“You’ve always been fine but… this is the first time it seems like you really have your shit together.” My boyfriend was leaning on the counter, looking up at me and smiling.
I smiled back, not only because it’s nice when people you love validate you, but because it’s immensely satisfying when your own consciousness is mirrored back to you.
Here’s a thing about growing up (and being a teacher makes it weird, since I know twenty-seven isn’t actually “grown” at all, but consistently being around twelve-year-olds will do that to you): you either accept that everything is imperfect and going to change or you go nuts. There’s no easy way to say it, and frankly to do anything but embrace it would be a waste.
I finished up my Teacher Leadership Initiative final project this past week, and in doing so reflected not just on my practice, but on my PLC (personal learning community). A lot of my community has been online: first, it was running and marathon training people, then TFA folks when I worked at the org, and then I was lucky enough to find EduColor and all the amazing people that I’ve met along the way.
I like to think of myself as “easily mentored,” but it’s probably more accurate to say that I just enjoy being a “fan” of things– especially people. I am quick to become an acolyte for my current favorite group or person, and just try and soak up some of their awesome. I like this about myself. I generally think people are good, and want to celebrate that as often as I can.
That also comes with a side order of self-consciousness: I value the opinion of people I like very much. I want to be liked by the people I like. While IDGAF about lots of folks, once I’m here for someone, my brain sets up a little test balloon of concern about them consistently bobbing around my mind: am I being too much? Is ____ annoyed with me? Should I do less/more of _______ so as not to upset _____?
As you can imagine, it’s a lot of balloons, and quite a bit of mental juggling.
Here’s the thing I’m going to have to learn over and over again, though: people are not perfect, relationships change, and sometimes we’re just not going to vibe with someone. That’s okay. That’s good. Appreciating and wanting to be mentored by someone doesn’t mean you’re going to agree with them all the time. There also might be a time when they flow out of your life, and maybe the best thing is to appreciate the time they gave you and let it go.
I was reading Jose Vilson (one of many people who I consider a mentor)’s piece about #BlackLivesMatter and education. Beyond being an amazing, essential read…
(seriously, go read it. Now. I’ll wait. Done? Excellent.)
Anyway. One of the many things I love about the piece is that it reminds us how important it is to consistently question why we’re doing something. As teachers, I think we forget that far too often (both for ourselves and our students), but I know I want my students to question the “why” of every thing and every one, including me, as often as they can.
Moreover, the piece made me not just think about ensuring “The Work” is centered on our students, but it made me realize that it’s important to make sure all my relationships are centered properly as well.
In my professional world, that means students and communities of color. In my personal life, it might mean something else (shared experience, love, values, space, etc). But if growing up means embracing nuance and accepting imperfection, it means that well-centered relationships aren’t always going to feel the same. The chemistry with which I interact with people is invariably going to change, but as long as we both know why we’re in this, then I think it’s going to be okay.
It also means, though, that it’s time to let some of those balloons go. Not because I don’t still tremendously value my mentors, friends, and colleagues, but because I’d like to think that if we’re in this for the right reasons, we should center on that more than just each other. There’s a line between being a caring and empathetic individual, and just doing things to please others, and I’ve been tap-dancing on it for far too long.
As I’ve headed into my fourth year of teaching, there’s a lot of exciting things happening. It’s nice to get more work doing things I love and enjoy (instead of, perhaps, handing out flyers in Waikiki).
There is also, at least for now, an accepted confidence that even when things turn upside down, I have a pretty good idea of who I am and what I’m about. For now. If anything, the acceptance that everything will probably get upended at some point has given me a weird feeling that I am more able to roll with those punches and hopefully recenter and still love myself when I have to regain my footing.
So even if the room flips and everything scatter everywhere, I know where my center is. I’ll hold onto it for as long as I can, so that when chaos inevitably occurs, I’ll be able to find that place and seek joy in the flux.