It’s been a long time since I’ve felt comfortable writing. Computers used to be tools for work and entertainment, but now looking into a screen literally nauseates me, scrolling on my phone nauseates me. I feel it on the floor of my stomach, rolling around and roaring like hunger.
I went to the inaugural event for Inheritance, a project from The Atlantic Monthly with the aim of amplifying and honoring Black history and Black stories. We’ve lost so many stories, which is why the ultra conservative right can make up so many stories about what Black people want, what Black people experience, what Black people deserve.
I learned that Anna Deavere Smith attended a pwi (primarily White institution) college (Beaver College at the time, now Arcadia University) where she was one of very few Black students. Of what I learned in the presentation, that is what really stuck. She was there when MLK, Jr. was murdered, and it wasn’t until that time that that Black women there began to see themselves as a group, the self-named “Beaver College Blacks.” They got some stuff changed at that school. Learn more: Here’s the article.
I’m thinking about what allyship looks like when only the-one-to-be-allied-with feels pain. I’m thinking about what allyship looks like when everyone is feeling pain, but different kinds of pain about different things. I’m thinking about what it means to be alone in pain.
I think, and I think, and I think, and then nausea. I realize that the nausea is emotion: helplessness, loneliness, overwhelm, and I have to lie down for a bit. I realize that I’m alone, that I’m thinking too much instead of feeling and working through my emotions in community, and that THIS is the problem.
According to what little I know of Internal Family Systems theory, we are each one of us a community of selves. All of those selves need a chance to speak with each other, need to listen to each other, need to support and learn from each other, and need to learn when to let each other go. I’m talking to my internal selves and realizing that The Answer To Racism does not need to and cannot come from just me alone. It’s to big a monster to tackle.
I need to occasionally take off the mask of systems-changer, of world disrupter, and spend some time just being Nkomo: teacher/college counselor/group therapist in training. One thing at a time!
Day by day, my stomach is feeling a little better. Time for lunch.
After a summer of attending, literally, countless webinars and workshops and other zoom, go-to-meeting, and Google meet gatherings about trauma, racism, self-care, living as a BIPOC at a PWI, grounding, antiracism, “The Matrix,” How to be an Antiracist, meditation, college counseling, restorative justice, teaching, dating, Diversity Equity and Inclusion (DEI), microaggressions (or, racial abuse), creative writing, design thinking, starting a business, and any number of other topics, I’ve become a bit of a Zoom gathering snob. Most (not all!) of the workshops and webinars I participated in were expertly moderated, often by several people, and often centered the needs of folx with hearing or visual disabilities, BIPOC folx, and folx with limited attention spans, poor wifi, or bad computer cameras.
They were, in short, truly welcoming spaces.
Feeling welcomed is always important. But it’s even more so now because so many of us are experiencing a loneliness and sense of invisibility that we never have before. At the same time, we’re even more vulnerable tan we ever have been before because the first time you meet someone you might be looking at where they live, their spouse’s legs, the disarray of their home. To add to that discomfort by creating an alienating online space is at best, irritating, at worse, angering, and at worst, cruel.
I’m now going to list for you some of the things I’ve experienced in zoom meetings that I’m going to go ahead and expect in online meetings henceforth (from myself and others):
The moderators must use a laptop or desktop. An iPad or smartphone will not do.
In an ever-so-slightly better world, it would be possible to use all of the functionalities of zoom on an iPad. We are not in that world. One cannot effectively moderate a zoom meeting from an iPad because iPads do not allow a moderator to see multiple participants at once; this means that moderators on iPads will inevitably fail to see someone raising their hands or waiting to be called on, and someone will definitely be ignored. It feels terrible to get ignored. It’s already difficult (for most folks) to be zooming in the first place, so you don’t want to compound that in any way. As Junot Diaz might say if he inexplicably wrote a book of zoom fiction, “this is how you lose them.” Them, of course, being your attendees.
2. Moderators who struggle with multi-tasking must co-moderate OR use 2 computers. (part 1)
Zoom has a lot of great things going for it, but one of the many annoying things about Zoom (and I say this with all the love in the world for this odd and beautiful platform) is the appearing and disappearing controls. Perhaps my crunchy, 44-year-old brain just needs to be more flexible, but it is time consuming and painful to watch a moderator search in vain for a control on a computer. As a moderator who has been in that situation a couple of times, it feels embarrassing. Moderators have to open and close multiple menus and windows to find just right one. Meanwhile the viewing audience is cringing and trying hard to not get annoyed because, frankly, they could be streaming or sleeping, or doing literally anything else in the world (except leave the country, if they are American). Don’t make them annoyed. Don’t make me annoyed. Use two computers. One computer will work as your moderating computer, and the other one will work as your participating computer. And if you have a second moderator, that person can vamp and keep the conversation going while you figure out your tech. Or they can figure out the tech for you if your computer freezes.
