no regrets

My greatest regret as a teacher was the first time I lied to my students. It wasn’t a big lie, more a half-truth, or maybe I wasn’t ready for the truth. As a teacher, I should be impartial and try to leave enough room for them to make discoveries on their own. I mean, I didn’t think Donald Trump would actually win. I was sure this country would never let that happen.

So I told them that. Constantly during the 2016 election. Don’t worry, this is America! I knew many people who were as anti-Trump as me! It’s all showbiz, right?!

And then it wasn’t. The next day I cried in front of my students because someone asked, “So, does that mean we’re going to be sent away?” I couldn’t lie anymore. What I had thought was an absolute truth was a lie. “I don’t know. I don’t know what’s going to happen either.” I stared at my students. Many from Central America. Many black and living in North Omaha. Many who were constantly going from foster family to foster family. I just gazed into the void and I felt the world crumble.

But, grief is just a place to visit, and I’m a teacher. I have to find us a way out. I wiped my face and I said, “Actually, please remember the time your teacher cried in front of you, because this is not ok. None of this is ok! I care about you all so much that I’m on this journey with you because I’m scared too.”

I go back to that moment every day of my life. I felt the world crumble and I feel it now.

As a teacher I dedicated a decade of my life to working with youth. I have seen babies become teens. I have seen teens have babies. I have been so lucky to have met so many wonderful children who are stronger than so many adults I know.

I believe it so fully that I am pleading with everyone to act now.

It’s easy to look at all the unrest and violence from your own perspective. Hey, I’m looking at it from mine! I really don’t have time to see your side of things! So, you might be a parent and you’re outraged. How could people riot and destroy our city! We can’t put up with people destroying our property! What about our THINGS?!?!?

Of course, nobody wants to do that! But while that is what is happening. That’s not what is happening.

As a public school teacher I have seen the violence inflicted upon our children.

Violence is not always felt. It is manipulation. It is sabotage. It is cruel. It is the means by which people are placed into a situation by which they have no escape. That’s violence.

How many times have you had a roach in your morning coffee? Ok, it’s only happened twice to me, but still, kind of gross right?

How do you cut your spiral notebooks in half? It’s really hard! I have a pair of dull scissors! I usually don’t like to cut up notebooks because I want my students to have a full one, but I don’t always have the money to buy notebooks for everyone so I do what I gotta do.

I have to return all this stuff to target because we aren’t having a Valentine’s day party. Yeah, testing season is coming and we really need all the time. I gotta take home all this candy I confiscated. I’m going to bring it back actually because I promised a reward for sitting still for two hours. 

Do you use your own towels or do you buy new ones for your students? I had some old dog rags that I brought so that my kids could dry their hands, but I was really wanting to get some nice ones from Target, but dog rags should be good enough right?

Our children have been put through hell and as teachers we have let them down by thinking it is ok. How dare we expect better for others and not use our full power to do better for our own students. We bend and conform and continue to perpetuate their inequality by not approaching the situation as adults.

Because it’s our job right. We have livelihoods. I have my own family to take care of and I’m doing the best I can. I dedicate so much to these kids. I am doing a lot more good than a lot of other people.

What I am asking everyone to consider is this, our youngest generation has every right to be angry. I quit teaching because I felt it. It was hell. I couldn’t win. I burnt out. I had no light left in me, not even enough light for my classroom. How could I? The light has been broken for half the year and we don’t have a janitor to fix it and sure I could do it myself, but omg I don’t know how!

This city murdered a young man who probably has experienced our educational system in the ways I am describing. He might have been out to cause trouble. He might be a hero. The point is that this person felt something within them to go to where there was danger. There was an energy, something bigger than all of us that led him to his fate. I am not even a religious person but please for the sake of this child tap into whatever faith you claim to have. 

The violence that is inflicted upon us will show itself. Maybe not by our own actions, but by our choices.

I’ve had desks thrown at me. I have been bitten. I’ve been called a dumb bald fag. And I’m ok. I say my last year was terrible, because, yes, the behaviors were extreme, but they were children. I saw how my students were good and amazing and fully capable of being whatever they wanted to be. I also saw how they didn’t have a ride to school because the government cut funding for homeless services. I saw how dad was deported and now mom’s ex-boyfriend is back to reign terror. I saw how every weekend kids took home plastic bags with canned food, pudding packs, and a no name granola bar if they were lucky.  

This is all outside of the other reality. We’re in a pandemic. Do we even know if our children will be back in school? We don’t! This unrest and violence will continue because the schools have burned down a long time ago. We have a generation who didn’t graduate. For many, this is no big deal! I’ll just take a gap year and maybe hang out on zoom with my friends. For countless other children we have set them on a terrible path. As we experience culture shifts please be aware of those who are not as prepared. As a teacher I’m sure we’re already worried about reading levels, am I right? Summer slump like woah! We should also be worried about the unknowns. Summer is long and hot. Our children can’t play. They can’t go to the pool. If they’re lucky they’ll be able to escape into the internet. Log on and dive into someplace safe. Well, if they have broadband. You try to watch Netflix on a hotspot. So many gigabytes! 

I lost my fire for teaching because I saw how the system was failing. For our students, their passion and desire to learn is also burning out. Why bother to learn if even the schools are closed?! Our schools burned down a long time ago, are we surprised that the children want to burn down everything else?

Also, look, I’m one for dramatics and hyperbole. I don’t want to be an alarmist, but when is that time? When do we finally say holy shit let’s stop! If the children are rioting and the teachers are losing their minds on the internet. LISTEN! Be uncomfortable, get PISSED. Anger is not violence! Anger is an action. I’m angry for my students! Angry that I couldn’t prepare them for the world they’re in now! I’m angry at everyone who refuses to face their own racial bullshit because they don’t want to FEEL bad. Everyone is FEELING bad! The world can end in fire or we can drown it with tears. You get to pick the scenario that sounds more hopeful. 

I’m not a father, but I have taught so many children. I empathize if your reaction to all of this is out of self-preservation and fear for your family. We’ve worked hard for our life and we have a right to protect it! You’re seeing a world descend into chaos and you’re worried for your child. How ghetto is it for my children to see graffiti on target?! I don’t want my kids earliest memories to be of broken glass!

Well, I don’t want that for my kids either, but when you only get to play for 8 minutes on a concrete surface and those are some of your earliest memories, how do you think your anger is going to come out?

I’ll wrap this up by saying I am speaking for my kids because someone has to. I would really like to look back on my time as a teacher with that one regret. I don’t want to lie about the brutal truths of our reality. Cause if this world does burn, I know that I will be there with my students adapting and learning and having a great time, because we’ve already been to that place. 

Using Format