In my meditation yesterday, I learned of the Japanese word shoshin which means beginner’s mind. I couldn’t help but smile at the irony of the message. I had just spent the day in a proper anxiety spin, after meetings galore did nothing to quell my jitters about teaching concurrently for the first time this year. But of course, here was the world sending me a message through my mediation, essentially saying, “You are a beginner at concurrent teaching and it will be okay!”
Shoshin encourages us to drop preconceptions and take an attitude of openness. Sure, it is my ninth year of teaching but these next 15 weeks won’t be like anything I have ever experienced. Maybe I will discover a better way to teach, maybe I will discover a better way to reach students, maybe I will surprise myself in all that the land of maybe has for me to discover. All of these maybes float above my head, their iridescent sheen taunting me as they pop and float higher every time I jump to grasp them.
As the meditation ended with the quote by Shunryu Suzuki, “In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, but in the expert’s there are few,” I continued to chant to myself, possibilities and progress over perfection, possibilities and progress over perfection, possibilities and progress over perfection just as a maybe lands in my palm.
An unseasonably warm day had befallen us last Wednesday. To celebrate the reprieve of cloudy coldness, my partner and I decided to take a swift stroll around the neighborhood to feel the sun infuse our irises, the mild breeze hug our courageous coatless limbs.
As we neared our favorite neighborhood park, our ears filled with jazz music.
“Someone is playing live jazz,” I stated unnecessarily. But I also required the additional confirmation to know this music wasn’t a figment of my imagination. My partner heard it too. The unexpected music quickened our paces; the origin bound to be determined by our piqued curiosity.
Crossing the street to the island of the park, we heard the music more intensely but our eyes could not determine where just yet. Finally, as we passed the kids giggling on the playground, dogs tug-of-warring in the dog park, grandmothers guiding newly-waddling toddlers, we saw a crowd of people surrounding three men who were indeed playing jazz. As the sun began to set, the rays, fighting to filter through the trees and buildings, shone directly on the jazz trio, illuminating them from behind. The warm breeze blew 2020’s decayed leaves past our ankles as we nestled into a free bench and immersed ourselves in the reverberating ribbons of rhythm the live music fluttered our way. It was indeed a perfect afternoon.
After watching NCTE’s conversation with Derrick Barnes (author) and Gordon C. James (illustrator) of I Am Every Good Thing, one topic that bubbled to the surface, like the carbonation of a just-poured limoncello La Croix, is the notion and act of being a difference maker. As a teacher and human, to me, being a difference maker means adopting an abolitionist teaching stance by continuing to educate myself on Black joy, Black culture, and disrupting the systemic racism within my head and my teaching. By taking action and thus, hopefully, enacting change. By cultivating criticality as Gholdy Muhammad spoke about in a professional development session last week. To me, difference makers educate themselves and approach the world with a hyper-aware sense and then choose to act. As the school start date with students approaches like a dementor in my dreams, I was not sure exactly how I wanted to start my year until today; now, it is solidified. I will start by empowering and celebrating my middle schoolers by reading I Am Every Good Thing. And by guiding them to act on their own answer to the question, What is a difference maker to you?
and every day
but especially today
I am angry
and am guilty
and continuously humbled by my ignorance.
learning that Eleanor and Park
is a racist text,
a text I read many moons ago
without an anti-racist lens
and have recommended to many students.
How many other times has my white privilege clouded my judgment and hurt my students?How many students trusted me to recommend books to them which, in turn, hurt them? How could I be so ignorant?
is not enough
to repair the damage done.
When you know better,you do better, I am told.
is another piece of kindling
in my commitment
to do better for
my students and society.
*Resources, if you’re interested: Resource 1- Resource 2 - Resource 3
My morning walks this week have differed from weeks past as I have ditched my headphones and instead taken to grasping an iced coffee which I am able to safely sip in the solitude of a sidewalk square when no one is around and my mask can be pulled down. If you were to trace the route of my standard morning walk, it would resemble two circles with parallel lines connecting them, similar to the outline of a barbell. I always walk partially around traffic circle # 1, take the straight path to the traffic circle #2, walk fully around circle #2, and then take the straight path back to finish out circle #1. This walk takes about 20-25 minutes and has become part of my calming quarantine morning routine.
Inevitably at circle #2, I have become accustomed to seeing a woman nearly every morning who always wears bright neon athletic clothing which delights my eyes as she is more colorful than any row house or flower amongst her. Nestled in her elbow is what I presume to be a walking stick, which is held parallel to the ground. Her gait always makes me smile because she walks around the circle as if she is fast-paced marching, and at times from afar I almost visualize her to be leading some sort of imaginary charge in her wake. When I get close enough to circle #2 and I do see her, I always get a little bit excited, as this stranger is familiar enough to me now that I am comforted at the sight of her. We have passed each other enough mornings that we are on a headnod-and-masked-muffled-hello basis.
This morning, I saw my stranger across circle #2 sporting hot pink leggings, a beacon of brightness. I made a snap decision to deviate off my normal path of finishing out circle #2 because I was craving a change of scenery, which meant I would not immediately pass my walking stranger but knowing that she typically paces the perimeter of this circle a few times, I figured I’d greet her once my path brought me back to circle #2. As I finished out my diversion and walked back toward circle #2, the absence of brightness made me realize I had foregone my opportunity to say hello to my favorite familiar stranger, as she was nowhere to be found. Traipsing along my normal path to finish out circle #1, I glanced across the families milling in the middle of the park and saw my beacon. I was surprised to see my stranger in circle #1, as I have only ever seen her in circle #2. My mind raced, I didn’t even know she knew about about circle #1! Of course she knows about circle #1, why wouldn’t she? I reasoned with myself but not for long as my caffeinated excitement accelerated my pace, which now guaranteed I would pass my stranger. Behind my bandana, I smiled and briefly debated whether to share with her that she always brightens my mornings. Instead, as we passed each other, we mustered our ritual head nods and hellos and finished out our morning walks. It is moments like these I wish to remember, how two simple strangers’ salutations can soothe souls.
I am currently reading and processing Chokehold by Paul Butler. This found poem consists of excerpts from Chapter 4 “Black Male Violence: The Chokehold Within.” I highly recommend this book and think it is a great supplement to 13th on Netflix to more deeply understand how the criminal justice system targets Black men.
Save the lives of thousands of Black men
limiting access to guns
eliminate high-poverty segregated neighborhoods
entrenched poverty greatly constrains educational attainment, upward mobility, health
people don’t live in the most deprived neighborhoods because they choose to
Recently a town hall
among staff at my school
was held to process the recent travesties of systemic racism
and it closed with a reflection about hope
which made me think of the beginning of a beloved poem,
“‘Hope' is the thing with feathers -That perches in the soul -And sings the tune without the words -And never stops - at all -”
Until, it does.
It was so easy for my white colleagues
to wear hope on their shoulders
like a tactfully draped scarf.
But hope ends when my black colleagues and friends
share stories of their
sons, daughters, brothers, sisters, mothers, fathers, family, friends
shot at stoplights
lynched at fast food restaurants
shuffled into incarceration
year after year, decade after decade, century after century
Hope is the thing white people
dramatically tug at and adjust
to make themselves feel better
about their inaction.