Reflecting on Daily Life and Work
This year I have learned the importance of my family. I have always known they are very important, but a pandemic and the fears of losing a loved one has really shown how much they mean to me. I have slowed down (my grandma begs to differ) and enjoyed the small moments with my girls. From our nightly story times, to building art pieces, to barbies, and made up stories I have enjoyed having extra time at home with them. I experienced a lot of abuse as a child from my mother, luckily, I have always had my grandma, and I never really said I love you openly and to many people besides my girls. It was just something that I never really was accustomed to doing. This year has taught me the importance of telling our loved ones that we love them and sharing our feelings with them. I am going to carry this forward with me into 2021.
Teaching and Mentorship
This year I have been very aware of my teaching and every decision I make. I think this is because of my dissertation study, but also because I kept hearing the voices of my students reaching out to express their concerns about their education this year and their feelings. So many of them are overwhelmed, scared, and afraid to tell adults because of what will be said to them.
I have learned the very importance of giving student's voice and power within the curriculum. When we shifted to virtual instruction without any advanced notice, I made a decision to send my students a survey and ask them that they wanted to do and how they wanted to set up the virtual classroom. Their ideas were more than I could ever have thought of or planned on my own. I learned through starting a new school year in 2020 in a hybrid (2 days in person 3 days virtual) that students were voicing their concerns to me that they couldn't keep up with the work loads for all of their classes and that they were struggling. I listened to them and we adapted our class to a new plan for their work load. We all made a list of the top skills they needed from my class for graduation and/or the next English. I then adjusted the curriculum to focus on meeting those skills and assigning less work on their virtual days. I will carry the importance of listening to student voices, but to do more than just listen. All 2020 the youth have pushed me to hear what they are saying and help them make changes that they want. They helped me understand that in education and academia we often say we are listening to the youth, but yet we offer no follow up or help with solutions. We aren't active listeners to youth and we fail them continuously by not fully listening to them. I am working on a plan to try and publish an educational book on teaching featuring student's voices and writing. (May need a lot of help on this later)
As I was listening to student voices, I also started to question what my real goals of teaching are. Why do I select this text? Why do I teach this skill? What is my overall purpose? These questions have made me really focus on my reasoning and purpose for teaching. It made me really think through what I want to accomplish and what I want my students to learn from me. How do I want them to remember me?
I have always known that relationships are very important when teaching, but this year has really deepened that understanding. Relationships with students, parents, and co-workers have sustained me through the difficult times of teaching in 2020.
I also learned that Family Literacy Nights can be adapted virtually and for classrooms. My virtual students have a family literacy night structured teams call each week. It is the day that I get the most participation and is the day I look forward to with my virtual students. It has helped bridge the screen divides for us. I will carry all of these lessons about teaching with me forward.
My Next Generation kids continue to amaze me. I plan to continue to support them where they need the support and help them find ways to advocate for what they believe in. I learned through many conversations with them this year, that they are struggling. They are struggling to keep up with school, with jobs, and with their families. Almost every single Next Generation kid has taken on a part-time job to help with expenses for their families. I have not pushed them as much as I normally do this year because I have been listening to their struggles. They are so very stressed. Despite, their stress they have created some unique ways of activism that I would never think of during a pandemic. Their Black Lives Matters virtual protest was very creative and moving. Their virtual drive for supplies for the Domestic Abuse Shelter in Aiken was inspirational. Their adopting a family for Christmas at the Domestic Abuse Shelter led to them being able to give a family in need a Christmas. Their Domestic Abuse posters around the school, are visuals and an aide for students to know who to contact if they need help. In addition, their monthly family literacy nights feed my soul. Seeing them and hearing them, just brings me joy. I will carry their determination in spite of so many obstacles with me into 2021.
As for my own activism and mavenship, I have learned this year to keep fighting even when you want to give up, even when people are being nasty and rude. All but two members of our school board have been pushing for fully opening schools since the beginning of the school year. I have openly and publicly fought against this decision. I know that without speaking up, we would currently be open five days a week instead of the two and three virtual. However, two school board members have been very rude and ugly to myself and the other teacher that continues to speak up. Although, there are days that I want to just quit fighting them I know that many of my fellow teachers and students are not okay with five days open. I also know that the school board members are listening and responding to my statements, even though two of them try to discredit me in numerous ways.
This year I also learned that small acts of kindness make a big difference. We have so many different issues arising from COVID19 that are being seen across our area. I have seen so many people just do small acts to help another person and it has been inspirational. I plan to carry forward with me the importance of doing one small act of kindness each week for another person.
The final idea that I am taking with me into 2021 related to advocacy work is the importance of networks and people that support your causes. I am forever grateful for my Breadloaf, ABL, Next Generation, SC Rural Arts Commission, and CEEAAS family. They have listened to me vent throughout the year, given me support in numerous ways, and inspired me. Dixie, you always tell me about the strength and importance of strong networks, this year more than ever I felt the importance of networks and supportive friends.
Finally, this year has given me a chance to slow down and get lost in literature again. I found myself reading novels and poetry that acted as an escape from 2020 and reflected different journeys I have experienced in life. I began writing poetry and short stories again. I fell in love with literature all over.
2020 has had many hardships for myself. However, I am constantly reminded of how privileged I have been this year. I have kept my job and income through the pandemic. I have had food and shelter. These are many things that many of my community members have lost. My goal during 2020 was to give back to my local community as much as I could, through donations of money, food, and volunteering. I plan to continue this goal into 2021.
Basically my 2021 goals are:
Savor time with my family.
Listen to and showcase student voices.
Fight for my students!
Finish this dissertation in March!
Continue to build strong relationships.
Support my Next Generation students’ activism
Continue my own activism and mavenship.
Keep fighting even when they are nasty! That means you are making progress.
Complete a small act of kindness each week for another person.
Write, write, write!
Continue to participate and build my networks.