3. Moderators who struggle with multi-tasking must co-moderate OR use 2 computers. (part 2)
Co-moderators should have different jobs. One person should be in charge of constantly scanning the zoom room to see if folx look like they want to speak (like IRL meetings, this can look as subtle as adjusting one’s position or as overt as raising a hand), announcing comments or questions that appear in the chat, explaining how to virtually raise hands (this is different than using a “reaction”), and regularly telling folx (when several people want to ask or answer a question) the order in which people will speak. What should NOT happen is that both moderators act as participants and then get confused about how to use the tech or try to decide between them who should speak next. This is irritating.
4. If all you are doing is talking over slides, then please just record it and send it out to folx.Make your zoom interactive or pre-record it for everyone’s sanity.
We’re all busy. We’re all stressed. We all have lives to lead, babies and furbabies to play with, and meditating and/or praying to do. So if you are going to lead a meeting that just involves your just participants listening to you and looking at words or pictures on a screen, then please don’t make them do it synchronously. It’s like being tied to a chair and whipped with words. You absolutely must use the poll or annotation function in zoom or set up a Kahoot, Quizizz, Quizlet, or Gimkit, or engage in a pretty interesting conversation (see points 3 and 5) to keep your participants feeling like their presence is a necessary part of the experience. Otherwise they will either log off the zoom, or they’ll turn off their video and go do something else with you none the wiser (but still suspecting your non-participating “participants” are off kneading dough or changing cat litter or sleeping).
5. Learn how to lead a discussion.
Shoutout to the journalists and the teachers who know the difference between open-ended and closed-ended questions. There is no quicker way to watch a zoom dissolve into angry, annoyed silence than to ask folks to ask questions and opine about a self-evident thing. I recently attended a Zoom in which the moderator kept saying things like (and I’m exaggerating for effect, here, the moderator never actually said this):
Nighttime is generally darker than daytime. What do folks have to say about this?
Really bad moderator
Literally no adult in the modern world has any comments about or questions regarding this so-called observation. But then! Then! The moderator actually waited for 30 seconds, re-asked the non-question, then waited another minute (!) for someone to respond. The moderator did a zoom “Bueller, Bueller” for the ages. Oh, how I cringed. How I raged! I beat my breast and rent my clothing like someone in an ancient Greek play, all while furiously typing. I’m sure everyone else was texting and privately chatting just as furiously as I was. But I was trapped there because I wanted a certification or credit of some sort or another. I really, really wanted to leave. And from that point forth, I ceased to participate. I was angry.
DO NOT. And I repeat, DO NOT ASK FOR AN INTERPRETATION OF INFORMATION THAT REQUIRES NO INTERPRETATION. People will revolt by pretending you said nothing. And you, bad moderator, will sit there like pancake batter on a cold, cold grill.
I’ve been thinking a lot this week about NYCDOE school reopening plans. While my mind still haven’t gotten my mind around the fact that there is a lethal, airborne illness that could kill me, I am very aware that my family, my students, and their families are susceptible. So does this mean we should all be remote? What, then, of the families who need someone to look after their kids while parents work? What, then of ELL students? Or of students with special needs? Should we all go back to school (part-time at most)? What about the fact that NYC public school buildings are old, and that even during bull markets when NYC is flush with cash, our public school buildings have poorly functioning bathrooms with no soap? And many of our students attend classes in rooms without windows? How will we fix these issues while broke and understaffed, if we can’t do it in the “best” of times?
I’ve attended so many zoom workshops/webinars/meetings this week. Here are the ones I attended:
the third in a series of three workshops about how to use Restorative Justice in schools
I have so much to say about all of these events, including the ones I could not attend, but for now, just know that my brain is breaking open with all of the knowledge I’m currently accumulating. More to be shared soon!
Today, a friend of mine texted, asking what I’ve been doing all summer. My list was long, but it wasn’t exhaustive. I’m trying to de-fetishize my anxiety-driven busy-ness. Instead, I chose to emphasize all the learning I’m doing, which has created some really grounding and inspiring moments in this crazy, C-19 time.
Today I experienced 4 separate wonderfully joyful moments. First, I attended (through the absolutely wonderful Academy for Teachers) a workshop on using music to connect to activism and self-worth in the classroom.
