Last day.

*this is the fourth of what will hopefully be five reflections from NAIS’ People of Color Conference in Washington, DC. If you teach at an Independent School and haven’t been here, get on it.

I intended to write this post last but it’s been circling in my head so here it goes.

On the last day of the conference the POCC and SDLC get together for some student led discussions.  This was to be done in our affinity groups.  Here is the first problem with that:  The students have an LGBTQ affinity group that the adults do not (adult affinity groups are strictly race based).  So those students, who had spent the last 2 days in a safe space were pushed out and into a group of people they hadn’t spent anytime with.  The second problem is that they once you combine the teachers and the students in each affinity group they no longer fit in one room.  Therefore we had to divide.  The way we were divided?  By gender.  

GUH.  We spent two days telling them this was a safe space allowing for a place that gender could be a spectrum or not even a spectrum.  Then we asked them very nicely to chose a box.  And here’s the thing about teenagers, they feel injustice the way you and I feel a nail to the foot. It hurts. A lot.

So when I arrived at the White Female group I sit down and I can tell the student with me is uncomfortable.  Then they announce they are making a corner of the room for people who are gender queer.  Yay, you get a corner!

All the sudden students starting running out the room.  “Hey, we got a room!  There’s a LGBTQ room,”  they say to the student sitting next to me.  I turned to the student and say, “Do you want to go?”  With the biggest smile and the fastest nod we left. 

The sense of relief when I came in to the room was thick.  I don’t know how else to describe it.  It was as though everyone in the room had let out a collective sigh releasing the weight from their shoulders. 

There was only a spattering of adults and about 40 students.  The students had texted each other about this new room but adults had only been told via a series of haphazard announcements.  I only knew because of the student sitting next to me. 

I don’t want to share much of what happened in the room because it’s not mine to share.  But I will tell you this: I have never been in a more important space.  The chance for students to meet teachers who felt like them was drastically important. 

Lastly, POCC and SDLC needs to do better next year.  Listening to the stories of fear coming from these students around having to choose a gender and lose this LGBTQ space broke my heart.  Let’s do better adults.  The kids are counting on us. 

What Is and Isn’t Being Said

*this is the third of what is looking like 5 reflections from NAIS’ People of Color Conference in Washington, DC. If you teach at an Independent School and haven’t been here, get on it.

On the first day I went to what turned out to be the only real “workshop” session I went to.  It was called “What Is and Isn’t Being Said: Interrogating Academic Expectations for Students of Color in Independent Schools.”  It was put on by Elizabeth Denevi, Latin School of Chicago (IL) and Mariama Richards, Ethical Cultural Fieldston School (NY), who both seemed super awesome. They were both independent school educators who were also pursuing (or finishing) higher ed degrees which made me immediately feel for them as that time commitment doesn’t mess around.

I spent this workshop writing down quotes they said so I am going to just write them down and maybe a little commentary but in general I’m going to leave it to you. (also I missed the start of this so I have maybe only 3/4 of the session)

“The things we are telling our [students of color in their comments] mean nothing.”

“Stop saying ‘come see me’ it is useless.”

She also said that if they come twice in that vague time you gave them and you aren’t there then why should they bother?

Students are ranking the amount of time they spend on work at a 8-9 out of ten but if you ask them how they can do better they consistently say, “I need to try harder.”

“That’s where they find success.”

Here is where I may have yelled “YES!” Are you seriously telling me that we are letting them keep doing sports because they only find success there?  No one is talking about the fact that they aren’t finding success at all in academics????

“I am surprised I am in honors chem since I am not good at science.”

Be specific in all feedback.

Leave the kids alone.  “What are we doing with our teachers?”

When you only have a few students of color. “The success and failure of the whole group falls on the shoulders of each of them.”

“Grades should indicate mastery.”

Again, “Get the teachers!!”

There is a lack of communication with parents of color.  Things like, “Well his parents will get really mad if we call.” or “A C is not bad.”  Parents who send their kids to independent schools are generally not okay with C’s.

“Diversity Coordinators need to be masters of their subject area.”  They also need power, money, and cooperation.

When does code switching become too much?  When students start to lose track of who they are.

 (If you don’t know about code switching start googling.  I would give you readings but I am not the most educated on this.  Recommendations?  Leave them in comments! Thanks)

“It is unfortunate that [some students] have to live this way when others do not.” -on code switching

“Over 70% of students of color say they are working hard not for the grade but for the teacher.”

Explore your expectation gap.

Watch out for AP and Honors classes as gate keepers.

“What does it mean to have a social justice focus?”

“A Diversity Director without power is White privilege.”

 

As you can probably tell I loved this workshop.

Here some things I intend to google that were mentioned:

easted.com and the AISNE

Patricia Gurin at U-Mich

TESA (Teacher expectations and Student achievement)

Nutureshook – a book mentioned 4 times this weekend.

