Accepted.

“The desire for more positive experience is itself a negative experience. And, paradoxically, the acceptance of one’s negative experience is itself a positive experience.”
Mark MansonThe Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck 

It’s been a while, and there’s really no excuse. I created this platform to share stories, to be an advocate, to change the narrative, and for the last 2 and a half months I have failed to do that. There’s no reason good enough, it was just hard.

If you ask any teacher, they’ll tell you October is hard. Next to April (or May, depending on your calendar) it may be the hardest month of the year. The newness fades away, you’re past wading into the year and thrust into its depths with no break in sight. Your relationships with students and colleagues go from new & interesting to almost overwhelmingly human – flawed, struggling, learning each other and how to learn together in a microcosm of society that is the classroom. October feels like your first week of Bootcamp  after months of Netflix being your highest form of commitment, and your couch being your #1 support. All of this to say that fellow teachers, I am with you, I feel you, and even though I’m in my cinder-block bubble, October comes for everyone. And we have made it to November! 

By now I have had over 100 different students. I still have a student from last year, who just marked his 1-year anniversary of detention; with court not until spring, he will stay with us until his 18th birthday in March. When he leaves, he will have been my student for 19 months, future still unknown. I’ve been blessed to see former students who have grown up in the best ways while “on the outs,” those who only messed up a little and got to go back home after gracing us with the opportunity to see how much they’ve matured. I’ve also gotten to meet plenty of new students, hear new stories and gain new perspective. But perhaps the newest and the hardest thing I’ve come to know this year is this:

All I have is their time here.

They are victims of several systems (that will try their best, in all their brokenness, to make the best choices for each child) and the only decision-making tools they have are the ones that brought them here. They end up back in detention so many times you’d think we had frequent flyer points or rewards cards.

My first year, I was inspired, challenged and awakened.

My second year, I was excited, driven, impassioned.

My third year – just last week – I was trapped. Hopeless, helpless and feeling more burdened than strong.

Everyday I walked into a web of tension, classrooms that felt more like a minefield than the safe space I had spent the last two years fostering. Student-on-student assaults, gang activity, threats, vandalism, some of the darkest and hardest cases we’ve seen. Last week we had a riot. Then we went on Modified Programming. That means separating students and keeping them apart, always having students in the classrooms during meals and breaks (even as I write this on my planning period there are 8 students eating lunch in my room). The students involved in the riot have to move through a 5-step program that removes them from class and any whole-population activity. My husband – who is fully supportive of my career and my choices – even noticed that my inspiration had turned to desperation, my passion to frustration. I was the most drained I’ve been in my teaching career. And it was only October.

Then, per the recommendation of both my boss and my colleague, I picked up a book. “The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck.” by Mark Manson. I altered my lessons for the students who wouldn’t be in class, and I went out and sat with them as they read. I read.

“The desire for more positive experience is itself a negative experience. And, paradoxically, the acceptance of one’s negative experience is itself a positive experience.”

Acceptance.

In that moment, everything changed. I accepted the situation. I accepted my students. I accepted my feelings. I accepted that things were the epitome of shitty, and suddenly they weren’t. I looked up at my kids, and I saw them – calm, focused, reading, motivated. They weren’t shouting gang slurs, or punching each other, or threatening anyone – they might not be in class, but they were being students. My students. This is where they were, and all I had the power to do was accept them. So I took what I thought was a burden and turned it into an opportunity. I could have 15 uninterrupted minutes with each of these kids, to talk with them, guide them, motivate and coach them through critical thinking, note-taking, all of it. What a gift.

If all I have is this time with them – and it is – then I have no power over where they come from or where they go, how they do when they get there, or who they become. Outside of these moments, I am utterly powerless. So with this time, I will accept them. I will accept their struggles and their brokenness. I will accept their allegiances, their triggers, their actions, because it is my job to teach them and I know that I can’t teach my students to the best of my ability if I cannot accept them. I can’t promise understanding or agreeing, but acceptance? Acceptance I can do.

So, Teach – if you’re in the middle of a hangover from October, accept it. You’re overwhelmed, discouraged, tired, and that’s okay. You’re facilitating the growth of our future citizens, the critical thinking skills of future voters, the cooperation and communication skills of future teachers, lawyers, nurses, parents, law-makers, and so much more. You are helping to raise a generation, with the trust of their parents and the sometimes-faltering support of our communities. That is no small feat. I accept you. I appreciate you.

And to my non-teacher readers, thank you for spending time with this piece. Thank you for being open to these experiences and stories, for being a part of this, for accepting me and my students.

“Happiness can exist only in acceptance.”

-George Orwell

Be happy, friends.


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