Second, I attended a workshop led by folks at my new school–oh, yeah, I forgot to mention that I have a new job!–around creating a more inclusive and course planning document.
Third, I went with a colleague and new friend at my new school to see the 5 p.m. porch concerts, which was a neighborhood Charles Mingus-style jazz jam with musicians that looked to range in age from 14 to 70.
Fourth, I hung out for a short bit with my beautiful mother. We looked at photos from an old photo album (how analog!), and it was so nice to see my mom looking young and vibrant and beautiful. She is still vibrant and beautiful, but her hair is white now. I’d forgotten how dark her hair was, and how cool she looked with dreds.
Finally, I spent some time today skimming through Ideas, Arrangements, Effects, a book that aims to unpack this idea: complex ideas like racism, capitalism, Marxism, and all the other big ideas) manifest in how spaces (literal, figurative, and/or social) are arranged, and those (literal, figurative, and/or social) spaces affect people.
So much of what I see online attempts to use step-by-step, one-size-fits-all approaches to explaining how one goes about dismantling racist policies, as if fixing institutions that have been designed to maintain classist, racist, and elitist hierarchies is as easy as disassembling a piece of IKEA furniture. That’s ridiculous. It’s like saying that one can fix an abusive family dynamic by agreeing to hug one another once a day. To fix a harmful family dynamic, you need a framework. Fixing a harmful societal dynamic requires AT LEAST that much.
Here’s a quote from the book that is sticking with me (pg. 46):
As humans, we are prone to thinking “I-P-E” or Ideas-PEOPLE-Effects. That means we tend to look for whom we can blame when we experience negative effects. This leads us to believe that effects emerge from the deficiencies of individuals, rather than flawed arrangements. Think about when you are waiting in line for a bus that’s late, and everyone gets a little mad at everyone else. It is really easy to get irritated with the person who is talking too loud on the phone, or pushing, or who smells bad. But we tend not to ask the bigger questions about why there aren’t more buses, why the roads are so crowded, or why more people can’t walk to where they need to go.
Emboldened emphasis is mine. “Arrangements” appears to be a friendlier version of the word “systems.”
As I think about the exclusive ways that many schools are run, I’m hoping that reading this book (perhaps with this book group!) will help me get my mind around dismantling racism in schools and in my new, virtual classroom. There’s so much to unpack within my understanding of school and within myself.
Speaking of which, while listening to a recent playlist on Spotify (I keep looking but can’t figure out which one), I came across Burna Boy. Yes, I’m late to this particular pop star party, but I was moved. I mean, literally moved. I was dancing. It’s been so long since a pop song made me feel COMPELLED to dance. It didn’t make me WANT to dance. I just found myself bopping along while listening, dancing in the street, singing along (to the degree that I thought I knew the words, which I see (according to the video below) that I most certainly DID NOT).
So, it’s been a while, and a lot has changed. I’m no longer teaching 8th grade, for one. Instead, I’m teaching 7th grade. And now, instead of being the SpEd Teacher and the English teacher, I’m now the Humanities teacher, and I have a lovely co-teacher, who mostly pulls kids out and helps with one-on-one work and building beautiful relationships with the kids, and a para who officially only works with one child in the class but occasionally lectures everyone when the students are behaving poorly.
Or rather, that was the way things were a couple of months ago, before all of this Corona mess began. I really should have been keeping up with this blog the whole time, but I didn’t because frankly, I was burned out.
This year has been a difficult year. Not only was this particular seventh grade class incredibly creative, interested, and social, but they were INCREDIBLY creative, INCREDIBLY interested (but not really in the content, unfortunately), and INCREDIBLY, UNCEASINGLY social. And often mean to one another. And sometimes to me. I was burned out and tired everyday. I was frustrated a lot, too.
But that was all pre-COVID-19. Now, all has changed.
First, rumors of a virus started going global, and right in the middle of sickness season. I was very proud of myself because I was right in the middle of a mass hysteria unit, and got to relate everything we read about in the news to “The Monsters are Due on Maple Street” and the “War of the Worlds” broadcast. “Are we overreacting to this news of Coronavirus?” I asked my kids, hoping that I was being provocative enough that they would stop talking for a moment and engage with school. For once, they seemed moderately engaged!
In those last two weeks of school, as NYC teachers and parents petitioned Mayor DeBlasio to close schools, a microcosm of what would soon be happening in the outside world was already happening at school. Non-Asian kids were jokingly accusing perfectly healthy Asian kids of having Coronavirus (as a joke, but things go really quickly from joke to threat in middle school, sometimes even within one spoken sentence). Then students started accusing everyone who was wearing a mask of having Coronavirus, and then, finally, schools went remote. Then standardized tests were cancelled, then shelter-in-place, then city-wide mask requirements.