The White Privilege Conference at Brooklyn Friends

And then I listened.

And the stories flew over me like gasps

stories that made me forget the spaces that I had been in before

stories that erased the thoughts I had and replaced them with new ones

And I took deep breaths so as not to apologize for things I had never said

for words I had never even thought

and I had nothing but disbelief at the vast space that was explained to me

the space of existing in a place where you are never reflected in others

where you are never reflected at all

a space that my life didn’t approach

I heard tales of expectations and misinterpretations

I heard words like different, weird, and not allowed

and could not manage responses beyond sheer disbelief

the burdens of people I could not lessen weighed on me

and still it was nothing compared to theirs

“sassy”, “overachievers”, “rappers”, aggressive”

were words used to discribe people as though they were themselves the group

children spoke of triangles in square peg, round hole worlds

children spoke of being whole.  

the words, “does is get better?” were unanswerable by me

I don’t know, I replied, I will help, I replied

I will climb towards your space

never really being there with you 

I will help you build a home, here, in the place between 

I will try to follow where others have led

and lead when I can’t find a path

but I will never live your stories

I will never be in your space

So I will listen as we build something better together. 

 

**this is the second of what I hope will be many reflections from NAIS’ People of Color Conference in Washington, DC. If you teach at an Independent School and haven’t been here, get on it.

 

 

 

Whiteness.

**this is the first of what I hope will be many reflections from NAIS’ People of Color Conference in Washington, DC. If you teach at an Independent School and haven’t been here, get on it.

 

I am writing this in a break during day two of the conference.  I am writing this about my first affinity group session.  I am in the white affinity group.  I know this because I was told I was white in it at least 15 times. “You are white.” “How do you embrace your whiteness?”  “What does it mean to be white?”  ” How do you feel about being white?”

When we showed up to the session we sat in groups of five.  I don’t know that in my entire life I’ve ever intentionally been in a room with only white people.  I know that is has happened, I mean my community/life was not hugely diverse but I don’t think I’ve ever been like,
“Let’s gather, white people!”  Certainly not with the exclamation point.  Anyways, groups of five.  We sat and we discussed.  There were questions, we told stories, overall it was a neat experience.

But here’s where I am at:  I know I am white but it makes me uncomfortable to be continually reminded. Man, that sounds bratty.  I am lucky enough to have the privilege of it not being the largest part of my identity.  Of not having to think constantly about my whiteness.

I left with one main thought:  I am worried about diversity being a prize to be won.  “Our school has more than 25% students of color or staff of color so we’re awesome.”  “My best friend is black.” “I run the GSA.”  Are we as white people in a competition to be the least racist?  To seem the least racist?  When I throw out that I just read bell hooks am I doing it to seem like I am educated?  Do I care that other people think that I am culturally competent? Why do I care?  Why do we care?

Okay, That’s one session from yesterday I have about 3 others to write on and I need to go hang out with the other white people again now.

A little piece of work.

An email I sent to a student with some help from Grace.

[Student Name],

At dinner the other night you said you had had a discussion with another student about how you couldn’t think of an Asian American Shero.  When you told me this I was flummoxed and angry because, you know what, I couldn’t either. Recently I have been noticing more and more the lack of conversation around racial diversity at our school and the glaring lack in the media/news and it totally sucks.

I was talking to my friend Grace today (who also happens to be Asian American) about what you said and she sent me the attached article.  I would like to say the woman who wrote it is a Shero not a loud one doing loud things but writing in a way that made me think.  I would like to be able to write you a list of famous Asian American Shero’s but I don’t think I can off the top of my head and that in itself is unacceptable.

If you want to read the attached article and talk to me about it I would love that.  If not, that’s okay too but I want you to know that I have no doubt in my mind that you have the ability to be loud.  That you will do things that will make future students dress up as you and that just for making me think, you are a Shero of mine (even though I hate that word).

I included your mom in this in case she is interested in the article and also cause I always want her to know how awesome I think you are.

Lastly, this article is written by a Japanese not Taiwanese woman, but I didn’t think you’d mind.

See you tomorrow,

Me.

The article referenced is “Invisibility is an Unnatural Disaster”- Mitsuye Yamada

I followed with this email to Faculty today with some help from Jason.

Good Morning,

I had the distinct privilege of being on weekend duty this weekend and while out to dinner with a group of students we had a conversation about Shero day.  One student said to me, “I can’t just be white, I’m Asian American and I don’t know any Asian Sheros.” As I sat there racking my brain I came to the same conclusion.  I didn’t either.  And, well, that was something.

I asked around to a couple friends and came out with Grace Lee Boggs and Yuri Kochiyama.  The names themselves were valuable but as I dug deeper I realized just how important these women are.  You see the women holding Malcom’s X head in this picture? That’s Yuri.

