I made my New Year’s resolution in September. The day after I became Washington’s Teacher of the Year. I walked in to school, and the first thing one of my second graders said was, “I hope you don’t meet Donald Trump. He’s going to kick me out of the country!”
All at once, a rush of different emotions came over me. I knew there would be no escaping the conflict and controversy that this year would bring. I almost panicked. Then the phrases I use in my classroom began to echo in my mind. Use your grit. Hard things make your brain grow! Don’t give up.
That day I made an ACTIVE choice to lean in to the personal and professional challenges I would face this year. To do hard things. On purpose. Just as I teach my students to do.
All fall, I struggled to figure out how to be a teacher leader in a politicized time. I usually live in the gray, seeing truths and flaws on both sides of complex issues.
Now I’m called on to be a voice for teachers, students, and their families. But how do I represent a population that grows increasingly polarized? Today, there is no neutral—action and silence are both divisive. All that remains is honesty. And honestly, I’m still trying to figure it out.
The truth is, many of my students, or their families, are undocumented. My brain constantly relives the moment I shared above. I teach to inspire my students with curiosity about the world and to prepare them to shape the future. But I keep wondering—how can I do that, if their little brains are filled with fears about today?
The truth is, I come from a deep red town, in a deep blue state. Rural life is often criticized, but growing up here has been a gift. Instead of self-selecting our friends, proximity requires us to look for the good and forgive the rest. Quincy has taught me to see the delicate differences between people who seem at first glance to be the same. I've learned to love and respect people even when we seem to disagree about everything. I know how to stay in the struggle, no matter what.
The truth is, I worry that news silos and social media will continue to fuel the animosity and negativity that is brewing amongst us. I don’t want to believe that Americans are still capable of such hate. The Pulse Nightclub. Police shootings in Dallas. “Go back to Africa.” My heart breaks with each story I hear.
Throughout all this, I keep thinking about how easy it has become to blame others for the problems I see in the world. But I know that my actions and attitudes are the only things I can control. So, I do hard things. On purpose.
I hope my attitude inspires my students as they face their own challenges. I hope my actions challenge you to do hard things, too.
School and district leaders, the risks associated with change are high. Build cultures that empower us. Provide the professional development that will scaffold this work. Lead by example.
Policymakers, our work is stunted without your sponsorship. Fund competitive salaries for new teachers. Support statewide, K-12 networks that provide career connected learning and advanced opportunities for ALL students.
Our schools must prepare ALL students for the dynamic world we live in, regardless of gender, language, color, income or location.
That complex task requires a complex solution. We each have a hard thing to do. Find yours, and do it.
Like I always say, bloom where you’re planted.