Pressure Makes Diamonds.

This was a hard week.

It started with calling senators, begging them to believe in our schools, our teachers, our students. It ended with rallying cries for teachers to do what we do everyday – to believe, to see good, and to pour ourselves into our work knowing that we won’t be compensated for the extra hours or heralded for the extra effort. Except that for the first time, on top of all that, we were slapped in the face by the reality that the highest position in Education can be bought with millions of dollars, and that – unlike any job interview or evaluation we’ll ever have – experience doesn’t matter. Not only that, but we were chided and advised all week that “what the education system really needs is an outsider” or that “schools need to be competitive,” told that the work we’ve been doing has only resulted in “failure” and we should “give someone else a shot.” I don’t even tell my hairdresser what to do – I acknowledge that she has the training, the experience, and the skills to do what would work best, given what I bring before her. Do I have a vision or general idea? Sure. Do I tell her how to do her job? Absolutely not. I know that I can tell her what I do and don’t like, but ultimately what experience I have is only with the hair on my head, and that’s where my qualifications for critique dead end.

I didn’t decide to be a teacher for the money, the attention or appreciation. I didn’t choose this profession for the success or power. None of these things are a reality for teachers. We know this. That is precisely why we won’t be silent, we won’t give up, and we won’t back down. We will continue to raise generations of citizens who are civically engaged, self-aware, critical thinkers, who know how to use our disciplines to affect change in their lives and the world. I find peace in knowing that this promise terrifies people.

So, that is exactly what I did this week. I engaged my kids in self-reflection, in the beauty and power of poetry, instilling confidence and a sense of solidarity when we most needed it. And man, did that pressure produce diamonds.

We warmed up on Monday with 6-word Memoirs. I love throwing them into production on day 1 of a unit, because it eliminates the “I can’t” or “I haven’t ever done it” net they so enjoy falling into. These are the beautiful, heartbreaking things they created:

  • “My life is broken. Can’t fix.”
  • “My life changed when people died.”
  • “Jail life…my life’s never right.”
  • “13 years. No father. Lost hope.”

I can’t hide my emotions from my kids; they know when they’re funny and when they’re frustrating. I feel I owe them transparency, as one of the few people in their life who is stable and supportive. So, when they call me over and go “Miss, Miss, is this good?” or “Miss, c’mere, look at this” or “Miss, what about this one?” and I freeze because what they’ve written has bound me to the spot in which I stand – an English teacher without words – they become immediately insecure. The sweet souls seeking affirmation think they have failed, when they have actually reached the heights of success. They have reached into their hearts, faced their brokenness and had the courage to put pencil to paper to share it.

May we all be so courageous in the coming days, weeks, months and years, to let the pressure turn us into diamonds.

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