I’m sending this email because there is a documentary about Grace Lee Boggs coming out right now.  It focuses around her being an American revolutionary.  The trailer is absolutely worth watching.  If we get a chance in the coming years the girls should really see it.

Anyway,  if you get asked the question/comment you will be more prepared than me.  Here are two of my (new) personal Sheros (who happen to be Asian American).

Happy Monday,

Me.

Sometimes we have all school events without educating the students.  Sometimes we don’t know how.  I hope that you can get a little piece of information out of this that helps your students.

I am no longer sure what I am responsible for.

and it is eating me up.

I am responsible for rape.

I mean, not the actual raping.

or the helping of all victims.

But the conversation.

the exhausting conversion that tears me apart from the inside.

the one that asks, “What was she wearing?”

“Where were her parents?”

“What about choices?”

I am responsible for yelling, “NO.”

and punching that conversation square in the jaw.

right?

I am responsible for that.

Because I know better.

because I teach girls.

because I am a girl.

conversations about rape should be about rape.

conversations about rape should be about rapists.

not personal safety

not drinking

not age

but rape

and I know that

so I am responsible.

I am responsible for racism.

I mean but not to much.

Because my privilege is a gift

but also a card that says,

“Shut up, you’re white.”

And I’m okay with that because I can only own so much.

But in a place the color of sheets

more often then not things go unsaid

and we, the most educated, hold up our cards and say

I don’t own that.

I can’t own that.

You do it.

You, someone else, do something.

Because I can’t own everything.

So I own nothing.

So when I know something is wrong

I toss and I turn and I churn and I say nothing

because there is too much snow

and I can only yell so loud before the conversation becomes about

that white girl.

the one who won’t shut up.

the one who doesn’t know how to carry

the weight of all the things she doesn’t own.

Somethings are mine. Or Why I rarely take pictures.

I realized recently while doing something too embarrassing to put here (over 25? you probably get this) that I have very few pictures of myself.  The few that I have are taken by friends in moments where I am almost always too sweaty, loud, silly, or excited to look like a normal human.  The only times I ever take selfies are when I want someone far away to approve of my outfit.

I thought for a long time this was laziness.  I could take more pictures, do more fun things, have more sharable times but the truth is I don’t want to.  Somethings are mine.  Some moments are not for the internet.  They are not to be shared in pictures.  Some stories are to be told for years and grow and change as the years pass without photographic evidence.

This summer I went to Stanley King and I wrote a little about the outcome in my last post.  When I got home my plan was to write a long detailed blog of how my time was spent and what I did but I have decided not to.  I am hoping the change that came from that experience is apparent to the people around me.  I am choosing instead to hold tight to the day-to-day and let them be mine.

Most of the time I like words better than pictures anyway.  I will probably never be a good member of my generation.  Twitter will always beat instagram and blogs will always beat twitter.  And I will never remember to take a picture of the sunset on my run, the snow in my window, or my friends on the beach.

 

I am remembering the overwhelm that comes with working where and how I do and I am breathing it in.  I wrote this post because it’s been rambling around my head for a while and because it reminds me that there is life outside of these grey walls. I love this job.  

Sharing in the discomfort.

I am working on sharing in the discomfort and I have to tell you it is hard.

About a year ago I went to NYC to meet one of my best friends to see a play.  She drove in from Boston and I came down from upstate and we sat in the audience of our favorite musical and cried.  Afterwards we ate cheap sushi a dozen subway stops down some line and then walked.

We are very different people.  While I spent college at home getting used to being depressed, Joanna traveled the world.  Two semesters abroad and countless trips later my father said, “Joanna would feel trapped in a gypsy camp.”  I, on the other hand, landed a job 300 miles north and was terrified that the depression I had fought off would return when I left my family.  I tell you this to illustrate the type of people we were and still are.

We walked that night and spoke about listening to people.  Joanna spoke about her need to know the pain of others.  To feel things fully.  Where I would avoid the book, the movie, the podcast on the wrongs of the world, Joanna would listen, absorb and be better for it.  While we talked I felt a little less for it because I knew I was missing something, maybe a lot of somethings but I couldn’t.  I have an overwhelming fear of depression and while I know my depression was not caused by the world being a terrible place I still feared the knowing.

So I year ago Joanna, the wander, the finder, the feeler of all feelings, and me, the protected, the unable to let go, and the avoider of feelings, walked for a long time and by the end I knew.  I wasn’t doing a good enough job.

But I wasn’t ready yet.  In fact, I am not sure I was ready for a while after that.

I started by reading feminist literature.  It’s real easy to be a white cis-woman and a feminist!  I mean really, pretty much everything was written to me.  I’m even straight!  It was easy to identify with and easy to share.