At first, I was frankly glad of the rest. January to March are the burnout months, when the weather is cold, everyone is stressed out about upcoming standardized tests, flu season is wrecking everyone, the chlidren begin to smell, teachers stop getting enough sleep, and summer feels years away. Students start getting irritable, which makes teachers irritable, which makes students even MORE irrritiable, which makes parents angry, which makes admin frustrated, and everyone just spews anger, irritation, and frustration at each other until allergy season, when the students start taking allergy medication and sleep in class. It’s a tough time.
So this year, I got to skip all that. But with standardized testing gone, I realized that I’d lost my way. Without the pressure of having to force kids to make arguments, and with the added pressure of looking for ways to engage students’ minds without traumatizing them (this is ALWAYS my aim, but it’s much easier for a kid to feel traumatized in the midst of a pandemic), I had to take a good, hard look at what my teaching had become: uninspiring. I’d been trained into this.
I was interested in my content but not inspired, my kids were occasionally interested in it but never inspired, and I’m not sure I did a good job of selling the usefulness of the skills I was teaching.
After 16 years of teaching secondary school–11 in high-poverty settings–I realized that I’d lost my way. For years, I’d been wondering where the great ideas I’d had as a new teacher had gone, and I realized that my strict adherence to the Common Core (though, a lot less strict than many other teachers) had more or less destroyed my creativity as a teacher. I’m not against Common Core, not a bit, but in my desire to fully master that sort of teaching, I eliminated the other, creativity-sparking kind.
I had to re-learn what it is one can teach a student when the ultimate goal isn’t necessarily an essay or a multiple-choice test designed to confuse and trick you. Over the next few entries, I’m going to bring anyone who is reading this along on the journey I’ve taken to rediscover my teaching love while in quarantine.
I’m still mid journey, but you’re welcome to come along!
I’ve never been neat. When I was a kid, I had a typically messy teenager’s room. But, unlike many folks my age (thirty coughcoughcough), the messiness never really went away. And my messiness has always been more than just PHYSICAL messiness.
I would forget to eat.
I would lose my keys. Regularly.
I would walk out of the house with TWO DIFFERENT SHOES ON.
I wouldn’t complete homework assignments (unless I was obsessed with them, in which case I would finish them to the nth power).
I probably would have been late to school everyday–if I didn’t live there (thanks, Putney)!
But I didn’t really notice. That’s the funny thing about being incredibly disorganized–as long as no one is depending on you, your disorganization will probably prevent you from noticing your disorganization. Catch-22.
I mean, I got lots of things done. I did well in all of my high school classes (ok, not in Calculus, but we won’t talk about that). I discovered a love of music. I discovered that I could write really well and that I loved to discuss big ideas.
It wasn’t until college (go Cardinal!) that I started to see that I had organizational issues. I was very good at getting involved in activities (running the entertainment section of the school paper, creating film festivals on the student television station, holding down a job), but I wasn’t always so good with following through or showing up places on time. I did what I could, but the many student organizations of which I was a member found me frustrating, to say the least. The product I created was always good, but I was a living tornado. I thought it was just the stress of college.
That is, until I started working in the financial services industry and was in charge of *gulp* PROJECT MANAGEMENT.
I couldn’t just write inspired words. I had to send the inspired words to be scrubbed by legal and by compliance. They’re the folks who make folks write things like “past performance is no guarantee of future results” and the like. They had their deadlines (no deadlines!) and I had mine, and my job was to nag, nag, nag until I got everything I needed. Even with a spreadsheet I was abysmal at it. That’s not why I left, though. I left because I was bored.
So I became a teacher. Bwa hahahahahaha! Little did I know how much organization THAT would take! I was a mess at first.
Then I switched to teaching special education. And everything changed.
First of all, because it was my job to keep my students organized, I started researching all the different tools available out there to help them do it. And as I researched more and more tools, I started using them.
And the more tools I used, the less disorganized I became. And the better I became at helping my students. Especially the ones with ADD.
Then kerpow! Light bulb. I realized that I had it. I had ADD. I was 32 years old, and suddenly my life made sense in a way it never had before. A psychiatrist confirmed it.
– I understood why folks always thought I was so random in my observations (they couldn’t follow my train of thought).
– I understood why I always had such an easy time tying together incredibly unlike pieces of information and LOVED interdisciplinary studies (I take in a lot of info and see lots of connections–I’m more of a big picture thinker than a detail-oriented thinker).
