schools have consistently become more segregated with each passing year.  Meaning that over time, we’re actually moving back to having schools being as separate as they were at the height of Jim Crow, and not just in the South, all over the country. 

There are multiple causes of this including white flight out of extremely urban and rural areas into suburban ones, an increase in homeschooling, and the influx of white students into private schools (especially in areas with high minority populations), but that’s not really where I’m trying to focus at the moment.

Instead, I want to focus on the fact that while many people call out the segregation issues in American school systems, few people acknowledge the segregation that permeates every part of society.

For example, I easily look around my classroom and can ask the question, “Where are all the white people?” as I am literally the only white person in my room throughout the entire day.  At this point, it’s not even weird because it’s just a part of my life.

And that’s what’s concerning.

When the segregation of groups of people based on race becomes something that people don’t even question, I’m uncomfortable and downright fearful.

But while there is a small number of people who question the segregation of our schools, there is an even smaller number of people who question it in other aspects of our lives.

Look around your neighborhood.  Look at your church.  Look at your group of friends. 

Look around the different aspects of your life and ask yourself “Where are all the ___________ people?” (and fill in the blank with a race that isn’t yours).

And I’m not saying look around and find the token minority to make yourself feel better, as many so often do, but actually look around and critically assess how integrated your life is with a race that is not your own.

And I would venture to guess that it’s probably not very.  

So the question that I find myself asking (as I think about my college, my close friends, and even the organization that put me in a 100% black student population) is “Where are all the black people?”

And then that question moves me into a question of a much more critical nature.  If all other parts of our lives are segregated based on race, why would we think that our schools are any different?

My kids may not be able to read a passage on grade level or complete basic arithmetic in their heads, but they do recognize the segregation that exists in the world around them.

And, unlike many people, they’re smart enough to know it needs to be called out.  

I didn’t write this blog post to make people feel guilty about their lives or their communities, but I wrote it because I felt like it needs to be said.

I think we often look towards the problems in our schools and see them with such contempt and wonder how on earth they exist in the way that they do.

Our schools exist the way they do because our schools and by extension our children mimic the world they see around them.  

So the question becomes, whose job is it to change these problems?  And of course the answer to that is everyone because the problem is so large that it requires everyone, but the brunt of the burden has to fall on those who identify as white.

Now immediately, if you identify as white you’re defensive because your thought process becomes  “I’m not racist, so it’s not my problem.”  I would respond by saying that you’re probably not racist, but the society that you live in has severe prejudice towards minority ethnicities and not your personal ethnicity, so it is your problem.

Unfortunately, the prejudice in our society benefits those who are white meaning that those who identify as white have a big responsibility.  While working to fix these issues is definitely widespread, the system as it currently exists heavily empowers one group of people meaning if you’re in that group of people, you need to use that empowerment to provide opportunity and agency to those who are denied them from the oppressive system in place.

Now all of this is not to say that I think we should all abandon our jobs to start a picket line (although if that’s what you want to do, then you live your life).  But I am saying that our constant denial of the problem is helping nothing.  In fact, our constant denial of the problem is actually making it worse.

I’m about to say something controversial, so if you’re in a state already I would suggest calming down and coming back.

I don’t believe in being “colorblind.”

I don’t think refusing to see someone’s self-identified race as a part of their identity is helping anyone.  If anything, it is hurting them.

My students are children.  Absolutely they are children, and no matter what happens in that classroom I need to remember that they are children.

But they’re black children.  And to ignore the fact that they are black and I am white does not bring us closer together as people.  It puts up another barrier between us because I’m refusing to acknowledge the parts of their lives that are different than mine based purely on skin color.  And there are a lot of them–more than I care to admit in our supposedly “colorblind” world.

So what am I saying needs to be done?

I guess what I’m saying is that we need start to observing the world around us.  Not just passively seeing as we move through our lives, but actively observing (and therefore critically assessing) the people, schools, neighborhoods, churches, communities, etc. around us.  And I truly believe if we do that, we’ll start to empathize and therefore connect with people with races that are not our own.  And not connect because we’re ignoring the true differences in life experiences when you have different racial identities, but connect because we see one another as people–all parts of one another. . .including race.

So where are the _______ people in your life?

Delta Love,

Taylor