I even put this poster on my board…

Screen Shot 2013-08-28 at 10.04.56 PM

I put pictures around it of feminists. I was pretty proud of myself, three women of color and a man.  Yep, I was feeling good.

I mean look at me, I was a t-shirt wearing feminist and I had always been a strong LGBTQ ally.  I was the best.

Then I went to the Stanley King Counseling Institute and while they presented about race it wasn’t the presentations that did it. (Although it certainly shone a light on the fact that I never ever think about it.) It was the people.  Now, none of the people from Stanley King read this but if you do, thanks.  Thanks for talking to me.  Thanks for being my friends and thanks for allowing me to process things that I wasn’t aware of.  I didn’t even know what was missing in my life until I went to Stanley King*.  I can tell you what it is now though.  It’s diversity.

And then I got home and Jason and Grace wrote this.

And I realized that I was not feeling the discomfort.  That I was still avoiding it.  

So I started educating myself as Jason suggested.  I read.  I read more.  I will continue to read more.

And I read everything Jason tweeted.  Even when it was too angering, or too sad, or too much.  He tweeted and I read.  He tweets and I read.

And I will feel the discomfort and the anger and I will sit with it.  And I will cry because I didn’t realize that the feminist movement that I love so much has an ugly habit of forgetting women of color. And I will cry when it happens again this week.

And I will feel the feelings and I will do my best to use my privilege that I did nothing to earn to help.  And I will do my best to shut up and just be there when I can’t.  And I will be an ally, at least I will try.

 

 If you made it this point you should check out the articles I link below because what I write here is so much less important than these.

 

  • If you didn’t read about #solidarityisforwhitewomen.  Go to google and figure it out.  Then read this and then when you want to be a better ally read this.
  • If you haven’t heard of bell hooks use wikipedia.  Then read her autobiography.  It’s fantastic and really hard to find.  In fact the entire library system where I live didn’t have it.  10 libraries.
  • If you want to tell me Syria is more important than Miley, you’re right but you know what?  Read this anyway.
  • If you’ve seen Fruitvale Station, know what it is, or even if you don’t you should read this piece on privilege.

 

*To everyone at Stanley King, I love you. That is all.

I have been writing this post for a while now and while it’s not perfect I am going to hit publish.  I understand that this is a story about me, a white cis-woman talking about becoming an ally but I can only tell my story and do my best to continue to share and listen as much as I can. 

Lastly, I speak about Joanna in this but still from my POV.  This is how I see her.  She is often my hero.

 

In which I talk about my teaching.

I teach a course called Functions.  If I had a favorite course it would probably be this one.  Functions is like Algebra 2 lite.  I taught it for the first time last year and I did fine.  I mean that.  It was just fine.  The kids learned stuff, I taught stuff, and, you know, stuff.

But I’m going to be honest here, I’m not sure they thought that hard.  In a class where I can teach whatever I am not sure I taught thinking.

So yea, I’m gonna do better.  Here’s what I am giving as a syllabus.  This is it.  Nothing about grades and scores.  Just expectations.

Functions and Trig

2013-2014

Teacher: me

Office: hogwarts

Office Phone: 867-5309

Email: me@me.com

Dorm Duty: Tuesday Night

My goals for this course:

1)   That you leave this class feeling successful.  This will take work from both of us.  I intend to support you in this but you have to do the work.

2)   That you want to know more.  I will spend a good amount of time showing you things in math that I think are cool.  We will also explore things that we as a class think are interesting.  The goal is to not always see math as a problem to be solved but sometimes as a question to explore.

3)   That you feel part of the class community.  It is hugely important to me that everyone in this class feels welcome, safe, and willing to share.  If you ever do not feel this way I need you to talk to me right away.

My expectations for you:

1)   That you will come to class ready to learn.  That includes having done any required work and brought it to class.

2)   That you will revel in your mistakes.  Mistakes make class (and life) so much more interesting.

3)   That you will respect that everyone in this class has value.  That their comments and their work are important and that if we didn’t have them we wouldn’t be us.

My pet peeves:  I’m going to fill you in right away on these right away.

1)   Cell Phones:  Turn them on silent before class and don’t look at them.  There are not that many people in this class and I am asking you to be present for 50 minutes.

2)   Headphones: I will talk to you every time I see you around campus.  I already like you.  So do your best not to walk around campus with your headphones.

3)   Dress Code: I know that you want to wear your leggings to my class but let’s just agree you won’t, okay?  It drives me bonkers when you are out of dress code and yes, I will make you go change.  I love clothes and I will notice and then all period a little part of my brain will be saying, “Dress code.  Dress code.  Dress code.” So let’s save both of us the hassle and just wear pants.

That’s it.  Let’s be awesome.

I don’t know what will come of this but I am excited.