– I understood why sometimes I couldn’t accomplish even the simplest tasks and sometimes I was so focused that I could work on something for 10 hours straight, voluntarily (this is called “hyper focus” and folks with ADD have a hard time controlling it, though it tends to come when we are really interested in something).
– I understood why relationships were sometimes SO HARD to maintain (I’m at the mercy of my emotions in a different way than many others, though I’m getting better at dealing with this; and sometimes my all-over-the-place way of thinking makes others feel unheard and misunderstood).
– I understood why I was soooo messy and preferred it that way (I need to SEE everything I want, or I’ll forget where it is, so I spread out).
– I understood why consistent classroom management was (and is!) so difficult for me to maintain (I’m easily distracted by every. little. thing. so I struggle with ignoring the tiny distractions meant to take me off course and stop the lesson).
If you look closely at that list, you’ll see that there are useful and not-so-useful skills/handicaps in there. For every negative impact, there is a positive one.
I’ve been lucky enough to have the educational pedigree that allows me to see myself as 2E — Double Exceptional. This means that I have ADD but I’m also very, very smart. I know that Special Ed doesn’t mean dumb. Because I know I’m not dumb.
And that’s why I love my messy apartment, my messy hair, and my cat-fur covered jeans (okay, maybe I’m not so into the cat fur part). These are tangible pieces of proof to the world and to my students that it’s possible to be messy, to be a little out of control, and to still be scary smart, financially stable, and incredibly happy.
I’m just teaching by example, my friends. Just teaching by example.
I know myself. I know my habits. So I can work with them and use them to make myself better.
What are your big realizations about yourself? ow have they helped make YOU stronger?
It’s been a spell, and for that I apologize. I’ve been busy trying to get back into the grind of being IN BED at 10 p.m., up at 5:30 a.m. (because I am slow in the morning and need time to get my wits about me).
This year I have the best schedule EVER. I have a first period class three days a week teaching the Exploring Computer Science curriculum, which is fun. Five days per week, I have second period OFF to PLAN. Then five days per week, I co-teach two classes. Then lunch. Then advisory two days per week. Then co-teaching two more classes, then done! Or, well, done TEACHING. Still have to grade, eat, meditate, etc.
Having breaks throughout the day does wonders for my state of mind. Frequent breaks give me time to get my materials together and to get my head right for the next task I have to do.
I have to wonder if many breaks during the day would help our students, as well. How many of them go from room to room having forgotten their books, their pens or pencils, some paper to write on, or a trip to the bathroom? So many.
Unlike a lot of teachers, I’m not organized by nature. It’s something I have to work on a lot. I have learned all my organizational systems from books. Except one: I give myself lots of time to complete tasks. Remember what I said about getting up at 5:30 a.m.? I don’t actually leave my house until around 7 a.m. I only need 20 minutes to get ready, but I always think of something else to do in the morning. Maybe I want to spend extra time with my cat.
Maybe the weather report didn’t quite match the weather outside, and I need to come back in and get a warmer coat or lighter sweater. Maybe my mom (yes, this happens) decides to call at an inopportune hour. Maybe NPR plays a song that I MUST SHAZAM IMMEDIATELY.
How can we provide students with more time to think in class? How can we change the school day to allow for real reflection and not just academic channel-flipping every few minutes? Yes, I’m a special education teacher, but this isn’t just a special education accommodation. I think a lot of students need more time to think.
I don’t know about you, but I’m out of writing practice. I like Hemingway App because I can use it for writing worksheets, grant applications, cover letters–lots of stuff. It’s like having a second set of eyes that make sure I write clearly.
The app doesn’t write FOR YOU; it color codes your writing so you can see what you should consider rewriting.
Unfortunately, this app isn’t free. It’s $6.99 for the desktop/laptop version, which is a multi-computer license. But! It’s worth it if you struggle with having too much jargon in your worksheets. It’s also worth it if, like me, you struggle with using too many asides.
Fun Fact: The app isn’t perfectly named; actual writing by Hemingway doesn’t always score well! This is no biggie, since common sense understanding of Hemingway’s writing style is based on many untruths.
Those who favor more of a Joseph McElroy approach to writing will just find this app annoying.
Name drop moment: I took a class with Prof. McElroy, and he is a sweet man with a first-rate mind and a love of writing and reading. His writing takes lots of concentration to read, though. He enjoys complex ideas and long, long sentences. Word nerd.
Feeling awesome moment: I used HTML to design part of this page. Thanks, Codeacademy!